Recently, I have seen posts on my social media page, which have expressed rage at India allegedly being called a ‘poor country’ by Snapchat CEO, Evan Spiegel. There are 4 million Snapchat users in India – a nation whose current population is over 1.2 billion.
So, who are all these people expressing their anger at a statement allegedly made by an entrepreneur? After all, can these complainants be the very same persons who are subconsciously ignorant of the privilege they have over those Indians who cannot even own a smartphone?
When one asserts that ‘India is not poor’, then he/she is ignoring the existence of a major chunk of India’s population who struggle for their survival, daily. Earlier, historians and anthropologists perceived India as ‘a land of villages’, which had complex components of the rich and poor, according to the resources. However, we were essentially perceived to be poor, back then, especially when compared to the west. With increased exposure to modern technology (especially those from the west), various aspects of our ways of living were transformed and even improved.
Consequently, in a transformed and modern India, we have big and rich metropolitan cities. A major section of Snapchat users live in these cities, or are aspiring to do so. Basically, if one sees the controversy through such a lens, it would seem that it is the urban population (and not the rural one) that’s representing the entirety of India. It’s no wonder, therefore, that they were so angry at allegedly being called poor!
From one aspect, it would seem that the Snapchat CEO was accused of allegedly calling India poor because he chose to ignore the wealthy people of India, by dwelling on India’s poverty. This was what led to the controversy on social media, with rich Indians coming out to troll, meme and abuse Evan Spiegel. They even started a social media trend called ‘uninstall Snapchat’!
But, what do these people actually have to say about poor Indians? More importantly, do they even have a say on this matter? Have we forgotten about the poverty in Indian villages, which is also reflected in urban slums?
We were not enraged, at all, when “Slumdog Millionaire” won an Oscar! Instead, we glorified and celebrated it! Why have we become so ignorant towards this reality of India?
This shows the colonisation of our minds, ideas and concepts. In India, huge loans are taken for extravagant wedding ceremonies just to show off social status. We ‘pretend’ to be rich, because being called ‘poor’ is daunting for us.
In fact, we do not accept being called ‘poor’. We do not generally want to be friends with poor people, because it diminishes our status. After all, being rich makes you highly desirable. On the other hand, if you are poor, you are bound to be excluded from the mainstream society. You will also suffer silently from the indifference shown by the people around you.
These perceptions and attitudes show our extreme pretentiousness. We would rather look down upon poverty rather than confront it and think of ways to change it. Why are we so afraid of the word ‘poor’? Moreover, who are we calling ‘poor’?
The word ‘poor’ is often used in a derogatory sense, nowadays. The word has its baggage of social stigma, which is based on and highly steeped in westernised notions and formulations. Our usage of the term ‘poor’ shows how materialistic considerations have significantly overpowered us, these days.
Are our perceptions of reality so blinded that we are only provoked when a foreign social media entrepreneur speaks out? The ongoing protest by Tamil farmers at Jantar Mantar hasn’t attracted so much attention as the Snapchat CEO controversy did! In fact, it didn’t even create a storm on social media, even though it is so deeply involved with the politics of poverty and its eradication in India.
It is high time that we realise how unfortunate it is that we subscribe to these pretentions and hypocrisies. Have become so ‘poor’, ideologically, that we are incapable to face the realities? Or have our materialistic and false lifestyles overwhelmed us so much that we have almost made ‘poor’ a derogatory term?