‘The market decrees that the scarcer something is, the more expensive it becomes. But there is a difference between valuing water and putting a market value on it. No one values water more than the village woman who has to walk miles to fetch it. And no one values it less than urban folk who pay for it to watch it flow endlessly at the turn of a tap.’
A friend sent me this paragraph during an MSN conversation, and I haven’t been able to get Arundhati Roy’s words out of my head. The differing values we ascribe to.
My thoughts returned to it when I read that the US military has a law which allows ‘psychological warfare’; and so planting US success stories in the Iraqi media to disillusion the Iraqis was perfectly legal. Republicans called for an apology from John Kerry who brought up the issue in the past, claiming it was immoral to do so and asked how the Bush government could sanction it. So, let me get this clear: Now that it IS legal, outrage is unnecessary? Sometimes laws DO need to be changed, and your instinct might tell you which direction you should be going.
But let me return to India- the mother country; where I have returned to understand it better. No longer the quasi NRI that I have been living as, I am back in Delhi, doing the Delhi things; living the Delhi life. During a conversation with a friend who restores vintage cars, I asked him how much he pays he workers. He said his head mechanic makes 10,000 rupees a month. Is that a lot, I asked him, because I know that is about the starting salary of a HT city journalist? Of course to a large extent, the HT city journalist is probably still living at home and using this starting salary as pocket money, while for the head mechanic, the 10,000 rupees goes a long way in maintaining a family.
Now allow me to harp back to the concept of democracy for a moment. I’ve been reading Shashi Tharoor’s book ‘The Great Indian Novel’ and through the voice of the narrator, VV, Tharoor raises some interesting questions. One of those is the reign of Priya Duryodhani [alias for Indira Gandhi]. The picture he paints is not pretty; perhaps the most horrifying sequence comes to us in the form a dream where Priya Duryodhani and her trusted advisor Shakuni decide to play Yudhishtir at a game of dice (fixed of course) and she watches in glee as Shakuni attempts to disrobe Draupadi in vein. If Draupadi serves as a metaphor for democracy, then her attempted rape for the sake of political victory is enough to condemn our erstwhile Prime Ministers as one of the vilest villains in history. Of course, this is merely a dream, and VV does accept that some good came out of the Emergency although Indian democracy took a severe hit. Now, the question that is raised is this: while democracy was restored and perhaps the Emergency forced a now complacent Indian population to actually use the democratic tools they sweat blood for, can the subversion of democracy really be that easy?
I have to allude to Star Wars at this point. In all the talk about Jedis, the Force and Yoda, one can forget that it is a chilling story about how the Chancellor Lord Palpetine hijacks the Republic by creating a false threat which forces the Senate to bestow him with emergency powers, which he never returns, until his protégé kills him. [Of course this is where the story differs from our own, because Mrs. Gandhi willingly called for fresh elections, although she grossly miscalculated how well the Emergency had gone down with the public]. The lesson in it is that the value we prescribe to things- water, morals, democracy and the like are relative. In a beautiful scene in the movie, Padme watches the Senate hand over emergency powers to the Chancellor who she knows will only use them to his own end and not the greater good, and remarks ‘So this is how democracy dies… with thunderous applause’.
And now here we are, tackling domestic violence. Women can now be protected from their husbands and live-in partners from actual or threatened physical, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. A step in the right direction, certainly. However, perhaps forms of abuse need to be defined closely because this new law is ripe for more and more problems cropping up and enforcing agencies will have a field day with it, as suggested by many including Soli Sorabjee in the Indian Express. On the other hand, and as predictable a development as any, you can see the panic setting in with the male populace who are scared their wives and girlfriends may take them to court for quasi-abuse, or no abuse at all. When it comes to domestic violence, most women don’t even own up to it, law or no law. On top of that, abuse can come for many reasons; bad mood, bad food, crying children, the women went out without permission; you name it, you have it. So qualifying it may serve as a problem. What goes in one relationship can be completely horrific in another. Again, it’s the value you ascribe to certain things, and drawing boundaries can be an impossible task.
So let me end with a quote that sums it up for me: here’s Aristotle who studied under Plato and taught Alexander the Great-
‘We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly’.