I wish to begin today a conversation about the possibility of a social movement in South Asia – not, for the moment, a social movement, just a conversation about a possible social movement.
This social movement, if we agree to it and it gets off the ground, would go by a simple name – UNACCEPTABLE. It would identify the ten things that we agree are unambiguously morally unacceptable in South Asia today and it would start a public conversation about them. It would signal our commitment to strive and eliminate them from our societies.
Let me start with an example that illustrates the kinds of things I have in mind and what I mean by unambiguous. Take the practice of slavery in the West. There came a point in time when the first few voices began to declare it morally unacceptable, an affront to human dignity. From these few voices arose the discourse that transformed the issue first into a public debate and then into a political struggle that finally put an end to the practice.
Unfortunately, there are still many such issues in South Asia that are an affront to human dignity, that no one with a social conscience can or should accept. Let me mention just one here to start the process leaving the others to be identified by consensus during the ensuing discussion.
It is morally unacceptable that in India, emerging as a major power in the twenty-first century, 43 percent of children under age 5 are malnourished. This compares with only 7 percent in China. Even Sub-Saharan Africa, home to the poorest countries in the world, has a lower rate of 28 percent. This high prevalence has to be viewed in the context of scientific evidence that if a child is malnourished until age 3, the neural formation suffers, and most of that underdevelopment is fixed for life (see here).
One can view this from the perspective of the future burden on the Indian economy but that would be an instrumental perspective. From a human rights point of view, this kind of endemic hunger has no place in the modern world and cannot be justified or defended on any conceivable grounds. It is a total failure of justice that has to be honestly acknowledged.
Our task is to identify ten of the most egregious examples of injustice in South Asia today that as citizens we are not prepared to accept. Once we have agreed on our list, we would move to discussing why these practices continue to persist, why they are tolerated, and why there are no political parties that are willing to include their elimination as part of their agendas. Through this process we would hope to raise the profile of these issues and make them a part of the public discourse.
There is no delusion here about the effectiveness of our effort, only a conviction that every journey begins with a step and gathers momentum as people who believe in the cause join and begin to walk alongside the others. All we are doing at this stage is starting the process of agreeing on the ten things in South Asia today that as human beings we consider absolutely and totally UNACCEPTABLE.
Let us begin this journey.
Process: Please use the Comments space below to list the things you find unacceptable. You don’t need to list exactly ten, only as many as you feel passionate about. At the end of a certain period we will pick the ten that have been mentioned most. At that time we will discuss how we intend to proceed to the next stage.