Dear change seekers,
In recent weeks you have worked hard to make India a safer place. The recent Delhi gang rape dominated headlines and received world-wide attention, mainly due to your efforts. However, be mindful of certain worrisome negative aspects of this outrage. You may create a lot of noise, but not the desired change. It is important to understand India first.
India, no matter what your Civics teacher told you, is not an equal country. India is divided into four classes with different levels of power. For simplicity, let us call these classes the Ones, Twos, Threes and Fours (deliberately avoiding upper-lower classification).
The Ones are our political masters. They control India, primarily through control over land, resources and laws that govern us. They don’t directly own assets, but control the asset owners, the Twos.
The Twos are our industrialists and capitalists. They help secure and increase the power of the Ones. Business magazines honor them with terms like ‘the dynamic entrepreneurs of a new liberalized India’. While some may deserve such accolades, most don’t. The Ones allow the Twos to become rich through limited competition and tightly regulated approvals. Real estate, mining, infrastructure or most other sectors, no company in India can thrive without support of the political class.
The next class, the Threes, are people like you and me. We are people with a certain amount of affluence and education, comprising around ten per cent of India’s population. While life is a struggle for many Threes, they do have a basic standard of living. However, the Threes still do not get speedy justice, accountable leaders or a protective police force.
Notably, Threes have recently acquired a new media power. They are affluent and buy things advertisers want to sell. Hence, the media caters to Threes. The Threes dominate social media too. This power is real and substantial.
The Delhi gang rape victim was a Three, and the gruesome case made the rest of the Threes feel vulnerable like never before. They wanted the rape to be debated. Hence, for almost a month little else could be discussed in a country of 1.2 billion people. However, in the process, the Threes might have done some damage. For despite the well-intentioned outcry, they inadvertently showed that they care about themselves much more than another huge class, the Fours.
The Fours are the 90 per cent of the country, people with limited education, abysmal standards of living and little hope for a better future. They are our farmers, slum dwellers, domestic helpers and the hundreds of millions of Indians without proper healthcare, education and infrastructure. They get no debates on TV. People won’t protest for them on India Gate.
The Threes either shun them, or impose their new-found modern values on them. For example, Fours may see women-men relationships in a regressive way. The Threes, exposed to the latest Western beliefs, will mock them.
If you noticed the various debates and opinions on the case, the Threes only accepted ideas in line with their own liberal, modern value system. Nobody could dare say anything even slightly alternative or stress on the Indian reality without being ridiculed.
The Threes found a new power, but used it like the Ones and Twos — for selfserving purposes.
For will we ever passionately discuss the issues and lend our media power to issues that affect the Fours? Will we go to India Gate to help slum dwellers get proper drinking water, for instance?
As we alienate the Fours, we leave them open to be exploited by the Ones. The Ones echo the sentiments of the Fours and throw some scraps at them. In return, the Fours ignore the Ones’ misdeeds and bring them back to power. Meanwhile, we Threes keep screaming and watch our own self-created reality show.
This is no way to create a revolution, or even change. We have to take the Fours along. If we want people to change, we should not mock or deride. Instead listen and understand first and slowly nudge people towards change. Don’t just laugh at anyone who says women should cover up and not venture out at night. Suggest that while this old belief may come from a place of practical reality, this cannot be the primary solution. I am not saying these people are not regressive. However, if you want change, be inclusive.
India’s poor are a not separate species from us. If the politicians didn’t protect the Twos so much, we could open the economy further, truly liberalize and create a lot of opportunity.