Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Power of the Powerless

I will be leaving for Kathmandu on 29 Jan 2012 to give a training in Disaster Risk Reduction. RedR India has asked me to be one of the two trainers who will be taking this training. As I was reflecting about disasters and developmental issues, I began to wonder on what is the actual power of the "powerless". The most vulnerable sections of society, people who have been socially and economically excluded due to reasons of birth, disability, gender, age, wealth and upbringing are the most affected in times of disasters. It is for their welfare the governments function. It is for their safety the social and political systems are. But ultimately, do these people have any real power? I remember watching one of the various films on the life of Jesus. In this the Satan tempts Jesus with the third temptation: Power!
"Power is what every man seeks. It was what they kill for. It is for this they wage wars!" What power do these vulnerable people have? Just over their own bodies,  over the small shelter they own, and a little control over their own children when they are young. Apparently they have at least these powers. But in some places, all these too seem to lose meaning. Go to the stone quarries in Birbhum district of West Bengal or the bordering districts of Jharkhand and Bihar where stone quarries thrive. Every one will say, the women there do not have any power over their own bodies. The women (and only young women are employed) are abused to the core. And they end up suffering from silicosis besides the sexual exploitation when the evening falls. 

The States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have many stories to tell of how the rich destroy the houses of the poor for no reason of their own. If one person of the lower caste commits a sin the entire village bears the brunt of the rich land lord. They live in fear. Absolute fear.

The power over children is a long lost battle. There are numerable stories that keep regularly appearing in media where poor families have sold their children to keep other children's survival in tact. We know of children who are engaged in labor to pay back the debts of their parents. There are children who are sold for money and sex. There is the huge "camel racing"! And now, read through the media in West Bengal. You have children dying of institutional apathy as they do not get appropriate medical care. Where are our children?

In this context what is the power of the powerless. How can we speak of people's rights that needs to utilized to ensure access to freedom, development, growth and less vulnerability? It is all one big question: What sustains the social inequality.

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