According to the urban dictionary, an opinion is a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. That, in my opinion, makes sense. Expressing oneself has become a universal favorite past time. It makes one feel empowered and satisfied with a belief of righteousness. Whether it is during lunch hours at work, family gatherings or to break awkward silences, people are always ready with their judgement that forms opinion.
There is a phrase that our Indian Prime Minister has made popular, “Mann ki baat, chai ke saath“. But even before he did that, a lot of people seem to have taken this slogan quite literally. On long tea breaks, they continue to express their opinions with vigor and passion. Thanks to global mediums like News hour debates, Click bait headlines, Facebook status and now even WhatsApp forwards, we keep getting all the information about things going on around the world. It has undoubtedly given us an access to distant happenings but at the same time, has left us with little knowledge of the hidden realities.
Availability of such vast amount of information at our fingertips gives us enough content but a tiny space to analyze what’s truly happening. With this limited breaking news culture, we build our myriad of opinions. The question here, isn’t to have an opinion or not, but to have one with partial knowledge that’s really dangerous. It creates a deceptive world around us and there is nothing more perilous than that.
I have been there, in that delusional world. However, since the last 6 months, I am trying to pave my path out of it, slowly but steadily and while I step into the real world, I realize all the wrong opinions I was holding, many of them about rural India. It now deeply hurts and agitates me at times to hear casual opinions and superficial statements from other people. Let’s explore some of the views that we, as urban people possess about those living in villages. Here are a few blatant statements I have heard in recent times:
1) “स्कूल जाते हो कि नहीं?”
This is being asked to every other kid one finds, and with every “नहीं”, come assumptions, some of which are, “Poor people do not value education” and “The parents are unaware and irresponsible”. Even if these thoughts are not expressed, one starts blaming the government for not having enough schools in the area. There’s a lot more than what meets the eye. The issues could range from malnutrition to the importance of schooling in a kid’s life. If one wants to pick up life skills or vocational skills, what do our schools offer? Isn’t the system pushing everyone for a white collar job? Unlike common assumption, not everyone may want that.
2) “ये लोग इतने बच्चे क्यों पैदा करते हैं?”
In southern Rajasthan, where I have been working, women get pregnant as high as nine times and on an average, four times in their life. This definitely indicates the unmet contraceptive needs but at the same time, not all these pregnancies result in a delivery due to poor health of the mother, lack of medical institutions equipped for delivering kids and an overall screwed healthcare system. Of the pregnancies that reach their full term, the high mortality and morbidity rates among children make them more prone to the dangers. In the last six months, I have seen many mothers losing their kids to Malnutrition, Malaria, TB, Pneumonia and other reasons like snake bites and alligator attack. Why wouldn’t one produce more when one knows that they will lose some of their children?
3) “पीरियड्स में सैनिटरी नैपकिन क्यों नहीं इस्तेमाल करते?”
Do we really have to push this without knowing how much money a family has, to eat, let alone to buy sanitary napkins? Women do not even use underwear in this region. So, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that sanitary napkins are an alien term and we are, yet again, too quick to judge.
4) “इनके घर में टॉयलेट्स क्यों नहीं हैं? सरकार ने पैसे दिए हैं फिर भी ये लोग उसका उपयोग नहीं करते|”
Government of India under ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan‘ provides Rs.12,000 to each household in order to build a toilet but here are a few things beneficiaries had to say – “सरकार ने 12000 टॉयलेट बनाने के लिए दे तो दिए लेकिन इतने में तो गड्ढा भी खोद के नहीं मिलता.”, “टॉयलेट के नाम पे चार दीवारें खड़ी तो कर दी लेकिन हैंड-पम्प से पानी तो हमें खुद ही लेने जाना पड़ता है. आप ही बोलिए अब मैं एक किलोमीटर जाकर 10 लीटर पानी भरके लाऊं या फिर एक लीटर पानी लेके खेतों में ही हो आऊँ?” Sewage management and water availability remain an avoidable issue.
5) “शाम को यहाँ लोग नशे में झूमते रहते हैं”
This statement shows the biases we have towards the lesser privileged. Not everyone is alcoholic here. Yes, people consume alcohol, tobacco and gutkha which helps them curb their hunger and keeps them going throughout the day with the physical labor their work demands. We, in urban areas consume equal amount of alcohol with an ever increasing number of pubs and lounges. Don’t we too do it as a stress buster? Why don’t we point such questions to ourselves then?
Note: I do not, by any means, want to justify the above mentioned acts but want to present new found perspectives that broadened my opinions.