My day begins with a couple of newspapers, and it usually begins on a sad note. But the combination of the news stories in today’s paper is disturbing even by our abysmal standards.
“Traffic in northern and central parts of the city [Kolkata] came to a standstill for over four hours” as Ms. Mamata Banerjee led a procession. Thousands of people – including the sick and the elderly – had to walk miles to reach their destinations. One can only imagine the agony of patients stuck on ambulances, and hungry little children on school buses. In West Bengal, stories like this appear with metronomic regularity, but still, it is worth asking a simple question: Would the protest be less effectual if it were organised on Sunday instead of Monday? Ms. Mamata Banerjee is the chief minister in waiting. Can’t we expect better sense and more consideration from a person in her exalted position?
The lead story in today’s Statesman says the home secretary virtually admitted that the chief minister had lied about Trinamul Congress’s collusion with the Maoists. A day earlier, the CM had said that the main opposition party in the state had links with the Maoists, who are on a rampage in several districts, killing policemen and civilians almost at will. The home secretary said neither Trinamul nor any other mainstream political parties have links with Maoists. The CM’s information was from “political channels”!
In another country, this would have been enough to pave the way for resignation of either the CM or his home secretary. But such standards are unthinkable in Bengal, where the main political debate is on the number of dead bodies on either side of the political divide. Honour and decency are not words to be found in the political lexicon where so called “senior leaders” use gutter language to attack opponents.
The rest of the country does not fare much better.
A legislator was manhandled by fellow MLAs from MNS in Maharashtra Assembly for taking oath in the national language. A paper-tiger chief minister roared again, warning the MNS chief of stern action. One wonders why no action has ever been taken against him despite repeated crude acts of vandalism in the name of protecting Maratha pride. No one can take away the pride of a community that has produced legends like Vijay Tendulkar, Lata Mangeshkar, Sunil Gavaskar, and Sachin Tendulkar. Will the living Maratha icons unequivocally condemn these rogues? It is high time they did.
Advocates manhandled a judge in Karnataka High Court. They were protesting against continuation of the chief justice of the court who, according to a report submitted by the collector of Thiruvallar District, has usurped large tracts of government land in his village. In the commercial bank where I worked, prima-facie evidence of misappropriation of funds by an employee would attract an automatic suspension followed by an enquiry. How is it that the standards are lower in the highest judiciary of the country than that in a bank? And how can lawyers physically assault a high court judge?
The Delhi chief minister extended the parole granted to the murderer of Jessica Lal on patently false grounds within a year after he began serving life term. Let’s recall, the killer, a congressman’s son, had been indicted only after a huge outcry in the media and an intervention by the Supreme Court. While working with the inmates of a Kolkata jail on behalf of an NGO, I met poor inmates whose appeals for parole had been rejected. Most of the “lifers” were serving without parole for decades. Some of them were simple rural folk who had committed crimes when they were barely eighteen or nineteen. And I am sure there are a few who hadn’t actually committed the crime for which they were imprisoned. In the Indian democracy, some are obviously more equal than others.
In Kolkata, two hundred tramcars (out of a total fleet of 272) have become junk while the authorities have been renovating tram tracks over one to six years with a dispassion not preached in the Geeta. CTC, the tram company, loses 1.80 crore rupees every month because of the idle trams. You go to jail if you rob a man of thousands, but if you rob the public of crores through inefficiency and lack of commitment, you retire in due course with full pension and a few garlands. The CTC chairman, a political appointee, certainly will.
I might close this summary of the day’s news with the story that puts us all to shame. India ranks 114th out of 134 countries in terms of man-woman equality. This is a finding of the World Economic Forum. Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh are above us on the list. This means women in those countries have a better opportunity to share the available resources with men.
A definitive measure of civilisation is how women are treated in a society. Perhaps this statistic explains everything else. We are NOT a civilised country.
10 November 2009