Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire and the Bengal Famine

India being an emerging economy, the instances of street urchins jostling for space in the same city where millionaires and billionaires move around, are numerous. The movie Slumdog Millionaire used this premise to show a society where people live in abject poverty, in spite of the abundance of cash changing hands in the country at large. Something similar to this had happened during the Bengal Famine, when on one hand the British bourgeoisie lavishly wasted tonnes of rice, while on the other the poor farmers had to grovel dirt for a few grains.

We in India, have got immune to the existence of slums, and their inhabitants. We know how to avoid the stench emanating from these places by pinching our nose. Also, how to look the other way when brought face to face with the heart wrenching sight of an amputated or blind beggar.

We set our standards of good life by drawing parallels with our counterparts in the developed world. As the slums do not fit in that picture, we simply choose to ignore them. But ignoring, does not make them vanish. Any westerner coming to India for the first time, has a harrowing experience of sorts, as the sight of these very slums give him or her a picture of a completely different dimension of poverty. This is a huge departure from the poor in USA or UK, and also from those in Africa. Because, while in the former the poor are people who are going through a lean patch, in the latter, these are not an exception in an otherwise booming economy.

What this movie tells us is that we have to wake up to this gruesome reality. It is the responsibility of each one of us, to give some thought on how to eradicate this menace. We are the same country, where artifacts of the Mahatma are being bought of millions of dollars. Slums exist in India, not because of want of wealth, but because the wealth we have is not being used properly. Ours is a created poverty, much like the Bengal Famine.

Oscars or no Oscars, we need to take a serious look of our slums, they do not in anyway fit in the scheme of things, when we talk of making it to the G10, Super Powers or any other top notch coterie of select nations.

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