Sunday, April 24, 2011

How dare you be happy.

An opinion piece in the Open Page of The Hindu today is critical of the World Cup victory celebrations, or any celebrations for that matter, when farmers in rural India are committing suicide or are languishing in extreme poverty.

Sixty-seventy per cent of India's population is living on less than Rs. 20 a day. A bottle of Diet coke for us? The electricity used in a day-night match could help a farmer irrigate his fields for more than a few weeks! Do you know that loadshedding is also class dependent? Two hours in metros, 4 in towns and 8 in villages. Now, who needs electricity more? A farmer to look after his crop day and night, irrigate, pump water and use machines or a few bored, young professionals with disposable incomes, to log on to Facebook and watch IPL?

How can we splurge thousands on our birthday parties and zoom past in our AC vehicles and sit in cushy chairs in our AC offices and plan a weekend trip to Coorg when on the way, in those small villages, just a few minutes' walk from the roads, someone might be consuming pesticide or hanging himself from a tree for just Rs.10, 000? How can we?

This is not new. P.Sainath has never missed an opportunity to remind the nation, whenever it celebrated any success in any field, of its extreme insensitivity to the plight of farmers. “Nero fiddling while Rome was burning” has been the recurring charge levelled in all his speeches.

Today I saw a tweet which suggested that there should be a ban on ads on days when a prominent person had died. Is it not wrong for consumers to think of splurging on goodies, when a section of the population is grieving over the death of an individual?

Those who take such a grim view of the situation and recommend universal mourning till every single person is relieved of his suffering are appealing to your sense of guilt. How can you indulge in such joyous celebrations and festivities when elsewhere your own countrymen are wallowing in such misery? Implicit in their admonition is the presumption that happiness is a zero sum game. If I am happy, it must be at the cost of someone else in the world, which makes my state of happiness morally repugnant and unacceptable.

This argument does have some basis. In cases where farmers are deprived of their ancestral land to benefit or enrich an industry, or when rural India is denied basic facility while urban India gets disproportionate attention, they are victims of a zero-sum equation, which needs to be corrected. After all, the total funds available for development are finite, and there should be an equitable distribution.

But, even if and when such equity is established, we have to reckon with variation in human responses.

As the unit becomes larger- from families to neighbourhoods to towns to states to nations- the diversity among human beings increases. There would be a variety of moods and sentiments at any time arising out of unique developments in one’s vicinity, and unless it is a disaster of a large scale (war, earthquakes, and terror attacks) it is impossible to get all people emotionally aligned. On the continuum scale ranging from celebrations on one end to mourning on the other, different people in different locations will find themselves at different points at different times.

I must therefore have the right to celebrate a World Cup victory, without having to feel guilty for the misfortune that has befallen the farmers. This is not being insensitive or apathetic, nor am I belittling the problem that they face. I am merely exercising my right to be happy when the occasion so justifies.


Krish Ashok said...

I'd in fact say that it's quite important to defend the right of someone to laugh and gloat at someone's death or suffering. As offensive as that behaviour might be, one can't outlaw it. One can shun that person socially and exercise ones ability to tune them out.

Unknown said...

Raj and Ashok.. What you say is 100% true. But that guy also has his opinion, and it so happens that he can write it up on the paper, and his editor will approve it. :) Ashok just curious .. endha Funeral la Sethaan Shandalan nu sirichael??

Ramesh said...

if i were god i would make sainath the emperor of india .. just to see the fun

Anonymous said...

That's rich! Did you know P Sainath drives a Skoda? If he instead drove a Maruti 800, or better still, took the bus, he could donate all that money to help farmers!!

Raj said...

Ashok, laughing and gloating at someone's else's death would be crossing the line of propriety. But not grieving should not be taken as inappropriate.

Akshay: That's the problem. He has the power to make people guilty.

Ramesh: If I ever spot him in any celebrations, even in a wedding, I'll remind him about some poor farmer dying somewhere.

Anon: That's ok. He needs a good car to drive around and spread his message about the farmers.