This is the reason I started writing my blog again, I just had to share my recent understanding of this term. You would think that I would have had a thorough grasp of the growing gap between the upper and lower classes from my studies in international cooperation or possibly my travels through countries of varied economic divisions. However I have managed to stay oblivious and narrow minded to this disparity until recently through reading project details of urban poverty from SPARC, the NGO I am working for. So I would now like to share how I came to realize the intensity of this growing gap between rich and poor, just in case there are people reading this who are as slow as I am.
In the first few days upon arriving in Mumbai, everything I bought was in the 100-300 rupee range (2$-6$ CAD), whether it was food, clothes, beer, taxis, anything. And my hostel was more. So I began to think it odd that prices did not round up to at least the nearest tenth, and that any change I received, the person was sure to give me back every last rupee. I found these endless single rupee coins pretty much worthless, as they amounted to less than 20 cents Canadian (whereas Canada has recently discontinued distributing pennies). It wasn’t until reading of SPARC’s work about housing sidewalk and slum dwellers through communal savings that the numbers began to emerge for me. On average, slum dwellers in Mumbai earn 20 rupees a day, which means that their whole day’s expenditure happens solely within these coins that I deem worthless. It’s like there are two economies functioning simultaneously within one currency, one city and directly adjacent to one another.
One of the first few days we were sitting on the empty beach one morning and a guy came and sat next to us. You could tell by his clothes and his teeth that he was not well off, and we just sat there, both staring into the same sea, doing the same thing at the same place, yet from two entirely different livelihoods. Now I am nowhere near the upper echelons of this inequality (especially after realizing how pricey it can get from our apartment hunt), but it still shows how different people can value similar things and yet arrive there by entirely different means.
My limited experience with poverty has also led me to believe that all homeless people are responsible for their situation, at least in big cities. I know this isn’t true but back home many people are on the street due to illness or addiction and I have heard stories of people moving out of the city and being able to find a home working only minimum wage (I’m pretty sure you could rent at least a trailer by working at Tim Horton’s in my home town). For some reason I always thought that if you could get a job, that you can feed your family. I am only realizing now what a fantasy this is. In India the cities are where the jobs are, yet the petty wages unskilled newcomers earn compared to the insane real estate prices is unbelievable and unattainable. No matter how much these people work, and they are working (legally or not), they will never be able to afford a real home.
After understanding the lives of these people, I can’t help but give whatever rupee coins I have on me to the dirty little kids that come up to my taxi window (especially since the taxi driver does the same). It makes such a difference to them and means nothing to me, whereas in Canada I never give money to beggars, and even if I did they wouldn’t appreciate a couple of pennies.