Poverty of Minimum Wages unveiled by Corona: The need is Living Wage

Santanu Guha

At the outbreak of Covid-19, the brutal economic scenario of India has suddenly bounced the headlines of all the leading newspapers. Hungry, homecoming tired individuals are walking down miles after miles from the place where their means of livelihood has come to a halt overnight. Skilled workers who build our bridges, roads, skyscrapers, lay electrical cables, beautify the boulevards are stranded in railway or bus stations with no transport to carry them home, waiting for food packets, is a regular scene.  Dying in railway tracks or roads is a terrible sight. This quite devastating picture of the country was hidden under the statistics. The statistics which preaches how many crores of people are lifted from the clutches of poverty by India in every year and assuring U.N.O. the news. But today, media photos and reports are telling us a different story, the unspoken misery of the poor, the deprived class.

A nineteenth century writer, 90 years ago depicted the socio-economic deprivation in a letter written from Russia. After independence, many sensitive minds portrayed our national deprivation, the economic inequality. But the hypocrites of civilization uphold the picture of ‘shining India’ with economic growth rate as their poster. The strange anomaly lies in paying minimum wages, in fact paying starvation wages towards the unorganized manual labours of the country. The historical thinking which says that brain work is superior and manual work is degrading, has robbed off the dignity of wage of manual labour resulting in an aggressive inequality in the society. ‘One India’ can stay safe and locked down at home and the ‘Other India’ is waiting for food in the open roads. But this unorganized manual sector of India provides 45% in the economic growth of the country, even now working in the fields, (not working from home) for the food security of the nation.

Today’s picture in old literature:There is always a bunch of insignificant people in the history of civilization, they are majority……. They eat less than all, wear less, learn less……they toil more than any one…. they are deprived from all the amenities of livelihood”.

“Look, England (read wealthy India) is developed by the lobour of destitute (read unorganized manual labour) India. Many English think that the success of India depends on nourishing and maintaining England……. If this race (manual labour) eat less, wear less, ---------- nothing goes wrong-------- but their conditions should be improved by showing a little mercy. Such thoughts arise in English minds. But 100 years (73 years) have passed, we are not educated nor healthy nor wealthy.”

These excerpts from Rabindranath Thakur is a cliché. We think these are mere words, polite literature, not reality. Independent India cannot rule like Colonial England!

Inequality and economic growth rate: Whatever may be the thinking, our minimum wage is so low that 73% of our national wealth is enjoyed by 1% people of the country. This research work of Oxfam is ignored by the persons who run the country. They want to convince people that the swelling rate of development has swept the country with happiness. Only a few intellectuals make business here and abroad by selling Indian Poverty.

Instead of enquiring truths in the inequality study of Amartya Sen-Jean Dreze our rulers instigate other group of economists who believe that only growth rate will elevate poverty. This simply confuse common people. P. Sainath was invited to lecture on Delhi Assembly but his study on inequality in using water is never looked with an intention to rectify over users. In 1980, a parliamentarian commented that ‘Pather Panchali’ exported Indian Poverty abroad. To sum it up, our authorities take these eye-openers as thorns in the roads to ‘development’.

Corona and Basic needs of Life: If the ‘deluge of development’ could really touch the toiling mass then such movements of people would not hit the proud high ways of India today. Government would not have to distribute food in this manner, sending money to the Jana dhana a/cs. In a day or two, lakhs and lakhs of people have become penniless, foodless and shelter less, even some become fearless (giving birth after walking countless miles). Is it due to sudden announcement of Covit-instigated lock down?

According to Global Hunger Index ‘superpower’ India stands 67th among the worst 80 countries in terms of malnourishment. As per the record of WHO TB kills 1.5 million every year in India. Every year during summer 100 districts of India faces acute water crisis (study by P. Sainath). On an average 4 persons live in 6/8 feet room in the slums of India. Some orthodox statistics tells 7crores Indians are homeless. So virus is not making our country look poor. Virus has made the situation critical, unveiled the truth once again. Without the basic needs of life Corona can’t be fought out whether it is malnutrition, scanty water or crowded shelters. To the destitute the question is death by hunger or death by Corona!

Why 1.7 lakh crore relief package for 80 crores of people is announced? 80 crores migrant workers? Is it indicative that 60% of our population live below the poverty line? Do our governments proclaim the same figure (80 crore) always?

We all know it: 90% of our country’s work-force are in unorganized sector and contribute a substantial amount for the economic growth of the country. They live hand to mouth, no weekly holiday, no medical leave, and no pay if they do not go for work.

The ‘shining India’ can stay at home in lock-downs but those 90% workforce has to depend on package announcement for their survival?

The poverty of minimum wage has chained the manual unorganized workforce for centuries.

Not projects but living wage is required: There are innumerable projects like, 100 day’s work, (this is an enforceable Act also and is built to reduce inter-state migration!) Annapurna Yojana, midday meal, Ayushman Bharat, Jana-dhana Yojana and so on and so forth. But with all those projects, minimum means for decent living and to resist disease is mysteriously missing!

‘Shining India’ has no such projects. Still they do eat adequately, send their children schools, arrange own housing, make medical treatments and enjoy pleasure trips also. How? They get decent living wage& leisure.

As citizens of the country, hardworking India, the deprived India needs wage in the same fashion like ‘shining India’ because they contribute in the same way. Not starvation wage, no subsidy, no project and no mercy----- they don’t expect colonial treatments from the biggest democracy of the world but need basic demands of “living wage” and “leisure”.

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May 22, 2020

Santanu Guha

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