Sunday, January 31, 2010

PACS - Poverty Alienated Community Sucks!

Since the second week into the new year, most voluntary organizations and non-profits in West Bengal and Orissa have been busy preparing Concept Notes for applying to DFID (Department for International Development of U.K.) under the Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Program. The idea is to give lots of money to non-profits, strengthen their capacities in order to help them work with the poorest communities, so that the poor, specially women and other socially excluded communities can have non-discriminated access to livelihood and basic services of education, health and nutrition.

But how poor are some these districts... I was wondering. I looked into the education index for the State, and the districts within the state. Birbhum district takes pride in proclaiming that among the tribal communities living in that district, females have 5.63 % of basic education! Oops! If this is what independence and development have done to the country, this is time to re-think on our approaches to development. It can not be reasons of high cost, because primary education is free. Then what? Sheer social exclusion of vulnerable communities, tribals, poor, and women. Shame! These communities alienated by poverty, ill-health and exploitation by the moneyed and powerful in society, is sucking! A society built on principles of violence and basic inequality, injustice and corruption cannot aim high. We need change.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

National Parade

India has been having several parades... Most reported on the media are the forced naked parade of women, and sometimes men, in far off villages due to caste differences, internal quarrels, alleged prostitution or even for personal enmity--just to name a few. The most watched parade is however the parade on the national television on the Independence Day (August 15) and Republic Day (January 26). A friend has sent his reflections on these parades, which he contrasts with the "parade of poverty" in India. Just couple of days ago newspapers in India mentioned that Channel 4 in the UK has been charged with "porn poverty" for showing the poorest areas of Mumbai, and not its wealth!

Here follows part of his reflections:
Every third person in India lives Below Poverty Line. An average of 6000 children die every day due to malnutrition. But the way our country equips herself with arms and weapons is shocking. India is the fourth largest importer of arms in the world.
Every Republic Day speaks of the new weapons made or bought in the name of natonial security. There is no report of where and when these arms were or are being used is another question. The money of the poor man's taxes are spent enormously on warfare and not on welfare.

Gandhi said that India lives in Villages. Most of the Indians are in villages.
But our villagers live without social security; there is no electricity, no road facilities and no rural medical and educatoinal facilities.
There is no list of how many new villages got electricity. How many new villages got rural dispensaries in the last one year. How many tribal or dalit villages got rural schools or water facilities etc etc But under the name of border security and national defence, billions of rupees
that are meant for the basic rights of people are spent on arms.
India has amassed so much of the tax payers money to focus on unwanted threats.
There is no budget for settling disputes, no money for peace negotiation. We are still viewing the shamful parade of how the common people's money has been misused.... Until we, as citizens exercise our right to know and right over national spending,we may have to continue to view such ... parades in future. Vivekananda told: Arise, Awake and Sleep not.... When shall we wake up?When will we ever learn?

Monday, January 18, 2010

End of a Saga

The State of West Bengal is mourning the death of the eldest statesman of the country--Comrade Jyoti Basu who led the state for 23 years, and paved for the state to be ruled for continuous 32 years by the Communist Party. This is the only state in the world where communists have ruled over 100 million people through a democratically elected process. There is so much said and read about this man. Hated, feared, revered and loved. I thought of picking somethings that had been said about him today's newspapers, and present it for the view of my readers:

Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the former Governor of West Bengal: "Over my last two visits to him, when he received me in his bedroom, I noticed that on a dressing table at the far end of the room, stood three framed pictures. One was of Kamaldi, one of his grandchildren and the third one, smaller than the other two, of Venkateswara, the deity worshipped in Tirupati. I did not ask about it and assumed that it had been placed there by some devout person and that Jyotibabu had not interfered with that gesture. I do not know about its provenance, but it said a great deal to me, that little picture there.

For Jyoti Basu to be ideologically committed was not the same thing as being intellectually closed, to be doctrinally connected was not the same as becoming an island of received wisdoms. Consistency was not coextensive with conceptual stagnation, nor loyalty the same as mental slavery. He knew in the core of his being that vitally important as an ideology is, there is such a thing as the web of Life which has its dividing lines but also interconnections. When he strove it was for the success of his beliefs, not for the defeat of others’.

On the militant trade unionism that led to the closure of thousands of companies in the state, The Telegraph newspaper published from Kolkata writes: "Chief minister Jyoti Basu clucked his tongue over these incidents but did little to restrain the marauding mobs. With their top managers beaten, intimidated and humiliated, companies that had established their headquarters in Bengal would have no choice but to scurry out of the state.

This is the most enduring bit of Basu’s chequered legacy: by failing to rein in the belligerent trade union leaders early in his reign, he found that he couldn’t exercise control over the anarchy that inevitably followed. Bengal soon sank into a morass, turning into an industrial wasteland of lost opportunities with an ever-shrinking pool of jobs. It coloured perceptions about Bengal and created deep-seated prejudices against the state that it is still fighting against."

Finally, the mortal remains of the leader will be donated to a medical college for research after homage is paid to him on 19 January 2010. Jyoti Basu RIP.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rich Gods of the Poorer People

The Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh state of India is competing with Vatican, (some say it has already overtaken) for the amount of wealth it generates each day. Its annual budget is nearly 10 billion rupees, and almost all of it coming from donations! With a golden tower and hundreds of kilos of gold poured into the hundy every year, no one exactly knows how many tonnes of gold the Tirupati Venkateswara temple has. Himachal’s rich temples are too poor to afford security; so, the Himachal Pradesh government is finding it a real burden to manage the hundreds of kilos (above 4 quintals as per official confession) of gold besides tonnes of other precious metals lying in its treasuries. Why, when I was a child, there was the murder of an auditor of the Murugan Temple in Tiruchendur, Tamil Nadu state, which evoked so much of political heat, as the auditor was supposed to have found that a diamond spear that had been donated was stolen by the temple authorities, and the entire case was highly followed up in the media.

Of course the treasure belongs to the gods and therefore it is certainly even more burdening to be custodian for the All Powerful. And what bright idea it is to bank on bullion reserves temple shrines across the states have – perhaps a godly stimulus for a growing economy that is yet to fully integrate itself with the larger speculative world capital market.

But money being money, the state governments are justified in feeling the heat of the gold lying unused with them. Perhaps not a great amount to catapult the state's economy into a thriving one, nevertheless a decent amount to do the cleaning job in at least the shrines to which the treasure belongs. To arrange proper water and sanitary facilities for those who visit the temples; to have proper announcement systems, emergency exits, and crowd control measures to avoid stampedes that kill tens of people across the country each year, and to serve the poor! Even the interest from the earnings of the gold could bring cheers to the lives of many.

It is rather a great irony that in a country where half of the population still lives a poverty-stricken life, religious institutions are ‘filthy rich’, making them power centres. Another noteworthy fact is that most of this money comes from the not-so-privileged class that is made to believe in the supremacy of their faith. The problem is more visible in the Hindu society with the Brahaminical order making sure that the caste divide remains visible enough. Perhaps, that’s the reason cleanliness in a Hindu temple stops beyond the sanctum santorum. Can we change this? Perhaps yes. The last heard news: A catholic cathedral church in a northern diocese of West Bengal is being constructed at a cost of about 60 million rupees, where the tribal Christians live from hand to mouth, and teachers of the schools run by the same church are paid barely rupees one thousand each month. Oh Father, forgive them!

India Media Smells Rot

The Indian media, specially the electronic media has been flooded with the story of the "Ruchika" case and it seems to be never ending. For the last four weeks there has been nothing but Ruchika. This Ruchika, who was 16 years of age, is alleged to have been molested by a senior police officer some 18 years ago, and the attempts by the family to register case against the family seem to have not worked out well in the midst of police resistance to register case against the police officer who was growing steadily up the ladder. Meanwhile, the girl committed suicide 16 years ago because of the alleged pressure and mental agony. And the government took another 14 years to register the case! And a month ago, the police officer, who had by then had received several awards from the government, had grown to be the chief of police in the state of Haryana, and had even retired, was sentenced to six months of imprisonment.

As it has come of the media, it always takes up cudgels in favor of the upper middle class English speaking people, this time round too, the media is heavily armed to get "justice" done. And so, you have so much of media managed justice being delivered out. Positively, it has woken up the government and administration to look into some of the lacunae in law. Negatively, it is all one big story of defaming and destroying the name of each other. But isn't the case of Ruchika a regular story in Indian villages ruled by landlords, moneylenders, and high caste muscle men?

I am yet to hear of media talking about these women, except for the stories written in some newspaper in the fourth or fifth page and forgotten after that. Wake up, media. Wake up.

Friday, January 8, 2010


On 28 December 2009 the celebration of Muharram in West Bengal was so huge that I had to abandon the taxi that I had hired to leave for the airport at the same place from where I had started, and catch an auto-rickshaw on a premium to beat the traffic jam that had clogged the city. When I reached the airport with about an hour to spare, and I concluded the security check, I was in for a surprise. The leader of opposition in West Bengal and the honorable Railway Minister of India, Ms. Mamata Banerjee too arrived there, and was talking to her colleagues and spending some quite time, before she was to catch a plane to go to Delhi. Since she was in the general waiting area, and not in the preferred VIP lounge of the rich and the big in politics, it was so appealing. However, due to the security and colleagues around her, I could not go near her to speak to her. I would have loved to. This woman's simplicity and her strength to fight the system are great inspiration. I wish I could meet her some day. Oh yes, another person I would like to meet and say a hello to or to have a breakfast or dinner with would be is the present Home Minister of India, Mr. Chidambaram. I admire this man for the way he has handled national security, for his versatile personality and the extent of knowledge he has on the subject he speaks. His speeches in parliament are really inspiring. These are not persons for admiration alone, but also people from whom one can learn for life.

Importantly, when I reached Madurai on 29 Dec 2009 morning, I saw in the television there that Ms. Mamata had traveled by an auto-rickshaw to the airport on 28 December, as she too was stuck in traffic! Hei, that's like me! She surprises you!

How Governments Work

India is such a complex country, as people of every race, ethnicity, language, culture and religion rub shoulder with one another. For the starters, India is multi-cultural for millenniums. And India has learned to live that. It is said that there are over 520 languages spoken in India! That is morute than all the languages of the world put together, I suppose! However, as one country, governance cannot be different!

But that is where it ends. I just arrived back from my visit to South India. I really admire the way the states in the South, and some in West and North of India are progressing. I was speaking to a Bengali family that lives in Chennai for the last two years. This family has lived in over five states across the country for about two years in each of them, and has widely traveled. The lady of the family had this to say: "I feel safest in Chennai, because it is such a city that has nearly 100% eradicated eve teasing. And look at the necks of the women here, and the gold they carry. It is a clear sign of feeling safety." It does not mean no theft or robbery takes place in the state. It is the sense of confidence and protection that the citizens enjoy.

On 4 Jan 2010 I was traveling from the temple city of Madurai, where my sister lives, to Chennai. It was in a government run bus that leaves the city bus stand at 20.35 hours. I had booked the ticket on the previous day. (You can book the ticket on line as well.) It was an air-conditioned bus with semi-sleeper seats, video facility, electrical points for charging your cell phones, and providing a shawl to each passenger who wished to have one for the night! Besides all that, I woke up at least three times from the comfortable sleep I was having in the bus...not because of the jerks... But because of the sudden feeling that the bus had stopped! Hi, it was actually running so smooth that it gave an impression of standing still. Other than just a bit of humming sound of the engine, giving you a feeling of being in a plane, it was more than comfortable to say the least.

How is it that the governments here can maintain their roads and the buses so well, whereas in West Bengal we are satisfied with the minimum, and end up having bumpy roads and noisy buses that shake differently from the front to the back. How is it that the governments manage here the severe water crisis so well, by providing water only for two hours a day, whereas with so much of abundance of water, we in West Bengal, can not reach water even to large villages and small towns.

The governments must wake up!