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Updated: February 17, 2013 02:44 IST

Expand your roles to fight inequality, Amartya Sen urges unions

Special Correspondent
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Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen delivering inaugural address at 90th anneversary of Reserve Bank Employees Union in Kolkata on Saturday. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhruy
The Hindu Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen delivering inaugural address at 90th anneversary of Reserve Bank Employees Union in Kolkata on Saturday. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhruy

“Unions should press for things like public health, nutrition, in addition to [addressing] issue of secularity”

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on Saturday exhorted trade unions to expand their role to address injustice in general, covering aspects like inequalities in income, healthcare, education and nutrition.

Speaking at the 90 anniversary celebration of the Reserve Bank Employees Association, he said unions could take their role further as their identity cut across religious sects, and urged them to address issues such as malnourishment, income disparity and public healthcare.

Turning to the issue of disparate incomes, he said that on per capita income the Indian rural labour had fallen enormously behind.

Unions were defined narrowly in the past after revolutions in countries like China, Prof. Sen said. “Injustices remained even after the revolution… If workers seize power… injustices do not go away… they come in many forms.”

He said that in India the issue was particularly important as inequality here had accompanied debilitating deprivation, “which has brought in its wake issues of healthcare and undernourishment... At the root of it is the inability of the private income-wage earner to keep pace with the economy.”

Prof. Sen felt that a two-pronged attack was necessary in this regard — one at the political level and the other at the level of the unions, who have very good ground to press for more public spending on things like public healthcare and education.

“The political role for removing injustice by unions has to be through movement, which presses for things like public health, nutrition, in addition to [addressing] the issue of secularity... Wages should also rise not just for civil servants, but for the working class as whole.”

Calling for a criticality of approach towards unions, the Nobel laureate said there was also a feeling that they were not concerned with the accountability of the worker. This was not what was needed to remove injustices for which the co operation of the unions was needed, he said. “View social justice of the country as a whole and see what unions can do as a cooperative partner without forgetting issues like workers interests.”

Delhi gang rape

Prof. Sen mentioned last year’s Delhi gang rape incident, saying such incidents should have been a bigger issue much earlier. “One Billion Rising is a very welcome development… Everyone must welcome the anti-rape movement. But there is also need for taking up the issue of poor Dalit women who are often violated.”

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