People in the west sometimes talk about “inequality”. They usually mean something along the lines of “one person is driving an old beater and someone else is driving a new beamer”. There is something to this of course. Humans are by nature competitive and status oriented. Studies show that primates (not just humans) of lower status are under more chronic stress than high status monkeys. It is not my aim in this blog to get into discussions on the ethics and merits of some people having 50″ televisions while others only have 30″ TVs, but I will say this; westerners don’t really have any concept of real inequality.
The video is a generic roadside scene in eastern Bangalore. The photograph is from the gated community where our temporary apartment is. The difference is night and day. Already when you step out of the gate, you go from a place where rents are $2000 a month or more and there is a small army of servants to keep things neat and clean to a street where people live under tarps.
There is a building site down at the corner, where a new high rise is being built. Women in sarees and men work with hand tools. There is no crane, there are no hard hats and nobody is wearing the steel toed boots that are de rigueur at western building sites. The most shocking is the small children at the site – probably the children of the builders – who are incredibly dirty and just seem to listlessly loiter. No matter how smart those kids may be and no matter how hardworking they may be, the deck is stacked against them.
When we walk past, we feel ashamed of how wealthy we are in comparison. It is so extreme that it feels unjust. The difference in wealth is certainly out of proportion to the difference in achievement. Strangely, we don’t feel any bitterness from them, but rather only curiosity or even awe. I really don’t know what to say about this, other than how stunning it is. It does encourage a sense of modesty.