Saturday, March 9, 2013

The right to make informed choices

iDiya by the Indian School of Business has announced a National Social Venture competition to enable humans, passionate about a social cause, to create a sustainable social enterprise. In between jobs, facing bouts of depression and anxiety, I did fall back on reading a brief on my career prospects for this year. As is rightly captured in the movie "OMG! Oh My God", humans need to find solace and reassurance in something. Some people make that something a money making enterprise and others blindly follow. For me, I turn to astrology in spite of not being an ardent believer. My friend made me read my daily horoscope when I had decided to follow the man I loved, and thankfully I did not listen to a word it said. One site interestingly mentioned that I will enter the social domain. De-ja-vu and a day later, here I am writing about one of the social causes that I am very passionate about.

Not receiving my 5-figure monthly salary for the first time in over 9 years, made me truly realize the gross inequality happening on a day-to-day basis around me. Not that I was not aware of these ground realities but this time it is staring right back at me, in the face. So much is taken for granted and so much more is lusted over.

While at work, I often spoke of how overpaid I was compared to the ladies who cleaned the toilets, washed the cups, kept our premises clean and still got just 5000 rupees a month. They toiled from 8am to 5pm on their feet with odd meal times. With the price of 1kg sona masuri rice at 50 rupees, I wonder whether these ladies would provide for a nutritious meal, pay their monthly bills or send their children to school.

What made me so privileged? Didn't that same lady and I come into this world the same way? What did I do differently to have been able to earn X times her salary? Who decided that I was to be born into an affluent family and she into a poor one?

We all come into the world the same way. We all deserve equal access to opportunities. One main deterrent to this is the lack of awareness and greediness. Most people still believe that more kids means more money that can be earned off of them. The importance of education is unknown amongst the masses. In spite of child labor being banned, you find so many small businesses employing these children. Money to survive each day is the topmost priority for these individuals. I don't think they get a chance to think about the long term. Those who do, try and give up under the burden of loans.

In a country as densely populated as ours, it should not be difficult to increase awareness about education and the importance of the same. Look at how we eradicated polio. Bill Gates, in one of his talks on the BBC, praised the efforts of the Government of India and the government paid workers, who waded through flooded regions to ensure that the vaccines reached every child in every part of the country. Is the Government spreading awareness about education and human rights with the same zeal? Does some one from outside of the country have to come and tell us how to improve the living conditions and the lives of people?

Organizations like WorldVision, with the help of philanthropists, are working towards the education of children in remote villages across in India, as well as providing a means of livelihood to families in those areas. With a monthly donation of 800 rupees, one child's education needs are taken care of.

If each of the parents across India had sufficient money to take care of their day to day needs, would they not send their children to school, in stead of trying to earn off of them? Food, shelter, access to clean toilets and drinking water should be every human's right. An interesting additional read here would be this article by Mr. P. Jayaram,  Senior Journalist and Head of the Department of Amrita School of Communication, Coimbatore.

The Government of India does provide free education for children up to the age of 14 years. Give the children the access to education, a keyhole view into the actual world and its possibilities, and let them make an informed choice for their future. Let them not follow in the footsteps of their unfortunate parents who can't think beyond where their next meal is going to come from or what if they can't pay back their loans.

The Government of India has also announced schemes to ensure that people below the poverty line get sufficient food. Corruption and money making middle men, prevent these schemes from being properly implemented. One would need to think about how the census is carried out in our country.
A representative goes from door to door collecting statistics of the people living there. How accurate would this exercise be? I leave it up to you to decide. How does the Government know the actual income of a family? A fee of 1000 rupees to a middle man can get you a ration card. A fee of 500 rupees can get you a voter's identity card. It remains to be seen how successful the Aadhaar project will be. It remains to be seen if the Government will rise over corruption and get these well thought out schemes, for which valuable tax-payer money has been spent, get implemented for the benefit of everyone and not just the privileged few again.

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