An image is a powerful medium of pedagogy – it teaches without formally teaching us. It prepares a generation, which develops a particular understanding of the world through it. Images have the power and potential to not reveal the fundamental characteristics of the system in whose belly lie these truths but paints the canvas with another colour and brush. The reason why so much of emphasis is put on images is self-explanatory.
Capitalism brings with itself a vulgarity which is unique. This uniqueness lies not in the way it displays richness amidst hunger and poverty because this shameless existed across societies in history founded on the basis of inequality and exploitation. It’s uniqueness lies in the fact that this display is accompanied with a farcical claim of pain and anguish at the high level of impoverishment. It calls itself democratic, defined along principles of Right to Life, Equality of Citizens etc. Pictures of a tall building standing amidst the slums in the former industrial hub of Bombay never remains the only example though that might be extreme. It is reflected in the everydayness of brazen inhumanity and inequality. Media, with its images induces us into an imagination of world where it is alright for poverty and huge richness to co-exist. It presents to us in the same image both the dimensions without discerning their realities and without explaining how it is inhuman to amass huge wealth at the cost of millions of people. The hungry, unwell, pregnant women walking for hundreds of kilometres to escape the precarity of a lockdown when presented along with the advertisements of a 2.4 crore flat presents not only the acuteness of inequality and exploitation but also demonstrates how our imagination is being shaped.
There is a widening spectrum of shamelessness, which also provides legitimacy to this character of capitalism, when it shows thousands of precarious labourers thronging bus stations and railway stations on hand and a few lines later the same page asking you to buy a flat which would start costing from 2.4 crores onwards. Capitalism has produced a class, which is not ready to accept that it is responsible for the destruction of the planet and creation of new diseases. This class, which took pride in its globalised identity also ensured that it globalised diseases. The holidaying and honeymooning in ‘foreign’ land as well as ‘travelling for work’ has also meant that the diseases travel with them back home and infect not their family but those who cannot afford to go to those ‘foreign’ lands for any of those works. The disease, this time, was not brought to the houses by the ‘filthy’, ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unhygienic’ cheap labour cleaning utensils and dusting our households or those who work at our workplace but it has been rather thrust on everyone by those who bought their labour power. Anyhow, their unhygienic and unhealthy conditions have been produced by this very system which extracts every bit of their life to ensure a great life for itself, pushing them into this situation.
We know that the labour force is segmented – it being not so simple as exploiters and exploited. There are many who are exploited but who are also exploiters, which does not make them realise that they also sell their labour power. The vast pool of reserve army of labour allows them to become exploiters, buying labour power of others at a price they can afford. This class is also a mercenary class, which fights battles for capital. In other words, the system expands its mercenaries through segmentation of labour force – the owners of capital at the top are exploiting the labour power of a huge class of people, who do not realise this because they are sufficiently paid wages to lead a life of luxury at the cost of another huge army of people, who service them at a much lower wage. This hierarchical arrangement of wages (through a functionalist understanding) allows for the creation of a class, which would advocate democracy, equality, transparency and so on principally but will be quiet when it comes to answering questions about itself, what it does in everyday life. This segment is also further sub-segmented into illusory categories of upper, middle and lower segments, united through aspirations and an understanding of the capitalist system that there are possibilities to go up the ladder – enforced by the fact that a property dealer can become President, a sweetshop owner can own university or a second hand car dealer can own chain of schools and so on. This exercise has allowed for a huge army of mercenaries for the system to exist, which shields the exploitative and oppressive system against possible discontent.
This is also the army, which responds differentially to call for charity and donations, allowing the system to tide over possible time of extreme contradictions visible in times like pandemic of corona virus. Freire, in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, interestingly gave us the idea of false and true generosity. He showed how the oppressor tries to soften its impact through “false generosity”. “In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity,” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source. True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity”.
Why is there so much demand from the state to show generosity towards hungry and unwell people? Or why is the state becoming so ‘generous’? Those people marching out of cities towards their homes in remote villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh or other states are symbols of something seriously wrong with this system. If that wrong was corrected this call for generosity from Prime Minister and Chief Minister would not have arisen. As Freire said if one starts questioning the “source” of problems the powers that be get threatened. Without talking of anything grand, why is it so difficult to announce that each migrant workers will be provided minimum wages till they get back to work, waving of electricity and water charges and best of medical facilities. They should have been allowed to be where they were with these facilities. The state could not do that. Why? Those people who marched to their homes are the underbelly of this system. They cannot survive a lockdown, which can be afforded by only few people, those who run the system and the mercenary class which helps it run the system.
Image courtesy: Scroll