What is the hardest Indian language

10/14/2020 | Naren Bedide
India is the pandemic

India is facing what is probably the worst crisis in its history. Naren Bedide tells how a desolate public health system, massive unemployment, political arrogance and, as if that weren't enough, a global pandemic threatens to break up a society that has never been united.

Photo: Naren Bedide
Dear friends,

A few days ago a leading Indian magazine reported that 78% of all Covid patients would only get a bed in the intensive care unit through contact and influence. Before the coronavirus, more than four-fifths of all health expenditures were privately financed. This means that there was basically no real “state” health system. After all, since March all available public health facilities were so overloaded that they were even more difficult to access for the poor and underprivileged.

graphicrecording.cool The virus also divided Indian society in other areas. From Maria's point of view, the migrant workers "were de facto lawless even before the pandemic [...]". This sums up a situation that is particularly drastic in India. As a result of the lockdown, more than a third of the Indian workforce lost - hopefully only temporarily - their jobs. And these are only conservative estimates. For the most part, this affects workers who migrate between the federal states.

A majority of them, like over 90% of all Indian workers, were in informal employment. Most of these day laborers have no entitlement to benefits, safeguards or safety nets. They work as housemaids, cooks, construction workers of all kinds, drivers, stewards and security guards, as painters, diamond cutters, waiters, cooks, farm workers and in millions of other forms of wage slavery. For them, the lockdown was marked by poverty, drought, floods, unemployment, hunger, violence against members of lower castes and all the other disasters that were multiplied many times over.

As a result of the lockdown, more than a third of Indian employees lost - hopefully only temporarily - their jobs.

Many of them started their journey home without jobs, savings or hopes for the near future. They walked because there were no other modes of transport: no buses, trains, or planes (which they couldn't have afforded anyway). It doesn't matter whether this home is 500 or 1500 kilometers away. In this way, the largest known wave of migration in human history began in March 2020. The march lasted until June 2020 when the central and state governments re-opened some train and bus services. According to various estimates, a total of 20-40 million people set out on foot within this period.

It must be emphasized again that in India there have never been events like that of summer 2020 - a migration of millions of people in a very short period of time. The exception to this is the partition of India, another major event that affected around 14 million people in the late 1940s. And while the tragedy in Syria is one of the most recent examples, if the estimates given are correct, then the pandemic in India has caused more people to leave.

The main difference between this exodus and other migratory movements was that in this case people did not leave their home but wanted to reach it. So they had set out before, and many of them did it as seasonal workers year after year. Assuming that behind every migration there is an inevitable crisis or catastrophe, then these migrants knew their enemies all too well and had learned to live with them.

Life in their Indian home villages has always followed a strict order that should prevent any form of individuality. The caste system divides all people into groups (there are nearly 6,000 castes throughout India and 200-500 in each state) and inserts them into a hierarchy led by the ruling caste of Brahmins and landowners. All natural resources, including land and water, are allocated according to the ranking of the individual groups or castes or jati (which literally means birth group).

Any form of advancement, for example through marriage, is prevented by the requirement of endogamy and made even more difficult by class-related or material differences - between the upper and lower castes. The religious ideology, which revolves around the concepts of purity and pollution, also makes a significant contribution to this. Lateral movements are also strictly forbidden by the archaic rules of endogamy. In this way, any form of basic social interaction is prevented.

About a century later, Ambedkar described what Marx called stagnation as a "cesspool". Both referred to the Indian village and both meant that it was difficult to bring about social changes there. In Marx's view, "accumulation" was not possible here because any surplus would be siphoned off immediately (a view that was later questioned to some extent). Ambedkar, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the division of labor according to the caste system was not just a functional division, but actually a 'division of the labor force' to ensure that the lower castes could not unite, to bring about an overthrow of the ruling castes.

All natural resources, including land and water, are allocated according to the ranking of the individual groups or castes or jati (which literally means birth group).

Today, in 2020, the movements of migrant workers (from the villages and into the villages) are once again proof that Marx was correct with his sharp observations almost two centuries ago and Ambedkar with his findings about a century ago.

Strengthening 'immunity' has become a mantra throughout India and around the world over the past few months. If we expand the term (immunity) a little beyond the realm of physical health and apply it to Indian society, we see that it is threatened by dangers that are not random, like those of the pandemic. Your immune defense was fundamentally weakened by the caste system a long time ago. India itself is the pandemic, and the coronavirus is just another blow to the long-ailing social health of the lower classes.

Almost a hundred years ago, Dr. BR Ambedkar to Gandhi, who fought for independence from Great Britain: "Dear Gandhi, I have no home." While Gandhi represented the interests of the upper class (basically the upper castes) in Indian society, Ambedkar stood up for the 'untouchables' and all other lower castes which made up the majority of the Indian population.

Ambedkar's words seem to echo particularly clearly on this migrant workers' march. The migrants form only a small but significant group and make it clear under what precarious and stressful conditions the majority in the lower castes of India live. For the past hundred years, most of them do not seem to have found a home in their own villages. In many ways the other participants in their contributions to this debate get right to the heart of the matter, and yet there appear to be clear differences on many more issues.

The migrant workers had no opportunity to strengthen their immunity in their hometowns, where the material conditions overall did not leave much room for change. At her workplace in the cities, this kind of strengthening that went beyond securing a livelihood was also not possible. However, the migratory instinct in itself represents a major step forward in the reality of life. So on the one hand there have been changes, but on the other hand not.

For this reason, I cannot fully subscribe to Michael's disappointment with the state of democracy and other ideals of the western world. Because it was democracy, albeit in its rudimentary form, that triggered the impulse among migrants to take their fate into their own hands and strive for improvement. To gain access to public services, to finally seek basic education and to strive to improve their living conditions.

graphicrecording.cool Had the western ideals of democracy and human rights actually failed, as a member of a lower caste I would never have been able to use a forum like this to express my opinion. However, most of the promises of democracy have so far remained unfulfilled. The migrations to and from home can also be traced back to this.

The debate on democracy ignores the fact that the ruling classes outside the Western world, particularly in countries like India, made far more extensive use of the techniques of exercising power (which also originated in the West) than the lower classes could avail of their legal remedies .

At this point we have to understand that the pandemic has contributed significantly to a further split in India, and here again create a connection to the lockdown and the subsequent migratory movements. The majority of the migrants came from the states in the north and east, but their jobs were mainly in the states in the west and south. In these relatively wealthier states, there were job opportunities, higher wages, and better economic opportunities. For example, the per capita income here was 3 to 6 times higher than that in the countries of origin of the migrant workers. As everywhere in the world, economic conditions contributed significantly to the migration flows.

But there was another major difference between the home states and the target states that cannot be fully measured by economic standards. Home states lag well behind on all human development indices - literacy rates, maternal and child health, gender distribution, etc. -. In the target countries, urbanization and industrialization were also more advanced. But the main difference was mainly based on language: Most of the migrants came from states in which Hindi is spoken, while various older languages ​​are spoken in the destination states. These are even much older languages ​​with their own cultural and historical roots that came into limited contact with each other during British rule or the Mughal Empire.

The migrants were therefore in every respect, with the exception of the theoretical criterion of their nationality, refugees such as people from Afghanistan in Pakistan or from Somalia in Yemen. It is possible that the cultural, socio-economic, historical differences between these migrants and the people in the destination / receiving countries are greater than, for example, those between Syria and Europe or Colombia and the USA.

While the original migration from the home to the host country was triggered by economic stagnation exacerbated by strict caste rules, the return migrations were due to capitalism's striving for cost savings. The governments in the states and civil society groups tried to support the migrant workers in need, but once again the cultural differences were the decisive factor, so that the refugees were forced to make the long journey home.

They were unable to organize joint protests to claim their rights and to pillory their irresponsible employers because this would have required an understanding and assimilation of the local working classes with their problems. According to Ambedkar, this was inconceivable in a caste society. Especially not when a certain caste society speaks in a language, tone and logic that is completely different from its own caste society at home.

The pandemic has brought to light the profound impotence of the Indian Bahujan (majority of the lower castes) in their homeland and in their host states. Their possibilities of permanently attracting the attention of state structures or of influencing social measures or discourses in a noteworthy form have always been limited by the traditional social order based on the caste system and at the overall Indian level by the lack of a comprehensive cultural unity.

Should the Bahujans manage to assert their rights at the village level and to suspend the caste rules, these achievements at the district level would again be undone; and if they should overcome this resistance themselves, they would be rejected at the state level. Should they even be able to overcome this hurdle, the central government (or federal government) would take care of restoring social order. Small successes in shifting the balance of power (which are always designed in favor of the ruling castes, whose strength grows with each new step in the power hierarchy) in some places would therefore always be short-lived. In this way the Indian Union contributes to a weakening of the collective immune system of the Bahujan.

Again Ambedkar's words come to mind:

"... People represent a society because they have certain things in common. Having similar things is completely different from owning things together. And the only way to get people to have things in common is, that they communicate with each other. This is just another expression for the fact that society continues through understanding, actually even through understanding. To put it more concretely: It is not enough for people to act in a way that agrees with that of others Action, even if it is the same, is not enough to make people into a society. ... "(Translated from the English by Sarini in:" Extinction of the caste system ", Draupadi Verlag, 2019)

Indians from different regions or states have always acted in parallel, often differently (and now contradictory), and never formed a society. Accordingly, national parties like the Congress Party always practiced different forms of populism in different regions and referred to this as 'unity in diversity'. In the meantime, the BJP has taken on the matter and cleared up with the alleged goal of wanting to care for various sections of the population. They now insist that everyone in the country is Hindu (including all Muslims, Christians and Sikhs) or at least strives to be Hindus because this is the timeless truth in India. The party wants to spread an older form of populism. This is one point on which I disagree with Youssef.

Perhaps this was one of the saddest years of my life, witnessing so much misfortune up close and from afar. Millions of people who set out in the merciless Indian sun and in the dead of night. Men, women and children who had stuffed their belongings in saris or plastic bags or cheap suitcases. A girl transported her injured father 1200 kilometers on a bicycle. One traveler died just a few meters, another just a few kilometers from his home. They suffered and died of starvation. The best-selling food was a cheap brand of biscuits - most of them couldn't afford more.

I had no way of escaping the virus, of taking my mind off it. In order to cast your mind out, you probably have to look at the whole world that surrounds it through your eyes.

Wealthy relatives died and poor relatives were also affected. There was no hospital that accepted the wealthy despite their large amounts of cash. And the poor hoped fervently that their children or spouses would not be affected, so that they would not have to take the prohibitive tests even though they all lived together under one roof.

[...] national parties like the Congress Party always practiced different forms of populism in different regions and described this as 'unity in diversity'. In the meantime, the BJP has taken on the matter and cleared up with the alleged goal of wanting to care for various sections of the population.They now insist that everyone in the country is Hindu (including all Muslims, Christians and Sikhs) or at least strives to be Hindus because this is the timeless truth in India.

People couldn't pay for their loved ones' funerals. Corpses disappeared, patients were lying on the street without care. And the governments of most states took advantage of the inaction of the citizens * during the lockdown to crack down on dissent from all ranks.

But one thing is still clear: India itself is the pandemic. The only way to combat this condition is to reclaim your immunity in your home village.
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