So many people have already asked me how I reconcile my ideas of poverty and Western privilege with being in India – but let me be honest with you – at this point, I think India does a better job of dealing with its poor than does America. In the United States (and vastly across the neoliberal, Western world), we segregate our poor and our rich. Districts of poverty and wealth in New York City are more vast than any I’ve seen here. Any major city in our world does its very best to isolate “those with” from “those without”, jokingly intermixing when it serves a PR purpose (diverse schools, neighborhoods, etc.) but ultimately giving people every option to separate.We create ideological, political, social and in fact, physical barriers, to section one group of people off from another. We may not have a caste system as was seen in India for so many years, but for many, their economic class at birth determines their livelihood, educational structure and future lifestyle just as much.
It’s true that I’m only getting an example from one city, Bengaluru, but in India it appears that poverty is not hidden away as a disease, as something that must be wrong with someone. In the U.S., laziness is frequently assumed as a prerequisite of being poor, here it is simply a matter of upbringing, whether through a caste system or simple socio-economic norms. Additionally, much of the IT business (centered in Bengaluru) has created a huge new influx of wealth for many families, with very limited predispositions towards which classes/castes will be successful in the field.
So there is my analysis – perhaps I am biased in ways that only Westerners are, content to come up with reasons to feel better about the poverty I am seeing in my newfound everyday life. Or perhaps, I am seeing another side of India, a more human side, where people acknowledge poverty and somehow, respect it, where Western culture sees only shame.