Before reading this, I think it’s important that I point out that I do not particularly care for facts, figures, reports and all that bullshit. I do however care about people, and this is simply an account of what I’ve seen with my own eyes. You are welcome to agree or disagree, praise it or condemn it to hell, frame it on your mantelpiece or use it to wipe your arse, it’s just an opinion and I’m not foolish enough to be under the illusion that this is even my definite opinion. Hopefully however it will persuade you to consider my points, even if you think the complete opposite to me.
Disclaimer out of the way, it took me until the very end of my travels around Rajasthan in India to truly comprehend the wealth gap. Over the weeks, I had glimpsed the slums from train and bus windows, seen the tiny cramped rooms that people called home and at every turn witnessed the lengths people would go to for money, which the average Londoner would not think twice about misplacing. It was not however until the very end of my trip that the wealth gap truly hit home.
A friend (well I say friend, he was part of a gang of conmen who stole all my money and cut my travels short but that is a story for another time) took me to Crystal Palms in Jaipur, a pristine shopping mall with a McDonalds, multiplex cinema and even a Ralph Lauren! People carelessly browsed through the shops, or sat and drank coffee in air-conditioned bliss; it was a stark contrast to the bustling bazaars and general chaos found around every corner in India. After a little while, my friend (and future nemesis) fancied a cigarette so we had to leave the mall and make our way across the dirt car park to the stall selling tobacco.
In the space of about two feet from the mall’s exit, I had been approached by children and women pleading with me for money or food, their clothes were in tatters and covered in dirt and they were nothing but skin and bone. I found myself trying to comprehend this juxtaposition, how could it be that people could go from having so much within the mall to having so little just metres away outside?
I was reminded of a conversation I had in Delhi, the driver of my cab had said that in India, ‘the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich and nothing ever changes.’ At the time, I had nodded along in agreement and had assumed I understood what he meant, but it took until that shopping mall in Jaipur for it to truly make sense.
One thing that the driver had said, which I found of particular interest, is that the government simply do not help. We had discussed the lack of taxes being pumped back into the system and misgovernment of that ilk, but it had not struck me that maybe the problem laid deeper than misgovernment. The problem I saw was not necessarily that there was such a large wealth gap, but the seemingly complete and utter acceptance of this gap. The people within the mall did not so much as offer a sympathetic glance to their countrymen clearly suffering outside and those outside seemed entirely resigned to their situation.
I was left to ponder what the hell was going on and I thought back on the constant hassle, the constant ripping off and scamming (Some far worse than others) I had witnessed and endured throughout my travels. I thought long and hard and came to the conclusion that I had maybe 3 or 4 conversations in my entire trip which hadn’t essentially boiled down to someone trying to get me to buy something (and one of them was a man pretty intent on making me his western lover boy…). Therein lies the problem, money, or maybe just capitalism. Capitalism essentially has free reign in India, the mystical laws and regulations we take for granted in the West just do not apply, there is no morality in the money, there is just money. So if this is the case, why not just incorporate the regulations of the West deeper into the country and economy? Well as I said before, it is a problem that is far deeper than any policy change could ever fix, it is not just a new approach that is required, but the education of an entire nation.
Unfortunately, I cannot foresee a time when this will occur, the government has forgotten the majority of its people and its people think to hell with the government, even if they wanted to educate the nation they are not in a position where this would ever be an achievable goal. It is however a nation whose heart is in the right place, capitalism may corrupt the surface but the core remains good and pure. It is for that reason I have hope that one day, after a long and gradual process, it will conquer the capitalism that threatens to destroy it.
So, a final word on the implications of India’s predicament for us in the West. Capitalism is not going to disappear anytime soon, it is too ingrained and there is not a strong enough alternative ideology to compete (that I am aware of anyway, I’m under no illusion that I know everything, I often wonder if I even know anything…). We would be fools however to think that it is a beast we have tamed, sure we seem to have some semblance of control at the moment (Even that statement seems ridiculous, have you seen the banks!), but there is no reason why we could not still fall into its ruthless trap just as India has done. If we insist on living with a wolf then we will do well to not convince ourselves it’s a Labrador.