POSTCARD #219: Delhi: Everything comes to a stop when I see this photo, sent by Jiab in Gujarat, West India. All the pain and suffering I’ve experienced recently is suddenly nothing when I see the endeavor of this woman pulling what looks to be the trailer belonging to a truck. Even so, some would say, it’s easy for me to say, easy for me, comfortable in my male middle class security… and I search for words: admiration, respect, deference. None of these seem to describe the way that lady who looks like my Auntie is pulling that thing with the momentum of a short run at it, to get up and over the incline leading up to the bridge, then over the top and holding the weight as the trailer gathers speed on the downside.

When I first examined the photo it looked like there were two women pulling the trailer but the lady in the maroon colored sari just happens to be there, on the left of the one in the lemon colored sari. So Auntie is on her own, I imagine a person with the ability to bring up children, keep the house in order and do this physical work – “Ginger Rogers did it backwards and in high heels”.

It seemed to me, looking at all Jiab’s photos that everyone there in Ahmedabad was/is engaged in some form of labor: men, women and children. It’s worth saying that most people in the West have the idea that the population in India are passive subjects of poverty. This is not the case; everybody in the family is employed except the very young and the very old. Poverty exists because of exploitation by employers and those further up the hierarchy. Cultural aspects come into conflict with Western expectations and standards imposed by two hundred years of British rule.

It’s not easy to accept the truth that wealthy societies exploit ethnic minorities and migrants. In Scotland almost the entire berry picking for the fruit jam industry and preparitory work for the fish products industries is done by East Europeans. In Japan they have the ‘Three Ds’: Difficult, Dirty, Dangerous. All of this kind of work is done by migrant labor. I find it’s necessary to go into ‘reality check’ mode, to make sure the world I’m creating in my head does not exclude these truths.

Theirs is a level of suffering hard to endure. There’s just no getting away from it. Would it be meaningful if I were to address people like Auntie in the photo about choosing the Buddhist liberation, the Path to enlightenment? Aside from a very few cases, I don’t think so. For them, it’s about holding on, not letting go; as long as they have the strength to withstand hardship, it will go on like this. They’re putting their small earnings together as a family collective. They structure their lives around employment and can’t escape from that unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

But who am I to comment on their lives? I have one or two classic rednecks in my family and with them I’m stuck at the getting-a-word-in-edgeways stage, or never-had-a-proper-job-anyway statement, and it never ever goes beyond this. So, really how can anything be said that’s not hopelessly hypothetical? Best to have opinions unsaid and instead, have compassion, empathy, understanding.

‘An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.’ [Mahatma Gandhi]


50 thoughts on “exploitation

      • Okay I got it, to figure out, keep forgetting there’s google of course. Yes a tough nut to crack (the same Metaphor?). I hear that there are many NGOs (Non Government Organizations) in India who have the resources and facilities solely for brainstorming cultural issues, looking at the spiritual, and all kinds of ways to really ‘see’what these issues come down to.

      • … India has the caste system, or had? England, the class system, also allegedly had, and these, possibly, have a lot to do with such attitudes being so deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness… The ‘nutting’ commences…

      • Caste or class, both put people in categories, have no regard for them as people as people. In India it is indelible like a tattoo, someone said. Hundreds of years, it would take generations to change that or modify even…

  1. Jeez… thanks for sharing tiramit. Very insightful article you’ve linked to! Awareness of these issues is so important. I tend to forget how fortunate we are in the west. Caste and inequality form a dangerous combination.. sometimes I just wonder why we decide not to grow to.. like we’re all in the sandpit defending our own little castle while fighting off the others..
    Great blog and kudos to all these brave women!

    • Thanks for your contribution Pieter, it is totally mind-blowing when you stop and think about it. No satisfactory explanation except that the world comprises exploitative individuals and these, the victims of exploitation due to causes and conditions. We see some aspects of this in the school playground as you suggest here. The solution is public awareness, world public opinion can shift the various factors that cause it, although it is long-term thinking; teach the new generation bit by bit…

    • The scary thought is that these people may make up the majority of the voting public. That is something else, but it’s the same kind of brutality of circumstances that force these women to do their utmost to earn a living…

  2. As you stated, here we sit in our middle-class secure luxury and observe these things. It is a dubious distinction and a dichotomous moral quandary. Your impassioned post reminds me of a thought and quote I cherish: “There are always those greater and lesser than yourself.”
    At the core my hopes and dreams make me believe that Auntie herein is still fortunate, to have air and liberty, to have the freedom to seek her path to peace regardless of her burden.
    My heart cries for those from whom this most basic and sacred essence is denied. The refugees of strife-torn countries, those enslaved or wrongly incarcerated, victims of persecution and genocide.
    I share my wealth, frankly less than I should, and hope my meager contributions and pleas to the cosmos will help to bring us to a time and place where we can all feel equal.
    Having personally known beautiful people with hideous tattoos on their forearms, heard stories of children orphaned in death camps, and read daily of our brothers and sisters falling to the tide of war and evil, I hold little hope of seeing this in my lifetime.

    I leave you with this quote from Lena Horne. It is an easy thing to do from the comfort of my soft chair, yet I hope the spirit will help to roll this rock up the hill.

    “It’s not the burden that will wear you down. It’s the way you carry it.”

    -Lena Horne

    Keep seeking,


    • Even so, Paz, we are reading about it here. Other information could be accessed if the newspapers were able to present it in the correct way, As somebody pointed out above, there are the world’s richest men in India. So we can assume tey have the resources to introduce education and other systems that will improve the situation. Encouraging quote, “It’s not the burden that’ll wear you down. It’s the way you carry it.”

  3. this is so sad and it’s the result of capitalism and globalization. The economic rights of the developing and third world countries have been totally obliterated, especially for women.

      • My pleasure. 🙂
        Funny how the simplest solutions are often the hardest to implement. If we can just pluck them off, one blind consumerist at a time, we might be in with a chance on this one… 😉

      • All kinds of factors and even with the best kind of kamma/vipaka all it needs is one self-centered being before it hits the finish line and you’re back at the start-line, so the pattern is recurring, again and again, generational, plant the seeds now. It’ll come through in the end as people become wiser…

  4. Hi,

    I’m here from Sue’s blog. The economy system in my country, India, is strange. There’s no dearth of money as you’ll get to see Indian names in the Forbes’ world’s 100 richest individuals, that too, among the Top 20. It’s the discrimination and distribution of wealth, the huge gap between the poor, middle class and rich, that makes the difference. There are still people who live below the poverty line and, finding it difficult to make the both ends meet. There are homeless and beggars on one side and glittering, dazzling shopping malls showcasing every single brand from all corners of the world, on the other.

    This discrimination is acting as a hindrance to the overall progress of the country as a nation. But, the government is trying its best and undoubtedly we have come a long way as we celebrated the 70th years of independence just two days back.

    Thank you so much for this insightful post and words of compassion for the woman out there in the photo.


    • Thanks for dropping in from my friend Sue’s blog. Some of what you say I’ve witnessed, hard to believe some of the world’s richest people are from India – a very large number of the world’s poorest also. Even so it’s important to point out that they are all working, doing their utmost and not passive subjects of poverty. One of the reasons there is this huge gap between rich and poor is that India is a huge country, just managing the various educational programs for the poor, the skills training programs and other support systems is an immense task.
      Cultural behaviour and how people relate to each other is a stumbling block, multitasking is out of the question – except, of course, in the home amd in family groups. It’s a unique situation, living in historical circumstances. Perhaps the new Prime Minister with be an agent of change…

      • It’s reasonable to compare the land mass with USA and the difference is they speak different languages in each state but somehow get along with Hindi and English and some other common languages. It can take a very long time to get simple things get done…

      • Thanks Ellen, it’s true that we need to have the whole issue placed right in front of us. The panhandlers don’t carry the right message compared with the woman pulling the trailer, it’s the systems of employment and low wages that keep these sectors of the public below the poverty level. It’s this that’s meaningful. But anyway I have to ask myself what I’m doing here; bringing it to your attention? And you will say but what can we do about this? And the answer is, be aware it’s happening everywhere. A proper opportunity will arise when you can bring this to the attention of others. It will grow from there…

  5. Amazing photo… Have seen the plight of the working poor, especially working women in film, “Ankur”,and in many others. It is not just in India and it is not just the working poor. A block away from our apartment in New York City is a tiny shanty town of homeless people. I think of them every morning at prayer. I wonder should i bring them food. Meantime i cross the street to avoid walking into their bedroom. I feel for them when I am sick especially and think how horrible to be homeless when sick. But actually it is a daily horror. And know I would be there, too, if homeless. They seek refuge in Riverside Church across the street. As they huddle in comforters in winter and on the sidewalk in summer, I ponder their lot in life. And then we have Donald Trump. To our shame to have even as a candidate. What kind of people are his followers? It is the downfall of this country.

    Great post and photo and quote, Tiramit!

  6. Pingback: Shanty town Life in New York City | MOONSIDE

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  8. That photograph is really powerful and an underlying message of extreme poverty and suffering that so many in India still suffer while middle class are living relatively in luxury. Personally, I have seen such means of living in India for both women as well as men living in extreme poverty when sitting behind my dad’s scooter as a child ….although back then being a kid I didn’t think too much about it but simply accepted as something I was used to seeing. I can only assume how individuals living in condition may perceive the world limited to just taking those goods (like that lady in the photo) from start to their destination without any expectation of trying to think ahead for their life…every day is a struggle to just survive let alone think about their future. These kinds of moments do make one be really grateful to God and appreciate all we have irrespective of our daily life troubles which are nothing more than a storm in a tea cup in comparison to millions simply trying to exist on a daily basis.

    • It’s true, the photo says everything. The only way to create social change in India and other large countries where this is commonplace is awareness raising; the use of photos like these to influence world opinion…

  9. “Buddhism works best for mental suffering” (this is a one-liner and i know it’s a slogan)
    If you do your hard labour job, that you’ve been doing for the past 15 years, without much pain, but with a lot of sweat and hard work, and not much reward … but your mind does not mind, then there is no suffering. (this is hypothetical)
    I don’t need buddhism when I feel ill, or physical pain, but if that illness or pain becomes a source of worry then buddhism could help.
    The same could be said about emotional pain. When a child wants to stay with the slide in the playground, tears will come, and go 2 minutes later.
    So I don’t know … the picture you show here, did not at first bring me into a chain of thoughts … an exchange of thoughts with her might reveal real suffering, from something completely different, while this work might be exactly that thing that she needs to get out of it financially.
    Regardless, I liked this post, and your empathy for an unknown.

    • I agree completely and something I understand from what you say is that hard physical work, for just enough money to get by on, may be an antidote to mental suffering (in the Buddhist sense). A kind of numbing, one doesn’t contemplate the Four Noble Truths. Something needs to be said here about employers and government exploiting labour for their own profit, keeping wages so low that the employees remain in this state of mind without question, a kind of slavery. And I can also think of my elders on the farm in Scotland who worked hard in all weathers but they were able to save money and invest in the younger generation who had an easier time of it, went to University, developed mental suffering and coped with that one way or another, and I am the only one who discovered and understood the Four Noble Truths. So what I’m saying is the Buddha’s Teachings are for those who have the ability to turn their attention to mental suffering – we would say today, in most cases, the middle classes, with a childhood of not getting what we want. The Buddha himself was the priviliged son of royalty. So the basic truth is that we need to have some insight into the Third Noble Truth first before we can understand our situation. Thanks for an insightful comment Bert…

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