According to Oxford’s dictionary, the definition of politics is (but not limited to), activities associated with the governance of a country. This includes public relations between boundaries, academic study of government, a particular set of political values and beliefs, and activities aimed at improving a person or person’s life. In Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” we have an insiders look at Annawadi, a slum, which is located in Mumbai, India. Although India may be starting to improve and flourish, we see first hand how many people’s lives are still stuck in the same impoverished rut.
Abdul is the main character in the novel. This young Muslim teenager is quit the entrepreneur, running his own recycling/garbage business. Living in the Annawadi slum he tackles head on what it means to be poor, while dealing with jealous neighbors and the politics of how his government works. One of the most challenging parts of the book is at the end when Abdul declares he wishes to be an honest person, but his surroundings keep him from being this. In the following essay I will discuss why I believe this novel is definitely a political book and how it is similar to many articles and subjects discussed in class.
Inequity or the condition of being unequal, happens quit frequently in the world around us. In the article titled “NEW DELHI JOURNAL; Picking Up Trash by Hand, and Yearning for Dignity”, we see a struggle to gain equal rights. There are over 300,000 garbage collectors in New Delhi. Being that there is no traditional form of garbage collection, this job falls to the lowest level in the social stratification pyramid. These people work only for the donations they receive, as the state doesn’t provide this service. They also have to put up with little respect from their communities and no provided uniforms for protection. For many years the garbage collectors have been wanting respect and now they are finally demanding it.
In this article we see first hand what it’s means to be stuck in poverty with no one to care about your injustices. The fact is society creates different levels of income and in many cases this represents success or respect. Some cultures take this to different extremes. In New Delhi’s case we see a group of people who are treated with little to no respect, all because of the job they have and the level in society they hold. In fact a government official goes as far as to say that dignity is not something garbage collectors from any country have. Here we see the idea that dignity is not something everyone deserves, this is something that depends on your social class and occupation. The people who do the garbage collecting believe differently. They want dignity and respect from their community. There fight for justice is only just beginning with a government that has ignored them for years.
Many times we believe that it’s only in far away countries that inequality happens. Although in most cases it is right in front us and we unknowingly pass it by. In the Article “Blacks in Memphis Lose Decades of Economic Gains” we see several citizens of Memphis struggling to maintain their years of hard work. After the economy crash many black Americans in the area were hit hard financially, loosing many things they have worked very hard to obtain. In fact many believe that this event set back the many years of progress that black people have worked towards. Creating an environment where second mortgages are normal and the loss of your homes and jobs a possible everyday event. Many folks blame the banks for being so frivolous with the mortgage amount that was allotted to people. Giving far more of a loan than a person could handle, and not caring what would happen if the economy when down. Due to this many people have had to say good-bye to their homes. Many people had certain jobs for many years; they were successful at raising their families and even paying their children’s college tuition. Now due to the poor state of the economy they face loosing everything they have worked towards. They feel a great sense of loss and inequity especially when looking at the financial information they were given in the past.
Injustice seems to be everywhere, even within our educational systems. The Article “The Reproduction of Privilege” portrays this imbalance
between education and social stratification. Looking into statistics of the education world we begin to see an unbalance unfold. The majority of students in higher rated educational facilities come from higher income homes. Also statistically speaking Lower income people have a lower chance of graining an education. The quote “The education system is an increasingly powerful mechanism for the intergenerational reproduction of privilege” speaks of the root issue. The education system shows students that they are different. People from lower classes rarely rise to a much higher financial level. One of the main reasons included in this article are the cost of the education. How can we expect people to rise to new educational levels if their concerned with how to put food on the table? The boundaries preventing a student from going higher in education are enough to keep the revealing statistic’s so gapping. 74% of students attending a “most competitive” school come from a high-income family.
While only 3% of students from a low-income family go to a “most competitive” university or college. Those statistics model that of the percent of students from low or high-income homes that actually go on to further their education. In our society getting a university or college diploma or degree means gaining a higher income. The best way of changing people’s financial situations is to educate them further. According to the article tuition grants are lowering while cost of tuition is on the rise. According to Sean Reardon “The income-achievement gap is now more than twice as large as the black-white achievement gap”. This shows that our system of how we reward and education our students are very flawed. In fact it is becoming a cause of social stratification instead of alleviating it. Rich peoples children do better in school, go on to get more education, and eventually make more money than students from low-income homes. Education not only brings more money into a persons life but also makes sure that there financial gain never has to go down. A persons education becomes their safety guard against many obstacles in life. Losing your job when you have an education means you can go looking for an equally as good job with confidence you’ll find one. Having no further education and losing a job is far more of a gamble.
Annawadi is a slum located in a city in India. It is know as a place were people who are coming out of poverty live. Although in reality we see an incredibly impoverished community that is doing it’s best to survive and make money. Abdul and his family run a prosperous garbage collecting company. The people in his village knew that his family had some money put away, in the hope that someday they will leave Annawadi. One of Abdul’s neighbors went to the police and accuses his family of hurting/mutilating her. No one in the community or the police believed that Abduls family was capable of the crimes, but instead of being freed, the request for many bribes was made. The family was unwilling to pay bribes for their deserved freedom. Abdul ended up going to a youth prison even thought he was innocent. While in jail their business plummeted never to pick up again, and Abdul’s younger brother had to quit school to work. Through the book and Boo’s interpretation of the events, we get an insider look at poverty and politics. Even though Abdul’s family was innocent, he could not escape jail with just that alone. Making life as a honest person incredible difficult in Annawadi.
Looking at the neighbor who turned them in, we see a side of poverty that is most unnerving. The dog eat dog idea of surviving seems to dominate the slum. Instead of humans coming together in their sufferings or hard ships, many would rather take away from each other for the chance they might gain more. Many policies and laws are talked about throughout the novel, but because of the corruption and desperation, the laws are empty and the person with the most money wins. A crucial quote from Abdul says “I tell Allah now I love him immensely, immensely. But I tell him I cannot be better, because of how the world is”.
This quote has so much power behind the purpose of Boo’s book. How can people do better or live morally if everything around them is full of corruption. What is the good of laws if everyone is too desperate to keep them? Abdul after experiencing so much corruption after being released he wanted to run his business more honestly. Upon trying he realized he could not survive this way. Abdul Is stuck in a world that has not favored him in anyway. Everyday his and his family’s survival depends on his business. A business that depends on illegal acts to flourish, and that flourishing depends on what corruption he ignores or goes along with. Nothing in his life is fair or legal. That community has created a new since of government that in return created their own laws and policies. All because poverty speaks louder than any law or moral conviction.
Within our class some of the several different topics we look at were: values, inequality, wealth, elites, poverty, protest, voting, disadvantages, advantages, reaction and strategies. People (being the contributors) are what all of these have in common. People have created and designed all of these things, just as people have created politics itself. Going back to the beginning definition of politics, many things are included in its definition. Many beliefs, political values, and activities aimed at improving peoples lives were presented in the articles and things discussed in class. The question at hand is weather Boo’s book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is indeed political. Looking at the purpose of the book, which is to inform the world of inequality and poverty, I would have to agree that it is. Boo took an unbiased approach when gathering the information. She really tried to paint a picture of the sticky web poverty in Annawadi is, all while showing the captivating aroma of inequality. The people in the slum couldn’t even find peace between them and their neighbors. The desire to get ahead always went before morality and even friendship.
Abdul’s moral conflict at the end of the book paints the perfect picture of poverty and morality that leaves me with no question that this book is both political and influential. The quote by Samuel Johnson say’s “politics are nothing more than a means of rising in the world”. Boo showed some laws and policy’s that were broken all for the hope of receiving a bribe. Johnsons quote really highlights what is going on in the book. The people of Annawadi created their only political system in order for some to rise. The person with the most corruption of money seems to be on top of the social pyramid. In many cases their society is not much different than our own. Although we may be much further ahead financial and our poverty looks much different, we can still see inequality happening. Looking at the articles above we see two examples of injustice happening much closer to home. In all 3 cases, people were being discriminated against because of the places they hold in society. All had certain limitations brought on them because of social stratification, making success and progress and incredible hard thing to obtain. In class we talked about the fact that certain groups of elites seem to run most of our world.
This high class and wealth group seems to be a continuous cycle of success and money, which their kids also enjoy. In our world it seems that the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. We set up our communities or societies so that its evident that some people are below us. We create obstacles for low-income people to get ahead, with cost of education, and financial institutions (banks) don’t help them budget for success. We make sure that in our world if your poor than your ancestors to come will also be poor. That’s why everyone’s favorite story is the under dog that made it. Our politics’ seems to be flawed when it comes to morality (religion), which is something many believe is closely tied to politics. “The descent life was the train that never hit you” is a haunting line from Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Life in Annawadi was a game of survival, keeping your head low and going along with the way politics worked there. Its not a place you would swim against the current of corruption, but rather you let the tide take you and hopefully you would make it alive. To be someone of a certain moral integrity only meant suffering, and suffering is not something extra an Annawadi inhabitant needs.
* Boo, Katherine. Behind the beautiful forevers. New York: Random House, 2012. Print. * Edsall, Thomas B.. “The Reproduction of Privilege.” The New York Times [NewYork] 12 Mar. 2012, sec. The Opinions Page: 1. Print. * Gentleman, Amelia. “NEW DELHI JOURNAL; Picking Up Trash by Hand, and Yearning for Dignity.” New York Times [NewYork] 27 Sept. 2007: 3. The NewYork Times. * Powell, Michael . “Blacks in Memphis Lose Decades of Economic Gains.” New York Times [NewYork] 30 May 2010, sec. Economy: 3. The New Poor.