As a citizen in the first world, I was consistently exposed to the idea that third world countries are not just economically impoverished but also less humane and civilized. In my grade 5 environment unit, I was taught that China and India were “evil” for only using non-renewable resources and cutting funding to clean energy. It makes sense, given India’s history of colonialization, limited resources, and large population that people would resort to corruption and underhanded dealings. However, I am more astonished that many people do try to be good. Katherine Boo presents within Behind the Beautiful Forevers a microcosm of society in the slums of Annawadi. Some individuals in the novel try to preserve their dignity despite the systematic oppression against them, and some submit wholly into corruption and exploitation. Hence, what can this book reveal about the origin of corruption in individuals? In a society of extreme poverty and injustice, is it possible to remain virtuous?
Corruption is defined as the dishonest conduct one performs for illegitimate private gain (Paskal). To determine where corruption comes from, I want to first ask the question whether it is worth it to be virtuous in the first place. Abdul, for example, is at the centre of a moral crises. He was given the opportunity to confess to the beating of One Leg, but refused in the hope of getting an innocent verdict. From his statement on how he wants to be “better than the dirty water he was made in” (Boo 232), it is clear that Abdul wants to be respected as something more than a criminal or an “awkward, uneducated boy” (Boo 132). As a reader, I recognized that Abdul’s conviction to mainta...
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...being good and no repercussion for being bad in a state of extreme poverty.
Hence, is it really fair that first world countries scrutinize and criticize third world countries for corruption? Can we really hold the poor to the same moral code we possess while we comfortably sit in our homes? It amazes me that hope can be such a powerful thing. Throughout Behind the Beautiful Forevers, it is hope and idealism that led Abdul to try and preserve his dignity in face of injustice, and yet it is the desperation of everyone around him that led to corruption in the first place. Abdul berates himself, knowing that “I cannot be better, because of how the world is” (Boo 241). I am fortunate that I can afford to hold myself to high moral standards. It is enough, I would say, that Abdul and Sunil and Manju and Asha try to do better for themselves until they could do the same.
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