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Rich In Wealth, Poor In Humanity

Rich In Wealth, Poor In Humanity

The most popular of all trainings conducted by Universal Solidarity Movement of Value Education (USM) Indore is its one week Enlightened Leadership Training for high school students. In a month on an average 150 students from different schools participate in this training. In one training in this August, three schools, representing three socio-economic classes participated: urban, semi-urban and rural/tribal.  The socio-economic status of these three groups was visible vividly in their dressing, behaviour, attitudes and value system.

The dynamics of the training is designed in such a way that by the end of the training the students from the urban rich schools become very sensitive to the students of the poor rural schools and start honouring them. The students from the rural/tribal schools come out of their inferiority complex and start interacting with urban rich students as equals and try to learn from them self confidence and communication skills. The students from the urban rich schools also learn from the rural students the values of simplicity, sensitivity and concern for each other.

In the initial days the difference between the two categories of the students was very visible in their attitude and behaviour. On could notice during the meal time the difference between the two with regard to concern for each other. The students from the tribal area were taking tasty food items in very small quantities first time and they took a second time only after all students had taken that item once.   But the students belonging to the urban and rich class were taking their favourite items in large quantities without caring for others. The urban rich students in general were not generous to participate in the common works, but the tribal students were always ready to perform common tasks. The spirit of competition was very high in the urban rich students whereas the spirit of cooperation was profuse in the tribal students.

The external appearance of the urban rich students was different from that of the tribal students. The tribal students had simple clothes whereas the students from the urban area wore fashionable clothes, including the latest fashion damaged jeans. Their hairstyles were totally different from that of the tribals. Most of the tribal students did not have any ornaments whereas the urban rich students had gold chains and ear rings. The footwear used by the tribal students was simple and cheap, but the urban rich used fashionable ones. The tendency of consumerism was noticed in the students from the urban rich class whereas the tribal students were satisfied with the minimum. The tendency noticed among the students from semi urban area leaned towards the urban lifestyles and attitudes.

As a part of the training the students were taken for an exposure visit to slums and one of the big shopping malls of Indore. During exposure visit the students interacted with the working children of the non-formal schools run by USM in the slums and they observed the atmosphere in the slums. When they went to the mall they were not allowed to buy anything. The purpose of the visit was to observe the situation and the people and make a comparative analysis between the two situations. During the discussion after the visit to two places the students shared that the people at the mall were very insensitive and busy with buying things at a very high cost whereas the children in the slum schools cordially welcomed them and freely interacted with them. Basic amenities were lacking in the slums whereas the malls were flooded with lights and there was huge wastage of electricity.

While addressing the fourth National Peace Convention in Kochi in January 2018 Mr. Benjamin Laka, a retired IAAS officer for Jharkhand, enumerated the core tribal values. “The core tribal values are Justice, Equality and Fraternity which are enshrined in the Indian Constitution.   The tribals truly practice these values. It can be seen in all aspects of their lives.   People dance and sing together, interconnected as a chain and anyone can initiate the dance. All of them sit in a circle under a tree for meeting. In hunting and fishing everyone participates and everybody gets equal share including the dog. There is no tribal beggar in the whole of Chottanagpur”. He also mentioned that the tribal communities are gradually losing these values because of their blind imitation of the other communities.  

The political leaders and development experts talk about mainstreaming the tribals. The fundamental question is “what is the mainstream?” Is the consumerist, competitive and highly individualistic lifestyle of the urban rich and the middle class the mainstream? Is education preparing the students to adopt the kind of lifestyle found among the rich and the middle class? Is this lifestyle sustainable?

The recently released Human Development Report of 2018 has pointed out the glaring economic inequalities in India and ascribed a medium human development status to India, although millions of people have risen above poverty during the period 1990 and 2017. Inequality is evident in the “massive differences across the world in people’s well-being.” For example, in a country with very high Human Development Index (HDI) like Norway, Switzerland, Australia or Ireland, average life expectancy is up to 80 years, but in India it is only up to 60. The inequality is even more pronounced when it comes to women. In India, women occupy only 11.66% of parliamentary seats; only 39% of them have secondary education (compared to 64 per cent men) and only 27.2% participation in the workforce compared to 78.8% for men and 49% women in the world. The development paradigm followed in many countries does not result in all sections of people getting the fruits of development.

There could be various reasons for the increasing inequalities in the world. Failure of the governments to put in place appropriate policies could be one of the reasons. Erosion of human and ethical values could be another important reason. The type of development that increases the inequalities and producing rising number of billionaires is not going to be sustainable. Already the people all over the world are experiencing the disastrous consequences of Climate Change.  

Being rich in wealth and poor in humaneness could be one of the important reasons for the rising inequalities as well as the threat to environment. A profit oriented economic system can be controlled to some extent by the policies of the government. Government can bring in policies for taxing the profit and redistribute a part of the total profit among the economically and socially backward sections of the society on health, education and social welfare. Government can also put in place effective laws for the controlled or sustainable use of various natural resources and rules regarding polluting air, water and earth. However strict the government may be, there could be loopholes. There could be collusion between the rulers and companies and the rules could be flouted. Hence there is need for a vibrant and vigilant civil society that points out the flows and forces the government and the companies to comply with the existing laws and policies. The civil society also can put pressure on the government to pass new laws to protect the interests of the poor and of the environment. For example, in India many green laws were put in place because of the efforts of the civil society and the courts. A series of public interest litigations by the civil society members was helpful for the courts to interpret the existing laws and force the government to implement certain policies. For instance, the use of CNG by commercial vehicles in Delhi was made compulsory by a court verdict because of the efforts of the civil society.

Similarly Forest Rights Act, Right to Education Act, Right to Food and Right to Information came into existence mainly because of the pressure exerted by the Civil Society Organizations for a long period. Civil Society Organizations are groups of enlightened citizens.   Education has a vital role in instilling the core values like justice, equality, fraternity concern for common good and concern for the environment in the citizens, especially in the students.

The attitude, value system and behaviour of the urban rich students indicate that the education imparted by the schools have not succeeded to a great extent in instilling in the students the values that make them humane.  They are very much influenced by the cutthroat competition, individualism and consumerism that they see all around. Hence besides making the students aware of the socio-economic and political situation of the country, the students from the rich and middle class are to be given opportunities for interacting with the students from the poor sections and rural areas so that both will be able to learn from each other. Creating awareness in the students about the inequalities in the society and the reasons for it and motivating them to work for an egalitarian society should be part of value education. This will turn those who are rich in wealth also being rich in humanity.

(Published on 01st October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 40)