THE GENESIS OF DISCONTENT...
In the “classless” society of Communist China, my driver and me used to have lunch at the same table; and in the exponentially growing economy of Gurgaon (India) – my driver is richer than me, and by all means has greater financial security than an IIT graduate like me. So, who is it that really drives Gurgaon? And in this peculiar context, are we really moving towards socio-economic polarization or social equity?
“Material success is not the automatic equivalent to societal health”. Economic growth by its very nature can breed discontent if it results in increasing disparities. And widely disparate are the communities of Gurgaon…
On one hand, we have the upwardly mobile – educated elite - national and international immigrants who have come to bear the fruits of the city’s phenomenal growth through sheer hard work; on the other hand is the cash-rich and once upon a time “land-rich” original inhabitants of the place which now form the informal support system of Gurgaon– a community to which probably my driver belongs. And then we the lesser-recognized communities of Gurgaon: the ones residing in “Old Gurgaon” to whom benefits have not really trickled down from its flashier younger brother on the other side of NH8 and finally, there are the “aliens” (not from a different planet but from a neighboring country) who keep our houses in order and transport us in environmentally-friendly 3-wheelers at competitive rates. The last section of the society with questionable legal rights (except those of the nature of human rights) are probably the most marginalized section of the society, not completely happy to be here but nevertheless, have chosen Gurgaon as the top-most location in the country to earn their modest livelihood.
What do these differences lead to? “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any”. What would happen if each community chooses to exercise the power it is sometimes unaware of?
But does inequity and consequently a feeling of insecurity have its roots in the new growth story or is it rooted in the DNA of a country whose constitution promulgates the principles of social equity? Was Gurgaon “safe” in its agrarian history when a certain “disadvantaged” community infamously conducted acts of theft like stealing pastoral animals?
Gurgaon is not the safest place to be in – or so is the perception of the place as far as the fairer sex is concerned. The police assure us that it is safer than many other places in NCR, theft and accidents followed by “420” being the primary acts of crime in the jurisdiction of the Police Station at Sector 55/ 56/ Ghata gaon. “For as long as the poor co-exist with the rich in an unhappy balance in India - crime shall remain”: words of wisdom from Constable Singh. There seems to be a clear contrast between the numbers as far as annual crime reports are concerned on either side of NH8. While Sector 56 may accrue up to 200 – 250 crime reports/ year; Sector 10 in “old Gurgaon” may accrue 3 times that. Fingers can be pointed and speculations can be made about the origin/ source of these crimes; but there are no easy answers and blame points for this phenomenon in our “developing” society.
A visit to Ghata gaon typifies the socio-economic imbalance that we live dangerously in today. Each of us belonging to the more privileged sections of the society need to open our eyes, recognize and view the “other side” more empathetically. I had to come away worried more about my health security in the dengue season rather than any other criminal danger. And places like these are not just the seats of discontent!
“People have higher expectations and higher aspirations when growth is higher,” said Eduardo Lora, IADB chief economist. “But people who see that their peers are doing better than themselves are less satisfied. This effect becomes stronger when economies are growing faster. Discontented but politically-active citizens are a better indication of social progress than a passive and tolerant society. Increasing wealth, unfortunately - it has been demonstrated throughout history and across cultures - decreases people's participation in public life.”
What began as a “Tale of 2 Cities” 2 decades back may turn into a sordid tale of many disparate cities if the social fissures are not addressed currently and urgently.
You have the power to create your contentment if you choose to exercise it! “When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you...”
: “An urban EXPLORER”
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