SECTION 2
Q5. A. Define poverty [5 MARKS]
Answer: Poverty is the inability of having choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means a lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities.

That’s how your kids would have scored those five marks in their higher-secondary exam, a crucial stepping-stone that supports their quest for a well-paid job. This definition by the United Nations has been part of the educational curriculum since our days too, dig enough and you’ll find it parked in those memory cells. Ironically, the communities being referred to aren’t literate to read this very definition, let alone grasping it. And it’s not because they choose not to; in their part of the world, books are seen as weights which when stacked together, obtains them money. A mere 15 rupees per kilo.

Yes, poverty exists and we’re aware of it. We’ve seen instances at traffic signals, outside our favourite restaurants and occasionally in our train coaches. It seems like a punitive way of existing; surviving on the left overs, living like scavengers. And with the pandemic lurking around, it’s being estimated that an additional 90 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty this year. Alarming statistics, but it’s still under a tenth of the world’s population. Makes me wonder, can we not join forces to help the underprivileged, and completely end the miseries of the poor?

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We can, and we have been doing so. There are a few good Samaritans amongst us who’ve volunteered to serve these communities. Regular people who have an orderly life like yours and mine, people who work through the weekdays and dedicate their weekends for community service. And it’s not a hobby, it’s much more empirical than that. Strong communities can contribute to a stronger nation, well-fed and educated children of today can transform the economy of tomorrow, and we all can push ourselves to a prosperous nation. Rashmi Balwani, founder at Enrich Lives Foundation, started her journey of community building when the pandemic struck last year. Formerly known as the Annapurna Movement, the NGO has grown multifolds with thousands of children and women benefiting from their services.

Inspiring, isn’t it? The very thought that wanted me to contribute towards their efforts. Lockdown-like restrictions prohibited us to venture out unnecessarily, but then again, aiding pandemic-struck communities can’t be deemed unnecessary. Additionally, what sprung to mind was that transportation as such was crucially important and very much functional in delivering commodities and essentials to various sections of the society. As auto jurnos, we are usually advantaged with vehicles of all sorts, something that could assist the NGO’s transportation requirements. With this theory, we approached Tata Motors to lend us vehicles to help our cause. Supremely strong core values and a long history of philanthropy work meant the brand was sure to send us the Safari and the Harrier – full size-SUVs with good load carrying capacities, reliable powertrain and a go-anywhere attitude. The perfect machines to access remote, inaccessible locations.

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Enrich Lives Foundation is backed by a strong network of co-founders, volunteers and donors; people who make on-ground operations possible. We met the team at their ration packaging facility, a tidy shop that organises, weights and packs essential food supplies for the needy. These were tallied and loaded onto our SUVs along with tarpaulin, chocolates and clothing. Makes you wonder how deprived these confraternities are. The community benefiting from these relief aids were out-of job daily-wage workers from Uttar Pradesh. As I learnt from Rashmi on our drive to the location, these migrant workers had come down to Mumbai looking for work, and were daily-waged on a highway expansion project that was stalled due to the pandemic.

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Yes, the same workers who empower us to feature epic travelogues, road-test vehicles and enjoy our automotive passion. The diligent workers who dedicate their blood and sweat towards nation building, at a pay that’ll merely suffice our weekly expenses. Moreover, when their livelihoods are shaken out, it’s extremely hard if not impossible for them to make ends meet. A short walk through the shanties left me overwhelmed; their standards of living, their hygiene conditions, the food they eat, I wasn’t expecting anything lavish but what I saw made me wonder about humanity. And as I took that walk, a train passed by in the near distance, immediately sending chills down my spine as I recollected how I’ve always been on that side of the fence, looking at such establishments from the comfort of my air-conditioned coach. This time though, I was on this side, looking as the train went by with a ray of hope in my eyes, as if I belonged to that basti.

The situation is grim, and despite us delivering 100 ration kits, it felt largely insufficient. It takes courage and dedication to bridge the gap between societies, and visuals from these establishments are strong enough to slap you hard in the face. They are mentally disturbing, and they sure aren’t meant for the faint-hearted. I’ve seen plenty of people struggle, but this was a swamp that took a while to process.

As I jot down these words from the comfort of my air-conditioned room on a clean tidy bed, I feel guilty of not being able to share this privilege with many others. There’s this new-found appreciation for every ounce of sanity that I have. But there’s just so much that can be done by me, you or us as a team. Remember the bywords when the pandemic started, we are in this together? Well, I don’t see that happening. This is the time when we come together cumulatively and join forces. This is the time when we contribute as little as we can, but do it willingly and with a happy heart. Because there are humans out there who are suffering, and they need our help. Situations like these also make me wonder, why not replace the question of defining poverty with ways of addressing it. Those five marks could be made powerful by igniting the spark in our future generation.

Photography: Aakash Varma