Lesser beings

Published December 1, 2020
The writer is a political economist and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.
The writer is a political economist and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

DESPITE huge progress since 1850, inequity due to exploitation and exclusion remains entrenched globally. The fruits of progress have accrued largely to a minority while the majority remains deprived. Inequity existed before capitalism too, but capitalism has entrenched it further. Today, inequity extends from the global to national, regional, community and finally household levels. Each higher level in this chain from the global to household pressurises levels below to exploit and exclude lesser beings under their control.

Exploitation and exclusion processes differ hugely. Under exploitation, pre-capitalist or capitalist hegemonic systems engage with labourers, farmers or petty producers in inequitable ties to capture the bulk of the returns from their work, while supporting them just enough to reproduce for future exploitation. Under exclusion, human groups either possess little of value or are dispossessed of their natural resources by hegemonic systems. The group is then left to fend for itself with little help from the system. Excluded groups often suffer more than exploited ones as they deal on their own with the global threats unleashed by the hegemonic system, eg, climate change and conflicts.

At the apex level in this interlinked system of inequity sits the global economic system run by the US. Value from developing states flows to the core Western states through trade, investment, capital and brain drain and even aid flow systems run by the latter. States producing higher-end goods for Western-controlled value chains, eg Korea and China, attain progress. But those producing lower-end goods remain stagnant. Others, such as in Africa, are largely excluded from global value chains but face conflict and shrinking resources due to the impact of global politics and economics.

States like Pakistan produce a few low-end goods for exploitative global value chains while large parts of their economy are irrelevant for and excluded from the global economy. Such states then have internal systems of exploitation and exclusion maintained by private elites and even the state. This in turn spawns violence as some exploited and excluded groups fight back. The most visible case is Balochistan whose natural resources are exploited by the Pakistani state while the majority of its people are excluded from the fruits of progress, resulting in decades of conflict. Less visible cases also exist involving other peripheral regions.

Progress requires new laws and strict implementation.

Where the exploitative arm of the state doesn’t reach, private entities fill the space. The exploitation of labourers, small farmers and petty producers and their frequent physical abuse in the agricultural, service and industrial sectors of Pakistan is well reported. Excluded groups exist nationally too, such as transgender persons who face stigma and resort to demeaning jobs to survive. Below these regional levels exist patterns of exploitation and exclusion at the local and community levels as people belonging to weaker castes, clans and faiths suffer. Finally, at the household level, women, persons with disabilities, elderly and children usually suffer exploitation, exclusion and physical abuse.

The inequities at these different levels may seem disconnected with each other. More careful analysis shows that inequities at the lowest levels are often part of unfair value chains that transmit the fruits of exploitation from the household all the way up to the global level. Although an increasing number of progressive groups are challenging inequities at each level from the global to household levels, there isn’t major progress in reducing inequities. Progress requires new laws at the global, national and regional levels and then strict implementation. Even where laws are formed, enfor­cement is usually weak.

So Pakistan is one of the few states to now legally recognise transpersons as a third gender, something not being done uniformly even in the US. Surprisingly for a conservative state like Pakistan, such recognition is based on self-identification rather than demeaning physical tests. This is in line with progressive scientific and legal evolution in advanced democracies where the key basis for identifying sex and race is increasingly becoming a person’s mental inclination rather than outdated notions of rigid biology. The law gives rights to transpeople related to non-bias, work, education, inheritance etc. But there are gaps too, eg, silence on the right to marriage and adopt kids. And enforcement remains poor.

Their status gives a sense of the suffering of numerous lesser beings globally. It is difficult to see major and quick progress for them under the current global system soon. Only a major change in the global economic and political paradigms can ensure quick and major progress for lesser beings globally.

The writer is a political economist and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

Twitter: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2020

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