FOR THE SAKE OF SELF-INTEREST

Sometimes, history plays a trick on all of us. For a person of African dissent living in the United States of America escaping from the impact of slavery of the past cannot be avoided. For that reason a white man living in America cannot escape the blame of wiping out many of the natives from here. Therefore, looking at many of the problems that the US faces, one could easily surmise that the origin of these problems lay in its own history. The lopsided relationship that existed among blacks, whites and the natives for so long now contributes to the chaos and incoherence of the present day. In the same way, a complex of superiority gives rise to meaningless bravado and highhandedness.

Unlike the United States, the Indian subcontinent has a very long and colorful history. It is one of the most populous part of the world. Unlike Western Europe or North America the countries of South Asia not very long ago came out of the clutches of Colonialism. Ever since the foreign- rulers left they have been trying to make improvement in the lives of their people. Yet, a lot more needs to be done. What has been done so far is like scratching the surface. In order for the intended improvements to penetrate the psyche of the population and cause discernible effect, transformation of many of the deeply held values are necessary. The process demands adequate education, health care and respect for women so that they can fully engage themselves to improve the lot of their country.

It is obvious that without a strong participation by the women folk, these countries, like any other country, cannot improve their lot. Countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have had women as head of their respective governments. Yet the plight of women in those countries remains high. In order to provide them with adequate opportunity to participate in all aspects of the nation building certain social and cultural practices have to be thrown out or be replaced. For example, women covering their heads and not showing their faces were common in colonial India. But Gandhiji needed Indian women to become freedom fighters. So their purdahs had to go. Acceptance of women as fighters required a new mindset. It was the exploitative attitude prevalent in the society at large that was keeping various factions subdued. Women, people from the lower caste, individuals doing extremely manual work were considered unequal to others and their exploitation was a part of living for everybody. Gandhiji understood it and needed everyone's participation to remedy it. Even after Independence, this mindset could not be overcome.

Yes, South Asian countries have had women leaders. Many women in these countries have adorned important places in society. Yet, the average woman's lot here remains pathetically saddled to very bad customs. A recent news report showed the custom of child marriage in Bangladesh. Everyone knows that Bangladesh is a country whose fertile land and glorious history stand in contrast to its current condition. Its Prime Minister and Opposition leader are woman. Yet, child marriage throughout the country is rampant. Even in established families girls are married off at age 13 or 15. Such a custom contributes to overpopulation, excess poverty and social decay. Not long ago the world saw the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a young school girl in Pakistan. The orthodox Islamic zealots did not want girls to go to school so that they could become one of the multiple wives they possess.

All over South Asia, economic development is the crying need. Yet, half of the population is being deprived from participating in it. By leaving them out of the process the society becomes the big loser. The countries have plenty of conflict among themselves. Yet, there are problems that are very common to all of them. A common effort to solve those issues would go a long way in creating goodwill and friendship. Political differences should not stand in the way of self-interest.


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