Well we have been home for almost 3 weeks now and life is back in full swing, but memories of India remain. While I was in India I realized that it is a place where I encountered everything I hate about humanity, but at the same time there is an amazing love for the people and the place. The “everything I hate about humanity” is about witnessing the poverty, the injustice and the harshness of life in India. It’s about facing the reality that people harm others for their own gain – perhaps it’s out of desperation, in a harsh world people are sometimes forced to make harsh decisions!
It’s a country with a huge population, a place where there seems to be a job for everyone, a place that is deeply spiritual, it is a place of chaos yet calm! Each time I visit India my passion for the place deepens but the challenges continue, each time I have been driven through the country roads I am confronted with the makeshift homes in the fields, as I left the city on the train I was confronted with the makeshift homes along the side of the tracks, as I walked through the cities I was constantly confronted by the poverty experienced by so many people.
How can it be that in the 21st century so many people are living in such terrible conditions? How can a centuries old caste system still operate oppressing people? How can so much corruption occur without challenge? How can the exploitation of the vulnerable occur so visibly?
These are some of the questions that come to my mind when I think about India, I think about how the global south actually participate in keeping the poor poor, in the exploitation of the vulnerable. If we consider the clothing industry as an example, there is no escape from the fact that many items are “made in India” and much of the cotton is sourced in India – how many of us actually think about the treatment of those working in the clothing industry? Are people working in safe environments? Are people paid a fair days pay for a fair day’s work? In many cases the answer is no – we do after all want our bargains and often the notion of fair and just treatment doesn’t even enter into it!
Fair Trade may seem like a bit of middle class wank, but it is middle class wank that I am prepared to buy into. I think about the salaries of some people in the world and I think about the salaries of the average person in India, from discussions we had with people a salary of $150 was a good monthly salary – that is a little hard to take when I think that most tourists in India will spend that monthly salary equivalent on a single night out!
There is also the fact that whenever you leave your accommodation you do so knowing that someone will try and rip you off – but in all fairness if I think about the conditions that some people live in, it’s understandable – the challenge then becomes do I support the practice of ripping people off by paying extremely inflated prices, when the reality is that the extra money is probably not going to benefit the average employee or do I stand my ground and refuse to be exploited (even though as a tourist I am well aware that the price will always be higher!) Take the entry to the Taj as an example entry for a local is around 20 rupees and entry for a foreigner is 750 rupees but I wanted to see the Taj so I paid it! This certainly means that a local is not excluded from enjoying the beauty of their own country but I wonder how that money is distributed! It’s all challenging food for thought.