by Dr R Balasubramaniam
I started reading this book a month ago and I am still wrestling with the words on pages that have disarmed me of ignorance and have unearthed and rooted a deep consciousness. I have battled a lot in finding the balance between gut conviction that clenches your heart and mental knowledge that expands your horizon, how to maintain some logical balance of the two, I found myself with toes over the ledge of either extreme.
The standard dictionary defines a citizen, “as a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of the state”, my challenge is that such definitions propel this idea that humanity ( defined here as being of value to the common man/ a sense of connectedness) and our citizenship are the sky and the ground.
i, the citizen instead appeals to the idea that there is no middle ground and a “man” that chooses to look away when he sees a fellow citizen being unjustly treated is a traitor, the author further goes on to say it is our duty and not a service as those educated on the backs of the uneducated , that we take this knowledge and extract the portions of it that envision solutions that marry humane actions and strategic resolve. When it comes to governance, it is the role of an enlightened citizen who has access to information to get the government to fulfill its duties to the people, we must realize that it is lucrative for those in power in the pursuit of self-interest ( An unsaid rule in modern society) to shirk of their responsibilities. The nature of democracy is that it makes governance the responsibility of every citizen this is stated in the fine print as the terms and conditions that no-one really reads.
On the economy, the author dispels the idea that GDP and GNP are measures of development but instead that they only measure economic growth. An economy can grow whilst retaining wealth in the pockets of a few. GDP can increase through “immoral actions” in the name of cultivating a open economy, developments sole focus should instead be; expanding the liberties of the common-man, it is a humane activity and perhaps we oversimplify development by creating numerical measures of restoring human dignities, do not get me wrong, yes there are physical measures such as education, housing, access to information that invite the marginalized into “mordern society” but in all these metrics lets not forget the value of social capital.
Dr Balasubramaniam introduces us to Bomma who died in poverty, it is important to note that his ancestors were not poor. They lived in a forest that provided adequate sustenance in the form of fruits, honey, meat and shelter. Oneday it was desired that this forest should be conserved as a national park and Bomma and his family forcibly removed and reinstated in the outskirts of “mainstream” society, where they would struggle to integrate into society and be called poor. Never known as anything other than this word. The author appeals to systems to realize that the “poverty of the people” does not translate into a homogenous mass of development aspirations and is not defined as simply as, living below a dollar a day, the author gives poverty a face, which I see as vital in todays world.
I have always struggled with how I have found myself overtime being desensitized to the social evils and instead accepting it as a natural occurrence of a capitalist system. The author explains, the problem with this view is that it subconsciously communicates that the life of the man on the street is less valuable than the CEO who is said to contribute to stimulating the economy. I have found it necessary to everyday consciously choose to see the man besides me and not absolve myself from his struggle. I knew this book had struck a cord as I walked to work one morning, pondering on all things and nothing, it begun drizzling lightly and I started considering whether I should perhaps request a uber or walk another 800meters in the rain. I walked after an internal debate, I felt it important in that moment that I practically cencitized myself to a reality that many citizens of various ages who walked besides me did not have the luxury of escaping.
Lets dismantle preconceived rules of engagement in all our arenas of influence and instead resume the identity of i,the citizen as maybe, just maybe; it could make the world a little easier to breath in.