Saturday, December 04, 2004

wake up call

you know i keep going on and on about the us, and human rights and corporate misuse of power right? well. these arent just things that interest me : they bother me big time.

since we are are soon going to be scattered across the world, i think its all the more important that we all get started on at least talking about these issues once in a while, and thinking about them a little more often? we may get some good ideas working together. its boring at first - like "why are these doomsday guys going on and on... they dont know how to enjoy life", right?

i see it like this. life is beautiful. i mean really wonderful. and the world is a shitty place. its not that there arent beautiful things in it, there are. but theyre fast being out-numbered by dirty things : men are being beaten up, women are being raped and children are being killed because some corporate felt like making a little more money, or somebody felt like being "powerful" .

if you want to know why we should be worried, here are a few reasons why. you know, those gd pi classes give a good cross section of the brightest people in the country. engineers, doctors, managers, rich, poor, smart guys, washouts ... you name it, theyre represented! and these are the things we heard them say :

" rural markets have to be exploited "
" the poor and all that "
" farmers and everything "
" some people are just more...conducive... to testing than others, especially people like us –
" so what if essential drugs become ten times more expensive and only rich people have access
to them? pharma companies have to make their profits "
" whats a poverty line? "

these were said not as slips, not as accidental blunders.... but as real statements of mindset and attitude. these people have iim calls. they will become the future coporate leaders. and this is how much they care for, and how they see, the world around them. whats shocking is not the lack of awareness, but the “who cares” take on everything that cannot be quantified for a price tag. maybe it’s the environment they grew up in, I don’t really know. a lot of conditioning happens during childhood, especially during schooling. if you want the adult version of these attitudes, did you see the ndtv coverage of the december quake in iran? it was mentioned after the cricket match – a case of implicitly stated priorities. are you mildly worried?

radio is the medium that really covers india, yes? even in the villages which have damn-all infrastructure (and there are quite a few), there are radios. on 11th april on FM radio, there was a contest : call up and tell a lie for 50 seconds. the "best" liar gets a prize. there were nonstop callers from 7 to 9. and the lies ranged from cheating in the board exams to going for a movie by telling the hostel warden that it was to visit a friend (who was injured in an accident) in hospital. no complicated facade here : lie = reward. If we say it enough number of times and in enough number of ways, it will become “always that way” and acceptable. are you a little more worried ?

we hear so much news everyday.... so many channels, can we really be missing out on the truth? can stuff really be hidden from us? can we be fed information selectively and with a view to distort? yes, we can. did we hear of the recent kalpakkam nuclear materials leak immediately, or after a few days? and that’s very near home isnt it… heres something from my favourite country! does cnn or voice of america tell us that the carlyle group is one of the worlds largest private investment group, and that it makes money by investing in the arms and ammunitions industy? nope. i dont think so. it takes an individual (eg arundhati roy), to tell you that. that the group’s partners include james a baker III (former us secretary of state), george soros (who is a Voice heeded by imf and world bank) and fred malek (bush sr’s campaign manager)? that bush senior himself makes presentations to "potential government clients”? the chairman and md of the group is ex-us defense sec. frank carlucci (who was rumfelds roommate in college). the dedicated servants of the public. screw the public. war is money.

can a government comprised of such men really work for human rights and discipline corporates? glaxo smithkline, aided by columbia university, is now in court for testing aids medication on three year old children without consent. that’s a nice combination of education, business and politics isnt it…and please note : a university was involved. how well informed dyou think their students are? and how much is because of them? who is going to discuss with those young people the dilemmas they will face and the choices they’ll be called on to make? the guys who killed the 3 year olds cos they were “just doin’ their jobs”?

its not that the alternative is joining the vhp or the rss! and – this is not to say that we indians are angels : the kind of treatment given to adivasis and dalits (23% of the population) more than contradicts that.

I really think arundhati roy was on to something when she said keeping quiet is a political act. when the person in power looks the other way, its as political an act as actively standing there and doing the damage. thats how we had godhra and world war II. thats how corporates get away with misuse of power. so lets talk. lets yell murder about things that are wrong. that theyve always been this way is a). not true, and b). doesn’t make it ok. lets be aware of whats happening around us. lets share ideas. views. opinions. who knows ? one day because you got someone interested in this whole thing, they may end up doing something fantastic.

the purpose of writing all this is, I guess, to say : we really cannot put off these things for later. they call for attention. NOW. we have to see what we can do. its important we start now and not wait till we become "adults" capable of fuzzing everything with justifications. weve double advantage : not so old that we’ll dismiss everything, not so young that we cant understand and think for ourselves.

we still have a chance to make an impact. look at world history : social change has been the result of youth dynamism questioning old political dogma and objecting to unfairness inherent in it. of course such a social conscience is not a usual thing : maybe one percent of the campus population will listen to it. but the one percent still counts and makes a difference.

at first it doesnt seem like we can do much, right? but there is! right now as consumers, we can say ok : this company is just way too unethical, im not going to buy stuff from it. (ive seen quite a few moms fondly lavish coke on their kids even now!).

simple things : if we go into business, lets be professional and ethical. professional is about making profits, evolving long term strategies etc etc. ethical is about drawing a line with regard to what lengths we will go to to achieve the profits. somehow the two have been declared mutually exclusive these days, but thats not true! look at infosys, wipro, tata... we can have both.

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