“It Can Be Done”
This particular post is dealing with a lot to be unpacked. In the following few paras, I do not attempt unpacking all of it, but a small part of it – and that is the will of the society. Thinking about where to start writing and giving form to ideas swirling in my head, I decided to start at what I think is the most important. It is the right to life. This right to my mind is the most unalienable of rights.
Society does not give life. A mother and a father give birth to another life. Therefore society also does not have the right to take it. Because it benefits immeasurably from a human life, it has a moral obligation to protect it and protect it for its own sake.
This story of Rehman losing his wife to a workplace fire touches on his family’s already precarious financial situation inching evermore to the precipice. A fall from that or even a fear of fall from that may push him to discontinue education for his young children and if he has a daughter cause him to marry her off earlier than advised. ‘Blood money’ does not assuage the life’s lost human potential and returns it had for society had it continued. At best it is an insurance payout enough to tide over the loss of that family member.
It does not account for the mental trauma that has been caused and its consequences to the individual, their family and eventually the society their survivor’s work in. From all points it grossly and obscenely devalues human life. ‘Blood Money’ was a cultural practice in earlier times and unfortunately exists even today in some parts of the world is a very crude quasi judicial practice. It came about in absence of evolved and layered mechanisms of modern jurisprudence and its built-in appraisal of monetary compensation for the harm done.
‘Blood money’ as it describes the often hastily announced government administered compensations, is essentially kicking the can further down the road, until the next tragedy comes around. It provides minimalistic compensation support to the victims of the tragedy, improves electability, staves off political attacks and provides grand photo-ops, all with the backdrop of victims bodies. It is a very lazy form of governance (if there is any at all), which does nothing to establish and enforce modern infrastructure codes – fire, building, flood resistance, electrical and workplace equipment safety to name a few.
So what perhaps should be or could be the path forward? To my mind it requires at some level of society a very strong desire for change. Without a strong desire, political and policy actions won’t and don’t take place. That strong desire can pull on the levers of democracy to get the attention of policy makers such that it is seen as an incontrovertible need for action.
The policy makers will have to turn to a multi-disciplinary body of experts in public works, architecture, various engineering disciplines and create regulations (codes) that eliminate or lower risks. An education strategy will have to be created and implemented requiring trades people to get licensed and show knowledge of codes and how to implement them. Education for the masses will have to follow proselytizing citizens on the benefits of embracing these codes and also requiring the trades people in their employment to demonstrate knowledge of the same.
It will require governments to subsidize the costs required to upgrade and refit older buildings needed to meet the regulations. Do I hear that subsidizing is going to be too expensive? Studies around the world have shown that subsidies for retrofits pay forward and pay for themselves by significantly lowering the cost of public health, increasing energy efficiency, and increasing fire safety. They eliminate ‘blood money’ payments and realization of the full human potential that otherwise gets lost in tragedies involving life and limb.
India wants to be recognized as a country of people whose time has come. In the long run, it will not be judged for this on the basis of world GDP rankings or on how many billionaires exist in India today, or the size, might and sophistication of its armed forces. It will be held to account on how it scores on the human development index scale, or on the score for governance transparency and corruption, the quality of life as measured by access to clean air, water and high quality medical care, and its solving the economic divide.
The climb on these scales will require a lot of effort and will seem hard, but many nations around the world have done it – and they have done it coming from far worse starting points than India does today. It will require a very big ‘political will’ of India’s people and their resolve to impose that will unto themselves to change. It will require a realignment of priorities and rejection of laissez faire.
It can be done… with political will that surmounts parochial and short term interests.