Et, se venons tout d'un père et d'une mere, Adam et Eve, en quoi poent il dire ne monstrer que il sont mieux signeur que nous, fors parce que il nous font gaaignier et labourer ce que il despendent? Il sont vestu de velours et de camocas fourés de vair et de gris, et nous sommes vesti de povres draps. Il ont les vins, les espisses et les bons pains, et nous avons le soille, le retrait et le paille, et buvons l'aige. Ils ont le sejour et les biaux manoirs, et nous avons le paine et le travail, et le pleue et le vent as camps, et faut que de nous viengne et de nostre labeur ce dont il tiennent les estas.
If we all spring from a single father and mother, Adam and Eve, how can they claim or prove that they are lords more than us, except by making us produce and grow the wealth which they spend? They are clad in velvet and camlet lined with squirrel and ermine, while we go dressed in coarse cloth. They have the wines, the spices and the good bread: we have the rye, the husks and the straw, and we drink water. They have shelter and ease in their fine manors, and we have hardship and toil, the wind and the rain in the fields. And from us must come, from our labour, the things which keep them in luxury
John Ball, quoted in Jean FroissartChroniques (1369-1400), Bk. 2; translation from Jean Froissart (trans. Geoffrey Brereton) Chronicles (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968) p. 212.
Were all men equal to-night, some would get the start by rising an hour earlier to-morrow.
It's the same the whole world over: It's the poor what gets the blame. It's the rich what gets the pleasure; Ain't it all a bloomin' shame.
Chorus of "She Was Poor but She Was Honest", an anonymous street ballad of the late 19th century; cited from Eric Partridge (ed. Paul Beale) A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986) p. 267.
India seems to have lost that urge to consistently relate to injustice as an assault on democracy. Be it plight of migrants or minorities, their failure to strike wider chord tells truths about us. [...] There was no public outcry over this human tragedy and the victims themselves chose to mostly suffer in silence. They may have grumbled, or cursed under their breath, but our democracy does not seem to have encouraged them to really assert or demand their rights. Not just migrants, minorities too have been subjected to the untold misery of being excluded from the idea of the public. And more routinely, women, ruralpoor, Dalits and Adivasis have been objects of humiliation.
The emphasis has been twofold: That the state knows, the state is right, the state must be privileged, and that citizen action is suspect, potentially disruptive and liable to punishment. It is in the backdrop of this subdued rights discourse and de-legitimised agency of the people that the current moment has unfolded wherein criticism is almost seditious, claiming rights for marginalised sections can be termed as waging war against the state and empathising with victims of social injustice is ridiculed or forbidden. The current regime has converted the penchant for sub-democratic state action into a fearsome art.
This might appear ironic, but in spite of a comparatively higher degree of repression, the lack of popular protest is more because of the success of the regime in constructing and popularising a narrative that not just delegitimises but simply denies the existence of suffering, injustice and victimhood. This is the narrative of subverting reality into its opposite. In this world of alternative reality, the victim is the offender (as in case of Muslims), suffering is sacrifice if not ill-informed exaggeration (as in the case of migrants’ plight) and marginalisation or exclusion are outcomes of past politics (as in the case of Dalits or Adivasis). This narrative posits two contrasting social camps. One is the nation. It represents unity, progress and a possible millennium. All else is fragmentary and divisive. So any voice speaking of a particular group's suffering becomes a hurdle in the march of the nation; any coalition of the marginalised by definition assumes an anti-national tenor. Such is the power of the narrative that the facts of suffering, humiliation or injustice lose their evocative potential; they cease to scandalise, they are unable to evoke a moral response. Democracy can thus afford the co-existence of multiple injustices and a quiet citizenry when such narratives are able to reconstruct facts and convince the masses of the validity of that reconstruction. The silence today is a result of the popular acceptance of reconstructed reality and adherence to an alternative morality.
O esforço humano consegue, quando muito, converter um proletariado faminto numa burguesia farta; mas surge logo das entranhas da sociedade um proletariado pior. Jesus tinha razão: haverá sempre pobres entre nós. Donde se prova que esta humanidade é o maior erro que jamais Deus cometeu.
Human effort may manage at its best to transform a starving proletariat into a well-fed bourgeoisie; but then a worse proletariat emerges from the bowels of society. Jesus was right, there will always be the poor among us. Which proves that this humanity is the greatest error that God ever committed.
"O Natal" (Christmas), from José Maria Eça de QueirozCartas de Inglaterra (1879-82); translation from José Maria Eça de Queiroz (trans. Ann Stevens) Letters from England (London: Bodley Head, 1970) pp. 36-7.
The pleasures of the mighty are obtained by the tears of the poor.