A Tale of Two Worlds Side By Side

The wheels of the rickshaw clinked through the dusty lanes. My bones rattled with the rickety rickshaw. I was on my way to the metro station on a cold Monday morning.  The scenes were usual…children accompanied by sleepy parents waiting for their school bus, many walking towards the bus stop, others riding their way to the metro station. But something was amiss, I realised. An entire landscape looked incomplete. Around 40-45 slum dwellers were left homeless. Their huts were razed to the ground. Their belongings were all over the road. The elders huddled in groups, trying to figure out what to do. Their children ran around the debris, looking for anything they might have missed.

These slums first sprouted in 2012 on an empty ground. More and more families set up their huts in this space, as they migrated from other states to Delhi for a better standard of living. They had dreams of a better life which brought them to the capital. As my mind rewound, my eyes caught the sight of the new 3-bedroom constructed apartments – each flat costing above Rs 75 lakhs. I remembered hearing about the slum dwellers being asked to prepare to leave a month ago. But they had nowhere to go.

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The municipal body had great plans for the now-empty ground. A park with a jogging track and an open gym would come up. And the visual imagery stuck with me for the entire day – the classy apartment and the empty ground full of debris side by side. This speaks volumes about the economic inequality in our country and around the world. In a recent Economics Times report, Oxfam talked about the ‘Time to Care’ study that said wealth of India’s richest 1% is more than 4 times of total for 70% poorest. The newspaper report ends with ‘Concern about inequality underlies recent social unrest in almost every continent, although it may be sparked by different tipping points such as corruption, constitutional breaches, or the rise in prices for basic goods and services, as per the World Economic Forum report.’

But haven’t we seen glaring economic inequalities from the time we remember? Children working at dhabas and hotels, while children from better socio-economic status attending schools. I am reminded of children rescued from a bag-making factory in Delhi’s Karol Bagh, as they stitched together school bags for other children their age. Ironic, isn’t it? Just look around you. Children begging at traffic signals, while you wait in your taxi on your way to work. Your domestic help breaking her back to clean your floors, while your child runs around with your expensive gadget.

Such is the inequality that the situation has deteriorated. And let’s add the declining GDP, increasing inflation, rising prices and job losses. India’s 2019 Gini Coefficient was 35.2 which ranked our country in the top 50 unequal countries. Gini Coefficient measures distribution intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation, or in layman’s language, is the most commonly used measurement of inequality.

Now, as every article inspires you to take a call of action, I wonder what can we do here. Honestly, I don’t know. We have read about solutions on different platforms, with most being policy-level. I don’t even know the practical ones. Or can we do something? As we go on with our daily routine, maybe we can ponder on this.

By Sarah Jacob


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