- Politics and Social Issues
On the Horns of a Dilemma
This is a rather weird question to start with but let me ask it anyway. Where would you rather be–on the horns of a bull or the horns of a dilemma? I guess both can be equally painful in different ways and different places.
Life is one endless stream of decisions. From the first one of the morning as to which side of the bed to get out of, to whether to shower or use the tub, whether to wear the striped undies or the check ones, whether they should be Jockey or Hanes (the MNCs have got into our underwear too), it’s decisions, decisions, decisions. I joke a bit about the issues mentioned, but there are many times when decision-making is not easy and differing facts point you in diametrically opposite directions. Another way to put it is to say we are required to tackle dilemmas ever so often.
The word dilemma originally had a meaning quite different from what is understood today. In its original context, a person confronted with a dilemma would lose regardless of whichever option he chose. The example of John Morton, Lord Chancellor to Henry VII, is often quoted to show what became known as Morton’s Fork. The Lord Chancellor would contact rich people for contributions to the King’s coffers. If they were big spenders, they would have money to give to Henry VII. If they were not big spenders, they would have large savings and could therefore afford to give to the King. Either way, they were forced to fork up or fork off.
Here are some real-life dilemmas. See which of the options you would choose, given of course that you had no recourse to alternatives other than those suggested.
Dilemma 1 : Of Tatas and Turtles
What do you say about a man who is inspired to make the world’s lowest price car when he sees a family of four riding on a scooter? And what do you think about the same man when he sees nothing wrong in setting up the infamous Dhamra port on India’s west coast right in the vicinity of the only place in India where the endangered Olive Ridley turtle breeds? Could he or his minions not have located the port some distance away? His name is Ratan Tata and he is credited with the launch of the Nano, the world’s lowest-price car.
Horns of Dilemma—Tatas or Turtles
Who would you vote for, Tata of the low-priced Nano fame which empowers people to move up from two-wheelers to four, or the turtle who cannot fight for itself and who travels thousands of miles to return to the same sands where it took birth so that it can propagate its species?
Dilemma 2 : The Joggers Park
A coconut seller is my economic barometer. From his sales, I can take a guess at the state of the economy. He parks his humble handcart outside the gate of the park where I exercise every evening. His is a simple, self-powered, non-polluting, no credit risk business. Perhaps not simple, as like any other business it involves hard decisions on purchasing, stock levels, minimising perishable goods losses, pricing and competition (there is another coconut seller standing next to my barometer).
But there is another challenge bigger than these, way beyond his control. And that is the Pune Municipal Corporation. This body is supposed to be the controller of Pune’s civic amenities. My coconut seller needs a license from the Corporation to use a handcart to peddle coconuts legally. The Catch-22 is that the Corporation has stopped issuing licenses in order to control what could become a situation where cart pullers overwhelm traffic that is already moving at a snail’s pace.
So here he is, an old man, trying to earn an honest living, forced by the capricious ways of government to resort to somewhat illegal means. A large number of cart pullers like my friend are forced to ply their trade on the fringes of the law. Periodically, a police van comes along, and confiscates the carts. A fine of Rs 500 ($ 10) which totals a week’s earnings is levied if the puller wants his handcart back. The process takes a couple of days or three, which adds to his loss of earnings.
Horns of Dilemma - Coconut Seller or Corporation
Who would you vote for, the Pune Municipal Corporation which is trying to keep the city clean and the traffic moving or the coconut seller trying to make an honest living?
Dilemma 3 : Gando Baval and Poverty
In the Western state of Gujarat in India, a wild, quick-growing bush called Gando Baval was introduced to stop the spread of the Thar Desert into the Great Rann of Kutch. In the process, it exterminated the local plant--Meetha Baval--which used to provide gum and wood for furniture making. The rapid spread of the Gando Baval has forced the government to allow the cutting of the bush.
The Gando Baval, which can be burnt to make charcoal, has in the course of time, become a major and in many cases the only source of income for the impoverished souls living in these areas. Unfortunately charcoal-making involves inhalation of huge amounts of smoke which causes respiratory and eye diseases. The environment is also adversely affected by the release of carbon dioxide into the air.
Horns of Dilemma - Gando Baval and Poverty
What would you vote for, to allow the Gando Baval to continue spreading and giving income to the needy while harming the individual’s health and the environment or eliminate this bush altogether thereby remove a source of income for the poor and needy?
Women and Gando Baval
Gando Baval and the Making of Charcoal
Dilemma 4 : Dictatorship, Democracy and Development
China is often touted as the model for developing nations. Visitors gape at the economic miracle of spanking new airports and roads and highrises which rival anything in the developed world. What is often forgotten is the human cost. How many lives have been lost, how many homes destroyed? Tiananmen Square lies forgotten in the glory and glitz.
In China, I believe that if it is deemed necessary by the powers that be that a road be constructed through your living room, so be it. There is no recourse regardless of the fact that both your father and your father’s father sat and smoked in that very room. I am willing to believe that any active objection would probably be met with a bullet.
In India, building a road through someone’s living room would mean an immediate stay from a court. This would undoubtedly delay the project, but it would also safeguard the individual’s rights against the whims of a callous government.
China’s dismal human rights record is offset by the brilliant economic statistics it produces as well as the markets it opens to the Western Business Machine. Till the 80s, both Asian giants were languishing. Since then China has outpaced India, increasing per capita income by over 8% annually compared to India’s 4%. By 2007, average Chinese incomes were twice those of Indians on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis, and the number of people below the extreme poverty line (defined as less than US$ 1.25 per day) had dropped to 16% compared to 40% in India.
Horns of Dilemma - Development or Freedom
What would you rather be, a prosperous Chinese with little familiarity with the word freedom or a less prosperous Indian aware of his democratic rights and comparatively unlimited freedom?
To me, life is full of grey, figuratively speaking. There is very little that is starkly black or white. Dilemmas are so much a part of human existence. Even murderers and rapists and religious fundamentalists have followers who find justification for the vile beliefs and acts of these societal freaks and weirdos.
There are times when I feel I would much rather just stay in bed. But let me first decide whether I am already in bed or about to get into it, whether to wear my striped underwear or the check ones and which side of the bed to get in from or out of. Ah decisions, decisions, decisions.
A lot of the credit for this Hub must go to Sally's Trove for her eagle eye and incredible insights into the world of writing. My sincere thanks.