Cultivating a Sense of Entitlement in the Poor of Pondicherry

“Give me a lungi!” demands a cycle rickshaw driver. Drupad’s eyebrows shoot up and his eyes bug out (Drupad is a mime artist) as he recounts his experience being hit up for gifts during the Pongal holidays. “No, why should I give you a lungi? You give me a lungi!” he counters. They part amicably, since Drupad knows many of the cycle rickshaw drivers well. But the fact that they asked him (a starving artist) for a lungi shows how ingrained this sense of entitlement has become for the working poor in Pondicherry.

Every elected official panders to the poor because their votes can be bought. And because there are so many of them. This Pongal, the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in our ward gave out a sari for each woman, a lungi for each man, and a water pot for each “poor” household in their constituency – 1,500 saris and lungis in this small ward. This past Diwali, he handed out milk sweets to every house (600) in the ward. There is no money to pay municipal contractors for street sweepers, yet there is money to provide sweets to some of the same people who have to borrow money at usurious rates (ten percent a day!) to survive.

Each MLA keeps two to three men on hand to do his bidding, only he does not pay them. He strong arms contractors or businesses working in his ward to “employ” them while he has exclusive use of these men (usually goons), particularly for gift distribution during festival time. These politicians also bully people into selling land to them at below-market rates and extract free goods and services from business owners, all the while taking kick-backs from contractors. This money is plowed into construction and other businesses, which are then given government contracts, channeling public funds into their pockets as well. More funds to buy votes.

So the poor become complacent and fatalistic. There is no use working hard, because they can’t work up from their current situation – they have no money to buy into better jobs. Employers also contrive to keep employees in their place – they withhold pay, accuse them of theft, let them go at a whim… And because none of what is rightfully theirs is given to them, they have come to depend on these free distributions as their only entitlement. An attitude that is encouraged and reinforced each holiday.

Even today, five days after Pongal, some of the Shuddham ammas are demanding money from the houses where they collect garbage.


2 Responses to “Cultivating a Sense of Entitlement in the Poor of Pondicherry”

  1. 1 Mohanraj January 26, 2008 at 5:28 am

    hi yoomilee!

    i need to say you congrats for bringing up such topic on Pondicherry and on its MLAs. In no way i can deny yr thought. The poor need to be cared much but in contrary the goons are taken care.

    Pitying my puducherry!


  2. 2 yoomilee January 26, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Dear Mohanraj,

    Thank you very much for your comment. If you would like to do something about making Pondicherry a great place to live, please join a group of citizens that are working together on various issues, such as the solid waste problem, coastal erosion, responsible and sustainable tourism, etc. This blog: will be updated in the near future with more issues and action items.

    Looking forward to your participation.

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