Behind the Beautiful Forevers and the Effects of Globalization

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‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ starts with an attention-grabbing scene; it begins by introducing Abdul who sorts through garbage in the India slum called Annawadi. Abdul is hiding out of fear of being arrested for setting his neighbor Fatima (One Leg) on fire. The novel backtracks to 2008, Abdul who goes through garbage to provide financially for his big family of thirteen, by providing for his family his younger brother Mirchi is able to go to school. Mirchi has the fantasy of working in one of the hotels over the wall. The novel introduces another family one of the members being Asha, she dreams of becoming the first female slumlord of Annawadi. Asha works for the slumlord, Shiv Sena. Asha has a daughter named Manju who obtained a college diploma in order to help their family out financially.

There is another boy named Sunil, he looks for trash to sell to Abdul, his main area of work is along the wall that separates the slum (local) from the international airport (global). Sunil doesn’t find ever find enough trash to provide for himself leading to lack of growth (malnutrition), this bothers him, but he won’t work for scavenging in the slums due to it being hard work and is open to diseases. I believe this is a hidden message in the novel to represent Sunil wanting to grow out of poverty. The cost of working for in the slums comes at a higher price than the benefits which prevents Annawadians from evolving. The corporation that owns the land of Annawadi threatens to remove the slum to make more room for industrialization. Mumbai city officials approve this in hopes of showing that poverty isn’t present anymore in Indian. The novel examines different friendships, relationships and personal beliefs that keep people of Annawadi hopeful for a better tomorrow. It shows the inequalities and barriers through globalization that shape these people’s lives and daily life choices of begging, drugs, charity, choice of work, education, marriage and much more. The theme of globalization is seen in the novel over and over again; globalization negatively impacts the lives of residents living in Annawadi. ‘Globalization is a concept with tremendous explanatory power’ (Robinson, 2008, p.1) this is why people welcome the thought of stabile globalization, but little does anyone see or research the effects it has on the issues already happening in the country.

There can be so much wealth/development and poverty in one area by the government not focusing on population and the issues at hand but only wanting to increase their economy. In this frame of mind if you are not born rich then you are not able to evaluate your social and financial status. Being poor in an area like Annawadi there is limited resources to public health, education and food sources which are all factors needed to increase your income and quality of life. Many companies do business in developing countries due to cheaper labor, lenient environmental protection laws and tax cuts, many people think that multinational corporations help build a developing country’s economy, but it really takes away focus of the need in the country and shields away awareness of poverty allowing there to be a fluctuation of wealth and poverty in the same area. Globalization brought in different industries and this could have benefited the people of Annawadi by providing them jobs, but this is not the case ‘an army of uniformed workers kept the environs of the international terminal free of rubbish. big recycling concerns took most of the luxury-hotel garbage- ‘a fortune beyond counting,’ as Abdul put it’ (Boo, 2012, p.35).

Globalization has taken away the control that Annawadi have on their lives. Globalization impacted the lives of residents of Annawadi; in particular Manju’s life, her mother Asha grasps onto her culture one aspect of it being arrange marriages, due to not wanting to be too ‘modern’ this because multinational companies ‘Americanises’ foreign cultures which in turn leads to Asha controlling Manju’s freedom and even drives Manju to think of suicide because she rather die than be stripped from her freedom. Globalization brought in the hotel chains and the international airport and these industries focus solely on profit. The people of Annawadi do not benefit from globalization; these industries want to remove Annawadi (giving them nowhere to live) to expand their land and increase profits ‘securing the airport perimeter was one reason to reclaim the land from roughly nine…could be developed vertically at enormous profit’ (Boo, 2012, p.38). Globalization leads to lower prices of products due to other countries being able to make the same thing at a lower cost which reduces their ability to keep social welfare. Globalization does lead to higher levels of travelers, but this can cause negative effects on a country like India because these travelers can introduce new diseases where they do not have the resources to cure or contain the illness leading to a widespread of death and sickness.

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The second theme being individual agency is used in the novel by residents of Annawadi not being able to act independently and make their own choices for their lives. This theme is seen in Asha’s life where she sleeps with police officials to make profits in illegal fraud, which in return to makes an income that lets her daughter attend college and maintain power in their village. If Asha had the opportunity to work a job that didn’t extort sexual acts that lead to income, then she would be able to maintain a healthier family life. The social structures in Annawadi constrain individual agency by not allowing residents of Annawadi to scavenge their garbage, removing their freedom and limiting them to only certain parts of India to collect garbage and result in selling stolen goods for income that in turn leads to extreme police brutality and dishonor on their family name. The Indian government even takes away the rights for poor people to vote which is the one thing that ties them to be considered equal to other Indian citizens and way for their voices and concerns to be heard. The institutional corruption impacts the lives of individuals because in most cases the amount of money you pay police will help determine if you are ‘guilty’ or not ‘the idea was to get terrified prisoners to pay everything they had, and everything they could secure from a moneylender, to stop a false criminal charge from being recorded’ (Boo, 2012, p.76). For example using the characters Karam and Abdul if they were to be processed as guilty they would go to jail and not be able to provide for their family leaving them without food and other basic necessaries that the people of Annawadi barley have. The fear of beatings and being incarcerated for crimes people didn’t commit can cause someone their life in Annawadi.

In chapter ten Sunil finds a scavenger with a wound on the ground and doesn’t stop to help due to fear of police brutality which results in the man dying. Abdul doesn’t stand up to a man that unprovoked punches him in the chest due to fear of police brutality and fear of being arrested again even though this concept would be seen as self-defense (to a degree) in the Canadian justice system. The corporate police system in India took away a valuable source of income due to one of the scavengers who was ill died and was deemed to have died by tuberculosis. The police determined that no slum boys can go to the airport to collect garbage and if they do, they will be charged with Kalu’s death ‘they were beaten in the name of an investigation and released with the understanding that, if they didn’t stay from the increasingly elegant airport, they might find themselves charged with Kalu’s murder’ (Boo, 2012, p.112). This is done to ‘improve’ India’s representation of not begging and having individuals suffering from poverty.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, the theme of globalization surrounds India. It is the reason why the Indian government is seeking change to help revision the representation of India being a ‘dirty city’. The government is willing to do anything in order to improve their reputation and bring in more companies/travelers. The approach of sceptic is tied into both themes of globalization and individual agency by the government having the ability to control economic life and the welfare state, yet they don’t. The government could control economic life by various measures one small thing would be to regulate the building and waste laws; ‘late at night, the contractors modernizing the airport dumped things in the lake’ (Boo, 2012, p.3) this is connected with lack of environmental laws as the goats that belonged to the brothel runner were sick; although the owner believes it is black magic others think it’s due to their source of water which is the sewage lake. Without strict laws for building and proper waste removal it leads animals to get sick that come into contact with it and if humans eat that animal then it leads to the spreading of illnesses. The government of India accepts the international airport’s request to demolish the slum which in turn would only leave to overcrowding in another slum leaving more homeless and in much more crisis. The government could protect the residents of Annawadi, but they only want to protect their image. Even voting rights are stripped from individuals belonging to slums in order for the government not to provide extra supports and resources for them to live a sustainable life ‘to the excluded Annawadians, political participation wasn’t cherished because it was a potent instrument of social equality’ (Boo, 2012, p.149).

The government is concerned about their representation in order to maximize profits through industrialization and tourism. Globalization is used to advance India’s political agenda of business elites by hiding the slum of Annawadi from the international airport to shield the concept that India has poverty. This brings down awareness and advocacy for the people of Annawadi by not being able to be seen. The international airport hires an official waste company to clean their airport, meanwhile, they could have hire residents of Annawadi to increase their income and help remove through poverty. The international airport wants officials due to their appearance instead of hiring internal help which only helps India’s political agenda rather than helping the issues in Annawadi. Individual agency is incorporated with the sceptic approach by restraining residents of Annawadi’s free will and choice of employment, education, and health. A sceptic review on globalization is the ‘notion of globalization put about by free-marketeers who wish to dismantle welfare systems & cut back on state expenditures’ (Barakat, 2019) which is exactly what is happening in Annawadi the government has not contributed to any educational or health resources. The public hospital is known as a place of death due to lack of medicine and financial support.

Education is dependent on Manju’s volunteering to educate the young children of Annawadi with little financial support through a Catholic charity which has little concern if the school is actually succeeding. without the government providing welfare or state expenditures to Annawadi or other poor areas it is unlikely these individuals will be able to grow out of poverty and will always be forced into limited free will and positive life choices.

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