It's the same with society, or the greater community. Everyone agrees that it would be great if there was equality of opportunity for everyone, in jobs and education. We want to see the inequality of the sexes put right and justice for all. Yes, the desire is there for change. But why doesn't all this desire translate into positive change for the better? Because the truth is that most people pay lip service to ideals but they don't have the true commitment to it.
In south Asia, where I live an expatriate life married into the local community, I notice that while even the laws of the country where I live profess commitment to the values of equality, that commitment doesn't seem to translate into reality as much as it should.
There are some who say that education should be more widespread and that this would change society for the better. I don't disagree with this. Education is a human right and the commitment to education for all in south Asia should be launched on a war footing. But I have heard words of wisdom from the mouths of people who are not that well educated here and words of nonsense from people who are educated to doctorate level. So education is clearly not enough to bring about change. Let me explain.
Meera is a washerwoman. Her husband is a washerman. They make a living washing and ironing the clothes of people in the area where they live. They have four sons. All their sons are employed somewhere. All the sons went to school up to eighth or tenth class. Some of the boys help their parents in the family business and one is working in a garage. Meera has a brain like a computer and keeps track of the money owed by all the customers - completely in her head! She never writes down anything yet every account is kept, to the last rupee. Meera and her husband have thought their children the value of hard work and thrift and if there is one low income family who will climb out of the poverty trap, it is this one. Although the parents are not much educated, they are on the right track all right.
Shovita is a teacher. Her husband is a management professional. Their two sons are like other modern teenagers. They enjoy computers and go to tennis lessons and are studying at one of the foremost schools of their city. Shovita enjoys her job and family life and her perfectly run household is the envy of all her friends. Looking at them, you would say that this is an educated family.
But look a little closer. Something is certainly wrong. What is it? Neither Shovita, nor her husband and sons wash their own dishes, cook their own food nor sweep their own floors. All the manual work in the family is done by Chotu, a child servant. He comes from a village where Shovita's husband's family has some roots. The cooking in the house is done by an elderly woman whom the family calls Amma. This means mother and is an address of respect. Amma lives nearby and has served this family for years. She works for a fraction of her real worth and is only too glad to get her money. As Shovita says herself, why should she kill herself in the kitchen when Amma will very gladly to the work for half nothing? So thanks to Chotu and Amma, Shovita's family live a rich life indeed. They don't mistreat their servants of course. They're nice people. But Shovita's sons live a life of study, computers, tennis lessons and MTV. They have their own bedrooms and drive around on scooters. Chotu's life is full of back breaking work from dawn to dusk. He seldom gets time off. He has to eat left over food and wears the cast-off clothing of Shovita's sons. His bed is a fold way camp-bed. He sleeps in the porch. His meagre salary is sent to his father in the village.
Shovita's family considers itself modern, educated and forward looking. Rubbish. Their comfortable lifestyle depends on keeping the poor poor. If the poor get equal opportunities for education and work, who will wash the dishes, cook the food and scrub the floors?
No, Shovita's family is not like that wicked lady doctor who recently hit the headlines in Lucknow for cruelly beating a ten year old child servant. But they have a long way to go before they can claim to be free of the taint of exploitation and abuse of the poor. A very long way.
Change for the better in our personal lives and societies will only come about when we - individually and collectively - feel that deep down awareness in their spirits and a hunger and thirst for change, change for the better. Then no power in the world will be able will be able to resist the changes that will certainly occur.
For the past several weeks I have been participating in the Writer’s Workshop over at Sleep is for the Weak authored by Josie George. Josie gave just one prompt this week (Week 35#), ‘Change'.
This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 9/9/2010