Invisibilising poverty

The walling off of roadside slums in Ahmedabad, so that their existence is made invisible to U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, has come in for a lot of flak, and rightly so. It has illustrated that the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in Gujarat suffer from a certain complex that refuses to accept the nation as it is.

It is ‘cultural bankruptcy’ and negates what Mahatma Gandhi’s loincloth symbolised — identification with the poor. It simply does not match BJP’s big talk on ‘patriotism’ and its espousal of the cause of the country’s impoverished. It manifests the BJP’s make-up, mindset and worldview.

This was apparently done to shield Trump’s convoy from the sight of slums on the assumption that the visiting Americans could not but see them as ‘eyesores’. The slum-dwellers are human and sentient like the rest of the population. They are the ineluctable victims of an unjust and inequitable social and economic order. They are ‘human flotsam and jetsam’, to borrow one of Edward Said’s eloquent phrases. It is inhuman to subject them to humiliation in this manner. No political party says that it doesn’t need the votes of the slum-dwellers.

It is reasonable to ask why the money spent on the ‘beautification drive’ should not have been better spent on improving the living conditions of the slum-dwellers. Nobody is against Ahmedabad and adjacent places being given a facelift, but it should not be at the cost of insulting poverty. Half of the population in our country is living at or below the poverty line.

Penury is not as much a crime as rapacity. The veneer of prosperity created to impress a world leader cannot make the dehumanising poverty suffered by millions of Indians non-existent. The poverty-stricken slum-dwellers are unlikely to be represented at the high-profile Kem Chho (Howdy Trump) event.

Rabindranath Tagore prayed: Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before the insolent might. That’s a prayer the rulers should do well to learn and live by.

G. David Milton

Maruthancode, Tamil Nadu

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Printable version | Jul 4, 2020 10:25:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/letters/invisibilising-poverty/article30831723.ece

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