Omelas that I have Walked Past
In Ursula Le Guin’s philosophical fiction The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas, Omelas is a seemingly utopian city where people are joyous, prosperous, able to appreciate good music, nurture themselves and their children and for all practical purposes live a fulfilled life that most of us aspire for.
There’s a catch though.
Their prosperity is dependant on the abominable misery of a single child of 10, its gender barely recognisable, locked up in darkness beside a mop its terribly afraid of.
The people of Omelas are aware of this child, aware of the reason of their bountiful happiness. Most have resigned to the child’s existence. While some, who 'seem to know where they’re going’, have left Omelas. Out of guilt, out of courage?
How many Omelas have we walked past? Not walked away from, but walked past by.
This was the question asked to me with the motive that if we acknowledge the existence of Omelas all around us, at our homes, in our community, in our nation, maybe someday we can work towards rescuing the caged child in Omelas.
- Omelas is at my home. My family can’t do without plastic wrapping. It’s in the fridge, it’s in the packaging, it’s even in the garbage that animals sometimes try to eat. All this 'convenient' plastic which takes 1000s of years to decay goes on to disturb the ecosystem.
- Omelas is at my neighborhood where everyday, garbage collectors turn up to fetch our wastes in the times of a most deadly wave of Covid. A lack of an efficient household level waste management system — composting for example, make their services too difficult to excuse.
- Omelas is on the roadside, where beggars — old, young, disabled, able but with a sheer helplessness etched on their faces ask for assistance from the 'saahab' and 'saahibas' sitting in air conditioned swanky cars.
- Omelas is the Agrarian crisis in India. The caged child is the community of farmers, reeling under the pressure of outstanding loans, minimal yield and even meagre returns.
- Omelas is in the institutionalised poverty stricken children- the orphanages. Existing around most of us, but with too feeble a voice for us to listen to.
Which Omelas have you walked past?