Thursday, October 28, 2010

The North Bengal Odyssey

The week starting from 18 Oct was entirely spent in North Bengal. I visited Raiganj, Kaliyaganj, Bolaigaon, Chopra--all with a plan to meet women self help groups so that poverty can be eradicated from some of the villages. Couple of friends from Netherlands reached Bagdogra airport on 19 Oct, and I accompanied them to a tea production company as well. Our discussions centered around jute products prepared by women and marketing of the same so that the women can get fair price for their products. It was also soothing to note how I am growing up as a person...without many tags! People used to expect from me so many things. But now all that they want is my guidance, support and ideas. I also got some time to research on improving the SMS based early warning system that I started. It needs a lot more effort and support.

In the form of a human person

While walking on the street last afternoon I heard a rickshaw-wallah speaking to another in Bengali, "We are not humans. We only have the form of humans." May be they were grumbling about the hot weather at the noon hour and their predicament to pull the rickshaw. But there is something more to it. Are they really living with the dignity of humans? While I travel around the state, which I do a lot more than before, I see children, women, aged persons and at times even younger ones--all living a form of the humans, with least semblance to living with dignity. It hurts. It hurts to see poverty. It spurs your emotions. It makes you feel how vulnerable you are. It also exposes your helplessness in handling such issues of poverty and indignity. God help them!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Threat on the Wheels

An incident at the Baghajatin railway station, about 10 kilometers from Sealdah in Kolkata, made me write this. I had just arrived at the station after a meeting with UNICEF and Ramakrishna Mission officials, to leave for Sealdah, and then to look for a train to go to North Bengal. When I reached there on the Platform No. 1, I saw an old man, a lady in her thirties and a child of 4 years old, getting down from the same platform on to the track, crossing it, walking towards platform No. 2, so that they can climb it. This is a short cut that thousands of people take in Indian railway stations, specially I have come to see it a lot in northern states. Suddenly, I heard people shouting, and I turned back to look. I saw the horror coming! A local electrical train was fast approaching platform No. 2. The train was trying to pull herself up on the platform, the child was still on the tracks and the old man was just in the middle, not knowing what he would do. Suddenly, someone pulled the man to the side, and took the child and jumped on the platform. And the woman had been given a helping hand. And the train passed them, and came to a halt. It all happened in about 5 – 7 seconds. I began to wonder. What was all this about? Why do people risk their lives to catch a train? In last month alone at least 4 persons have died in three different train accidents in Kolkata suburbs. In all three, the persons were talking on cell phone, had crossed the rail-crossing although the gate was closed, and walked on the track without realizing that the train was coming. In one of the accidents, an young college going girl died, trying to save her friend, taking the death toll to four! What a tragedy! What priorities have come about? What is more than life and love?

Yudhya (War) and Ayodhya (No War Zone)!

On 28 September, my friends from Netherlands enquired about the verdict on Ayodhya- a place of worship under legal battle for over 60 years, a bone of contention between Muslims and Hindus, and a vile concoction of politics and religion in the hands of politicians looking for cheap issues other than poverty reduction and development. The place is called Ayodhya, which itself means “A place of No War”! It was the place of big battle almost 20 years ago, when the tower of the mosque was brought down by the right wing Hindu fundamentalists. It also lead to the death of hundreds of Muslims and Hindus in various riots across the country for the next two years in separate incidents. It led to distrust between the two communities over a long period, which was further strengthened due to various international terrorist activities and the infamous Mumbai attack couple of years ago. Why should a No-War zone turn into a War Zone? And become a cause of death and spilling of blood of hundreds of people, and leaving many crying? In the land of Gandhi and Buddha, we have not learned to forgive. In the land that taught ahimsa (non-violence), we have learnt to fight for what we consider as dharma, and we were taught to fight for dharma by some of our deities. Look at most of our deities. They all spilled blood, to take revenge…to establish justice. More like the Old Testament! But, dharma is something that binds together. In the name of fighting for dharma, (what should unite us together), alas, we have divided ourselves. Religion has taught us wisdom. We have rejected wisdom and religion and have given into revenge and bloodshed. Call it, Murder!