The only recognized blasphemy by modern culture is that of poverty. As riches are the only god and all our efforts are directed to worshipping this supreme deity, poverty must be fought. And it is fought in the name of ideology of development. Sure poverty may take one to disbelief as Islamic tradition recognizes. But it is seldom understood what constitutes poverty. It also needs to be noted that all the prophet of Islam identified with the poor. Heaven is more accessible to the poor people. Riches generally corrupt. Sufis have been especially conscious of Islam’s hatred of riches. I want to discuss the other face of anti-poverty discourse. Let us not forget that the whole discourse about poverty and its alleviation through development is very recent. It began in 1949, to be more precise. This discourse is part of the package of ideas that Truman’s project to develop the third world involved.
Traditionally Kashmiris have had special place for those who abandon path to riches, who live simply, who stay contended. Traditionally Kashmiris would say Alhamduallah when enquired about his state. Today people remember God for the sake of riches. Shrines are congested because people want riches as if it is not an insult to the memory of those in whose name shrines have been built. We all know what has been the attitude of Rishis to riches.
Few recognize that poverty can’t be defined in absolute terms, that it is part of ideology of development that was sold by imperial powers, that it was not an issue in a certain sense. There is a battery of critics of development ideology that we can find in Sach’s edited The Development Dictionary that show the other face of the discourse and question the idea that standard of living is a criterion to be used to judge people. Traditionally poverty was hardly an issue and one wonders if a poignant story could be developed and understood in a traditional context. Poverty kills both the body and the soul in a different culture. In traditional Ladakh one could hardly write a saleable story on the theme of poverty. But in modernized Ladakh it does become an issue. This can be understood by considering two statements, quoted by Norberg-Hodge in famous Ancient Futures, a great story about destruction of Ladakh through so-called development, by the same person (Tsewang Paljor)after a gap of 11 years, first in 1975 and the second in 1983. “We don’t have any poverty here.” “If you could only help us Ladakhis, we’re so poor.”
Traditional view of poverty can be gleaned by considering valorization of begging in Buddhism. Not quite different is the idea expressed in the Prophet of Islam’s attitude towards riches.
In traditional Ladakh there was no money and thus hardly anything like poverty to define it. If it was it was not perceived in the sense moderns would perceive. Hodge explains:
In the traditional culture, villagers provided for their basic needs without money. They had developed skills that enabled them to grow barley at 12,000 feet and to manage yaks and other animals at even higher elevations. People knew how to build houses with their own hands from the materials of the immediate surroundings. The only thing they actually needed from outside the region was salt, for which they traded. They used money in only a limited way, mainly for luxuries.
Now, suddenly, as part of the international money economy, Ladakhis find themselves ever more dependent—even for vital needs—on a system that is controlled by faraway forces. They are vulnerable to decisions made by people who do not even know that Ladakh exists. If the value of the dollar changes, it will ultimately have an effect on the Indian rupee. This means that Ladakhis who need money to survive are now under the control of the managers of international finance. Living off the land, they had been their own masters.
So when we hear politicians about uplifting poverty, it could well mean invitation to sinister things that come along with this discourse. Much of poverty today is manufactured or created. The idea of poverty that leads tokufr is not the poverty with respect to artificial and unsustainable standard of living.