not at any price

A journalist from a leading western newspaper dropped by last week. She was researching an article on the impact of globalisation on the other side of India. She had visited some of the slum resettlement sites and expressed her indignation at the state of these rapidly set up spaces devoid of every basic need; water, schools, dispensaries etc. and wanted to know my views on the subject.

After she left I sat down for a long time trying to process what we had shared in those two hours and what I had experienced in the past years.

Globalisation has hit India. It is visible in the proliferation of swanky stores that sell everything you can dream of provided you face the money. I recall the days when one carefully made lists handed over to people who were going abroad. If I were to make a list today I wonder what it would contain.

Globalisation has hit India as is evident in the number of plastic pouches you see strewn on the streets of any slum: shampoos and shaving creams, detergent and hair conditioner, sauces and jams, coffee and you name it. A few years back the only pouches you saw were those of tobacco related ware.

Globalisation has hit India as foreign companies and MNCs realise the mind boggling size and buying power of this new market. To tap the size you need to flood the market with bite size goods at bite size prices, and as far as the other side of spectrum is concerned there is no limit.

Globalisation has hit India as is evident by the number of malls that are mushrooming everywhere: I even saw some being planned in lush fields that can only be reached today by a single track dirt road.

Globalisation has hit India as is seen in the multitude of gleaming bikes in slums and the variety of new cars in the now legendary traffic jams. Never mind if the bikes have been paid for by plastic money

Globalisation has hit India as is evident in the re-planning of this city where the planners in their hurry seem to have forgotten every rule in the book. An underpass imperils an age old heritage monument whereas a proposed games village threatens to choke an already dying river. And just today a building in a resettlement colony collapsed killing many people as its foundations had weakened following an unplanned and hurried demolition drive.

To many globalisation and liberalisation are welcome practices if India is to become a world class nation. But the way it is happening is wrought with dangers we may not be able to see at present. One of the most glaring effect seems to be on the increased gap between the two Indias where if one India is shining if not dazzling, the other is being pushed into further darkness. This may not be apparent to all, but our journalist did feel the need to add to every article she wrote on the shining India, a few words to temper the mood with references to the other India.

The writing is on the wall but we have lost the ability or sensitivity to see it. Plastic money that now inundates slums heralds the recovery nightmare and probable suicides. Pouches that strew slum lanes are slowly choking the city with apocalyptic consequences. The banning of street vendors, neighborhood trades and small shops will lead to increased unemployment and threaten the safety of the city. Slums relocated miles away will result in more kids being denied education and more people losing their livelihood.

Globalisation has hit India but unless we tailor it to our needs it may become a hydra headed monster difficult to tame. I recently met DK Matai ACTA is an initiative aimed at addressing these very challenges in a global way. But each one of us can and needs to address them too, and the least we can do is become aware of the flip side of the coin.

As I have written many times before, reaching out to the less privileged is no more an act of charity but an investment in the morrows of our children. One has to become sensitive to the reality that globalisation cannot be at any price.

I gall when I see the price tag attached to some of the items in luxury stores: a hand bag at 30K or ten months of salary at a minimum wage does not ring right. The urban poor cannot be wished away, they stand at our door step with the same dreams as ours.

Globalisation yes, but not at any price!