Bubble Burst, Faith Lost
Somewhere between the walls of the cathedral school, the smiles of servants, and the bustle of Dharavi, I found myself facing uncomfortable questions. These were not exactly the issues which our instructors tried to raise, and issues which I had dealt with before. They were not the causes of poverty or the bills passing through government, either. Instead I found myself reflecting on my own role in this place and this world which I now was beginning to see was far different and more diverse than any I had before experienced. I had never set foot in true poverty and been surrounded by the desperate working of those trying to escape it, then returned to a life of privilege so quickly. In this pattern, I felt my own privileged life coming into focus. Part of me simply felt sad and guilt; sad that some lived this way, guilty that I stole the resource and the privilege that they might never touch. For most of my life I have valued myself on grades, awards, and accolades handed out by institutions and instructors. Today, far beyond the Andover bubble, I find myself questioning what it all meant in the end. The end goals of my life, the things that had given me a purpose and a drive for so many years fell beneath my feet. All my successes mean nothing, really, when so many unknown and intelligent children are being deprived from ever competing. My education might keep me at the levels of my parents, but it would not go to a kid who could use it for a much better purpose: to escape a violent cycle of poverty. Was I putting it to the best use that I could? It was not simply that I felt bad that my success was based on a skewed system. I already knew this, though seeing Dharavi next to South Mumbai gave me a chance to look at things more clearly. It was also that, as things grew more and more complicated, I found my opinions oversimple, and any plan insufficient. In my entire life, I have kept just one unwavering belief, and have defended it to the end: there is a solution to the world's problems that can change things for the better. I worked hard all my life because I wanted to be part of that change, though I had never experienced direclty the vast inequalities which I dreamed of changing. I viewed it all from an ivory tower of statistics. Reality is much, much messier. Was Dharavi awful and deserving of our sympathy, or was that an arrogant assumption that ignored the hope of a hard-working community? Where do we draw the line between human right and earned luxury? Can a community best be helped by outsiders, or is that an invasion that will only cause further strife?
I once believed a government policy could do it all. In reality, there is no single answer, no good solution. Worst of all, governing is just a guessing game, where a seemingly good policy can just exacerbate the problems. Redevelopment could be good for some of the Dharavi residents who can prove residence, but bad for the migrant workers who rent out spaces in their shops. Maybe it is important to improve Mumbai's appearance by eliminating the slum. If the economy increases, many people could be helped. But who can even tell us with certainty whether these supposed causal chains will actually play out as anticipated? How can everyone be accomadated? And if we must choose who wins or loses in policy decisions, is it even possible for humans to create a fair system to decide? Because its made up of flawed humans, democracy can never be perfect. Even the most reasoned and informed legislators could not determined what is fair for Dharavi. They could create a better Right to Education Act, but still be troubled by issues of integrating the poor. In India corruption is rampant and real in everyday service. In America corruption is rampant and real in elections and legislation creation. Government as an entity, both in India and America, may never find the true justice I once believed was out there.
The full solution cannot come from a White House or Parliament as I once expected. The answer is more complicated than that. There is culture, which might learn to accept corruption and bribes. There is a problem of accessbility of information. Jinali, my homestay host, turned to me one evening and explained that many poor people did not know their rights, and therefore would not be treated justly even if the court system was perfect. They would never know to challenge below minimum wages or degrading treatment. There is a problem of self-confidence. If a system has crushes a class, a caste, a race, or a person for too long, confidence is erased. If things change, oppressed people may not have the courage to take advantage of the new paths opened to them. These are global problems, and there are many more like them. Though we may work, we may never find a truly just solution to solve all these layers of a problem. That solution may not even be out there at all. That doesn't mean I have surrendered the fight. I simply find my ambitions more humble and my everyday actions more important. With my path to greatness rendered insignificant in a world more complicated than I could imagine, I see that I can only do what I can to figure out the problems placed before me. I must observe all I can, avoid assumption, and come as close to truth as possible.