Monday, June 29, 2009

Protesting to Shine and have Light

I visited Malibari, the little village that I have taken up to develop, already three times in June. The first time I went I asked the caretaker Mr. George to look for a cook, and clean the place. The second time when I visited after a week on 20 June, I found that he had cleansed some of the rooms, and not the undergrowth that had become almost a jungle in the courtyard. And that day I had a long meeting with some 60 odd men and women--mostly tribals, with some Muslim and Hindu Bengali speaking communities from the neighbouring villages, speaking to them of the basics of modern development. The basics are down to three letters : BSP - Bijli, Sadak, Paani (which means : Electricity, Road and Safe Drinking Water). The village has no road, no electricity, no other communication systems, no health facilities, no drainage or sanitary systems, and of course no proper drinking water. With all such mammoth problems, it is the biggest hunting ground for me to challenge the forces of power and exploitation.

At the meeting on 20 June, we formed a small committee that would take our case to the administration. And it was decided that we would wake up, and show that we would like to protest the Gandhian way : Fast for a Day. We wished to do it in our village. We didn't want to do it in front of any of the office buildings for the reason that if the politicians can come to villages asking for votes, if they can reach polio vaccines from house to house so that no rich child is affected along with the poorer ones, then the Government can also come to the villages to hear the problems of the people.

On 27 June, we did a fast under a couple of large jackfruit trees (for those who who do not know: yes, jackfruits grow on large trees), raising slogans. Almost about 150 men, women and children turned up, and about 100 of us stayed put under the tree. I too remained with the people, lying on a plastic sheet that had been hired, in my lungi and a T-shirt, like any other ordinary villager. When the police and some of the lower rung government officials came, the people took care of them! They received the choicest of words (no abuse, but protests), and the government officials were forced to say that they would take some action within 15 days. The people had simply to say this : should we stay in dark even after 62 years of independence? Should any one? But that's how government's run. That's how people are kept in dark : in the darkness of illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, and in hunger. It is time to wake up. It is time for the tigers to roar!

N.B. : More action by people will follow in the coming weeks. Meanwhile some of the government officials are going around questioning why have these people woken up suddenly, and demanding that they get their rights within a very short period, where as for the last 20 years these people had never protested. They do not know that a leader has entered.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Long Dry Spell

"After the Storm comes the Calm", goes the old adage. But no one thought that the entire long one month since Aila hit would go without a drop of rain in most parts of West Bengal. It is monsoon season after all! The meterorological department does not have much good news as the reports go. Three years ago we had a very dry year, so much so that most parts of the districts where I worked were declared "drought hit". People say El-Nino effects have two counter products--causing dry spells in one part of the world, and increasing storm in the other. But could an Aila, though was big in magnitude, but not so destructive as El-Nino, could have created such dry weather across the country?

I remember 1986 June 21, the day I landed in Bengal, and I had crossed the Vindhyas for the first time to enter into northern part of India. It was raining all along. Day and night. And the thunders were so strong that I thought each of them was falling just next to me. Nights would pass by without proper sleep. And days would go calling on the name of St. Barbara, whom I would faithfully invoke as my mother had taught me that she can take care of all storms and thunders. But in the last five years I have not seen many thunder clouds, nor any incessent rain. It is all changing. Blame it on Climate-change!! Who is responsible? Will I get to see some good cool rain that can leave the earth wet and buzzling with activities of birds and butterflies?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where the Waters Stink

"In to that heaven of freedom my father, let my country awake". These were the words of that immortal poet Rabindranath Tagore. But today, the peace that is prayed for is in ruins. There are violent activities in Darjeeling, Nandigram, Lalgarh, and several other places of the West Bengal state alone. The people are becoming restless. There is a hope. Hope for change.

I always said it. The plan of the Marxists in West Bengal cannot stand too long. It is based on two correct premises used for wrong reasons; the correct premises are "in an utopian state everyone will give according to one's ability, and take away according to one's need" will prevail, and the other premise that "the class struggle of the proletariat will take the society to wage a war against the power of the bourgeosie". The wrong application was this : therefore ensure that maximum number of people remain proletariat and keep giving them a morsel of bread if they need a loaf, to ensure that the poor remain the poor, so that they keep voting the Communists back to power. This seem to have not paid off. The reds have lost the race in the last national elections.

One reason to this is that people of Bengal are moving a lot more than before. With very little job opportunities available in the State, even the poorest travel to far off places in India, and find the development and growth in those places. There is a general dissatisfaction that is set in the heart. The second reason why the Communism of the type that Indian Communist Party (Marxist) supports is found to fail is because the party has not given space for the poor to feel equal in dignity with the rich. Instead, it has been a struggle of the poor to raise their voices even for what is normally their right, to get access to it. Let us take for example the right to have electricity. This is a "fundamental right" whether the Constitution recognises it or not, for any ordinary citizen living in the 20th or 21st century. Without electricity how can children study, how can the women spend their evenings other than watching the famous soap operas, how can the men watch the favourites of their games, and how can medical, social, and communication systems function if not for electricity? Now look at the struggle. The government takes several years, and hell a lot of money before electrification to a village is completed, with a large sum paid in kickbacks.

Take the case of West Bengal. More than 60% of its villages are not electrified. No wonder, people are upset when they compare themselves with their southern neighbours where electricity is given free of cost for farmers, and over 80% of villages have access to electricity. This is just one example. The same is true for education, health, public utility services, administration and for every right of the citizen. One begins to wonder, "Do I need to shout each time, block the road, disrupt normal life that my voice may be heard?" If so, it is stagnant water. Stagnant waters stink. And in their stink, crocodiles and other deadly animals that eat up ordinary citizens flourish. It is time to change the stinking waters.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Racism : Indian Style

Last few weeks have seen a lot of bad times for the well meaning Indians in the Australian continent. The media has been effectively portraying the tragic death and violence unleashed against the Indian students. In spite of open arms to invite people to the great land of the Kangaroos, we are not blind to the fact how the aborigines were and are treated in the same country and how the country is strict with its immigrant laws.

"While we discuss so much about the way our Indian students were ill treated, we also can not forget the fact about which economic background these students hail from. They certainly would (emphasis is mine) not have undergone such marginalization in our country, because they hail from socially, culturally and economically sound families. It is unwise to discuss these concerns when we speak of ill treatment done to us because we are Indians", says Fr. Nithiya Sagayam.

It is also time for us to reflect on the kind of racism we follow in India! And we must reflect, think and question ourselves and each other as to whether we are happy with the way we treat each other within India.
Why blame the Aussies? Look at how we do it. In our own country we cannot reject the fact that many choices are done based on color. Our films hail fair color. Our spot interviews prefer beauties (as additional qualification). Our TV reporters need to be fair skinned, even if their English or vernacular may not be accurate. Our flight attendants must be of "fairer" sex and color. Our brides need to be fairer. Our secretaries / receptionists in offices, hotels, clubs and any public place need to be fairer. Why, even our Cricketers must be fair skinned. Most of our advertisements focus only on fair skinned ones and neglect the darker skinned. This is a country that worships fair skin. This is country where you might win or lose jobs in interviews simply because of the color of your skin. Let us be honest. Fair skin has been raised on a pedestal that our young girls are mentally occupied with toning their skin in every kind of beauty parlor they find, and with every beauty tip they avail off. It simply is impossible to be dark in India and be a Miss India.

What ever happened to the dark skinned experts: in the field of Media? In our films? Among our Nurses, among our doctors? Educationists? Politicians? In sports? In jobs? If one has to take a census of the people employed in Higher strata, we are shocked to see that India is by and large racist towards her own people. We are simply color-blind ! And we are building a color-blind generation.

We have built up a culture of preference to fair skinned.

"This calls for the need of India to rededicate what Gandhi spoke on Antyodaya, the welfare of the last becoming our priority. This way, we would find special preference to the marginalized, the oppressed, and the poor. These are not only the Tribals and Dalits but darker skinned Indians at last." Indians like me! Until we, Indians give priority to the welfare of the least, we would not come to work for the welfare of all people. This is the way to give dignity to Humans as humans, by going beyond the color of the skin.

Till then, it is not only Australia, but any country would look down upon our country.... And if you count the number of dark-skinned Indians in Australia, you might be in for a surprise. You may not find many. You will only find a large group of rich upper middle class brigade of fair skinned Indian students and their families fighting for protection against racism, supported vehemently by a fair skinned media in our country, with many fair skinned people giving their very "valuable opinions", and more fair-skinned upper and middle class Indians out on the street protesting in front of the Parliament and Australian Embassy to stop racism in Australia.... and not to touch it in India! Long live fair skin!!

(With some inspirations and inputs from Nithiya Sagayam)