Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why did we take a cake?

Sometimes what we say is immediately contradicted. Probably the reason is that often what we say is completely out of the box. It takes people more than just a second to understand us.

A decade back I wrote an article supporting child labor in Kashmir and, as one would have expected, I was ridiculed. However, those who read through saw sense in what I was talking about and I soon found hundreds of supporters. This topic might be similar and it would be nice to try and understand my point of view.

Last month we went to greet a friend on starting new business. When we left home, we intended to pick a bouquet of flowers on the way. Though we passed a few florists, I did not stop. Rather I could not stop because somewhere in my subconscious mind I dislike the idea of taking flowers. Finally we ended up buying a cake that easily cost three times more than what flowers would have, but I did get my satisfaction for not having done something that I would consider unethical.

I considered taking flowers unethical because I found it very similar to buying stolen goods. If one is aware that the goods that one is buying are stolen, then one becomes party to the theft. As I am convinced that commercialization of floriculture at a magnitude it is in India is very bad particularly for the poor, I consider consumption unethical.

Who cares for the government statistics and the bench marks? On one hand we have 30,000 top executives in India drawing more than 10 million a year and on the other I think 90% of the population is still poor. Starvation deaths and suicides triggered by problems due to poverty have become so common that such news no more make headlines. They don’t even get a place in the cover page, do they? I doubt if these people are even acknowledged to be below poverty line as per the Indian standards. I would say every such family whose net worth drops to zero any time in a month few times in a row should be considered poor.

In India more than 90% of the population is affected by the rising prices. Even people with decent salaries have to spend rather too wisely. Average monthly household income in India is less than 1500 Rupees. When we look at the cost of commodities, 1500 Rupees can fetch you 6 kg of mutton or 50 kg of rice or 93 liter of milk. If a family of 4 dines at a small average hotel, probably 1500 Rupees will buy 2 meals. You could buy one leg of jeans if that were an option so at the most you can buy an average quality branded shirt. In Bangalore city you can probably find a six feet by six feet room in a slum for that kind of rent. Let us not talk about other stuff but try and stick to Roti, Kapda aur Makan (Food, Clothing and Shelter). Let us assume people never fall sick and never meet with an accident.
Coming back to the food, if one third of household income is spent on food, that would leave us with a small amount of 500 Rupees for an average family size of 4 persons who are not considered to be below poverty line by the government of India. One packet of dog biscuits costs more than 1000.

What has all this got to do with flowers? I am sure you are still wondering that are you might be thinking what is wrong with this guy. Commercial floriculture is definitely not responsible for the poverty of this nation but it is one of factors that make the matter worse. There might be dozens of issues, if we remove one or two we can definitely expect a reduction in the number of suicides and poverty deaths. How?

The agricultural as well as the forest land is shrinking at an alarming rate. It is already a bit smaller than what the mankind needs to survive and conserve flora and fauna. Being a human being a farmer, rather the land owner, wants to derive the maximum out of his land. Some sell their land at exorbitant rates. Such land is mostly converted to non-productive land. Some opt for higher paying crops like flowers and palm for palm oil. This results is drop in the supply of food items thus increasing the price. The high demand in the commercial land for buildings and roads, flowers and oil for fuel have made the food so scarce that people are willing to pay whatever they have just to survive another day.

Nobody is going to even care for such a small issue. After all who cares for human lives? We actually did not need to care if the governments did.

I believe there is a single root cause for problems like inflation, food shortage, depletion of fuel, global warming and disappearing forests. Nature has the power to heal everything up to a certain limit. If we exceed the velocity with which the nature can mend, we will see destruction. We have precisely been doing that for past hundred years or so. The development has been so fast that nature has not been able to keep up the pace. All we need to do is to allow it to catch up. We cannot stop development and neither should we. The only and sufficient thing to do would be to utilize the resources very wisely till the balance returns.