Vidya Basarkod was part of a panel discussion on the very relevant topic of ‘Empowering the Bottom of the Pyramid’. The discussion focused on how the pandemic (that we’re all a part of) has affected the world, but those suffering the most are the economically weaker strata of society.
The nationwide lockdown in 2020 was a live example of things turning upside down for India. As workplaces and factories shut down, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs because of the economy crashing. But those most affected were the migrant/daily wage workers, who had to walk miles to get back to their villages and hometowns in the hopes of having a better chance at survival. With no money, no food and no work, they were left with little to no choice.
The panel discussed the economic inequalities, and some of the significant questions in the discussion included:
Vidya delved into the above questions and made some pressing points such as the inadequate education/skillsets, meagre bargaining power, lack of regulatory framework, socio-structural conditions that have led to essentially exploitative conditions, and unequal development in the country. Development, which is mainly focused in urban areas, has drawn rural population, that feels alien in the urban settings, left to fend for themselves in sub-par and unsafe working and living conditions.
Vidya further continued that every section of society needs to contribute and not just the corporate world. Along with the mandated CSR spend, companies also need to do volunteer social uplifting and skill development. And that it is the equal responsibility of society and all of us to stay united and help others cope with the challenges. She then addressed corporate responsibility and stated that the welfare and empowerment of the workforce in the organisation is not explicitly covered under corporate responsibility.
However, it is the moral responsibility of the company to protect the health and safety of its employees – healthy and safe employees ensure the business is healthy and safe too! Vidya raised valid points about government and industries taking on developing the semi-urban and rural hinterlands and aiming for pan-geography development. This will serve two fundamental purposes – decongest Indian cities and create employment opportunities in rural areas, so people do not have to migrate but stay rooted to their villages/towns and have a better quality of life.
There was also an emphasis on how there should be a greater focus on jobs in agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, organic farming, sericulture, handicrafts, cottage industries, small scale industries which will attract the rural youth to stay where they are and earn livelihoods without having to migrate to cities or live in slums and lose their sense of permanence and belonging.
The discussion ended with how we, as a society, must change our mindset and be more inclusive, behaving more respectfully and responsibly towards the socio-economically vulnerable section. Non-profits do play a positive role, but society needs to be more accountable.