Kanhaiya KumariKanhaiya Kumari’s mother, Vijaya Kumari, was granted bail in 1994. But thanks in part to India’s slow-churning court system; she spent 20 years in jail. Thus, nineteen years after his mother’s imprisonment, Kanhaiya Kumari paid the bail to secure his mother’s release. The price for bond? Five-thousand (5,000) rupees, equaling about $89.00 USD.

We cannot attest to Ms. Kumari’s guilt or innocence. Still, simply put, “… nineteen years for an $89 bail bond is fricking insane.

In 2012, the CNN Freedom Project reported on working conditions for India’s poorest. While Asia was the focus, exploitation across the globe gets promoted by virtue of apathy, corruption, and greed. As a result, societal systems become an enemy of the poor.

To highlight just one area, a small snippet of the United States justice system, white-collar criminals stealing millions are routinely released after short prison terms, while the poor are put away for years at a time for nonviolent drug offenses and property crimes. Just a few facts:

  •  The average prison term for savings and loan offenders 1988-1992 was 36 months; the average sentence for burglary is 56 months, and 38 months for motor vehicle theft
  • In 2000, the total cost of white-collar crime was $404 billion. The total amount stolen in all property crimes reported in 2000? $16 billion. Yet, corporate executives rarely end up in jail.

In California, the budget for public defense was about $300 million less than that of prosecutors. The average time a court appointed lawyer spends per case ranges from seven to fifty-nine minutes. If there was an equal justice system across the globe, the price both Kanhaiya Kumari and his mother endured would be prohibited. Going 19 years for justice and an $89.00 bond is criminal.

Being a Buddhist, I am sometimes criticized for my idealism: for encouraging a non-materialistic way of life that goes against the grain of our main desires and motivations. Poverty, as ordinarily understood in early Buddhism exists because many lack the basic material requirements for leading a decent life free from hunger, exposure and disease. As I walk, I recognize the importance of such minimum material needs even in the case of those who aspire to its spiritual goal. But I believe there has to be a basic standard of need, a benchmark for measuring the minimum level society should not allow citizens to plunge below.

There is no poverty karma. Poverty begins often begins early and often remains unaddressed — that is, when society neglects its responsibility to maintain distributive justice. The solution, while simplified, is fairly simple, provide for people’s basic needs. And while none of us can do everything, we all can do something.

All that one can ask is to do something.