The worst type of violence

They speak of humanity. My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty. – Jorge Luis Borges

I can think of two types of violence: the direct kind that usually has a clear causation; the indirect kind that is hidden in the underbelly of society. Poverty is a form of the second type of violence. It is subtle and has become so ingrained into society that we forget to recognize it as violence.

To say that living in Sujan Singh Park, a low-income community in New Delhi, has changed my perspective of poverty is an understatement; it has rocked me to my core. Below are a few things I have learned about poverty:

(1) Poverty is not just a lack of material wealth; it is also an impoverished state of mind. It is the latter that is more debilitating, usually creating poverty-cycles among the poor.

(2) Schooling society, in the conventional sense, is not a panacea for poverty. If anything, government schools are making children inadequate to perform basic functions, such as cooking and cleaning, and are dangerously persuading children to move away from their localized knowledge base to uphold unjustifiable national benchmarks. For instance, farming is not part of the government school curriculum in rural India, where agricultural knowledge is direly needed.

(3) Poverty cannot be measured by GDP. India, for example, has ~8% per annum GDP growth rate, one of the best in the world. Yet, in a 2005 World Bank estimate, over 40% of Indians lived below the poverty line, with increasing income inequality. Tools, such as the Gini coefficient, Global Hunger Index the Inequalities-adjusted Human Development Index are better indicators of poverty.

(4) I think many people have accepted poverty as a natural part of life. This is unacceptable. We need to re-sensitize people to poverty so when they see it they recognize it and do something to fight it.

How to fight poverty? I think the battle needs to occur at three levels: (1) education; (2) job creation; (3) discipline.

The fundamental issue with our current education system is its utilitarian nature: education for getting a job and making money. Our education system needs to also focus on cultivating active citizenship among youth. As a result of active citizenship, educated students may feel a moral responsibility to help those in need.

Jobs play two important parts: they provide funds for acquiring goods; more importantly, they make people feel a sense of worth. To create jobs, we should focus on changing society’s mindset from mass production to production by the masses: the former comes at the peril of thousands of jobs; the latter recognizes the importance of work in human life.

Without discipline, both education and jobs are futile. With discipline comes consistency to carry forth an education and a job even though the immediate benefits may be absent. I would promote discipline by living it. Only once I embody discipline can I convince others to do the same.  As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The shackles of poverty are overwhelming; the malignant nature of this sort of violence is beyond the books of law, order and justice. However, through cultivating active citizenship among youth, providing stable jobs and instilling discipline, we can empower individuals to break the shackles of poverty. And, transform the valley of shadows in their lives into beacons of light that guide them and others to their full human worth and potential.

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About Ranjodh Singh
I'm currently an Ally in the Public Allies New York Apprenticeship (www.publicallies.org). Through the apprenticeship, I'm partnered with NYCRx (www.nyxrc.org), a nonprofit organization that improves the health of New Yorkers using public health interventions. I'm excited to continue serving, but doing so closer to health and medicine. I'm also enjoying NYC, which I find to be an enriching environment.

3 Responses to The worst type of violence

  1. bonchanteur says:

    Very interesting thoughts here. I’ve never thought of poverty as a form of “violence,” but when you look at how you defend your statements, it makes sense. Besides the many external causes to a person’s impoverished state, there are many internal causes. Sometimes it’s a matter of people breaking from certain mindsets.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ron 🙂 Cyclical poverty is both material and mental. To remove poverty, material gain should occur simultaneously with mental enrichment, i.e., character building.

  2. Pingback: Conversation on poverty and character building « Look, Listen and Learn

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