India is undergoing a rapid change in the cultural, social, and economic mindset of the nation. The influx of western idolatry has given the population a taste for wealth and status like never before. Supplanting the traditional values that defined Indian identity for centuries, consumerism has become the new brahmin of the day. Granted, this reality is centralized in the major cities where tech startups and industrialists reign supreme. Nevertheless, this mindset is one that permeates and spreads like a glittering cancer, captivating those with means while poisoning those that look on.
Our recent experience testifies to the pervasive rise of Indian consumerism. In the service industry, cost trumps quality. In this environment, customers consume and corporations profit, while the skilled laborer struggles to receive a minimum wage. Speaking with Hani, a Delhi auto mechanic of almost three decades, we learned that customers want repairs that are cheap, regardless of quality or safety. Despite his commitment to maintain an integrous work ethic, Hani must contend with the conventional mentality that values cost over skill. Similarly, a Gurgaon based handy-man company revealed the prominence of consumerism in the conventional business paradigms of the city. In a meeting, the Director of Brand Marketing acknowledged that public appetite demands luxury appliances installed at minimum prices (appliance installations, along with skilled plumbing and electrical services range from $3-20 per job). In their business model, the subcontracted technicians receive only 10-15% of the service fee, despite working an average of four hours per job, providing all tools, and paying for all travel and vehicle expenses.
In such a strong culture of consumption and desire, conventionality is a dehumanizing force. Paying laborers an insufficient wage allows the rest to consume without limit. This is especially true in a nation like India, where the laws ensuring the “minimum” are frequently abused, if ever upheld. Despite the sudden transformation of traditional ideals, old values of caste and status reinforce the low position (and subsequent low pay) of the laborer as normative. Yet, what is common is not inherently right.
God’s Word requires us to uphold a higher standard of value. Deuteronomy communicates God’s economic system, explaining that, “There, will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the LORD your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today” (15:4-5). Success here is contingent upon our ethical stance, rather than the convention of consumption that dominates the economic landscape of India. In this text, the possibility of blessing exists for all. It is important to note that this blessing, however, is not synonymous with limitless wealth. Rather, it is a position of having enough, even to the extent that we can help meet the needs of those around us. “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it is,” (15:7-8).
We recognize that our ability to “meet the need” moves well beyond the realm of monetary assistance. The lowest classes of India need opportunity and employment that humanizes rather than exploits. When we educate, train, equip, and provide laborers with meaningful jobs, we are engaging in an economic system that defies the conventions of a consumer-driven society. We obey God when we invest our energy and effort in restoring those that work the hardest to places of dignity and respect.
On the Field Correspondent