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Community Conscience

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A man in Dehradun’s Doiwala killed two of his children, injured his wife and another child, and then tried to hang himself. The reason is believed to be a quarrel caused by economic hardship. On the other end of the spectrum, the founder of the popular Café Coffee Day, Siddhartha, who is the son-in-law of a former Congress Minister, is missing and is suspected to have committed suicide because of financial problems being faced by his enterprise. Poverty and indebtedness have been two prime reasons for suicide historically, particularly now when the fallback mechanisms of yore have more or less disappeared. While one man is ashamed to face his family when he cannot provide them the next meal, the other is afraid to face his creditors.
From the beginning of civilisation, philosophers have struggled to find ways to cope with difficulties of this kind by establishing principles for humanity to live by. The laws of economics are harsh and unforgiving – it requires human systems to use the ebb and flow to their advantage. Every society must learn to cope through organisation and laid down common goals. Many have come up with sutras that explain ways of doing so. Kahlil Gibran, for instance, said in ‘On Buying and Selling’, “And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions, who would sell their words for your labour.” And, further, “And before you leave the market place, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands./For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.” (The entire poem is worth a read.)
The crux of this is that the market should reward merit, there has to be competition so that the consumers can choose the best products and profit. However, the higher goal should be prosperity, which is why the benefits must accrue to all in some way. Those in charge of economic management, be it in a market, a city or a country, have to ensure people have the means to earn a living, and when all the transactions are over, everybody should have benefited. When symptoms of failure appear, such as poverty and indebtedness, attention should be paid to the root causes and corrected, once again at the appropriate levels. The tendency to expect corrective measures from a centralised source is in itself a failure to take responsibility, for only the local community can know in which home dinner has not been served for the children. The Sikh Gurus gave great importance to this aspect, which is why there is a langar in every Gurudwara. The responsibility falls on all, not just a selected few.