If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A day in the life of Contemporary India

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


  1. I am deeply moved reading your post. Its really sad and we all know that its much much worse in reality. I guess only about a tiny percentage of such cases surface as news and garner attraction of a common man, if one checks through the corrupt system we have in India it would make the most corrupt soviets, Cambodian or Chilean dictators to shame.

    I feel extremely sad at my country and the worst part is i see no hope. See the Koda case. Its unprecedented. Really shame on our democracy.

  2. Causing inconvenience to public is the norm in the rest of the country as well. I watch the proceedings of the Andhra Pradesh assembly once in a while and try to find someone who would indulge in meaningful debate..something for which he/she was elected and not for personal gain. And all hope was not lost, there is at least one. Please checkout this speech at your leisure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4xFCdOYTv4

  3. Sir,

    The last line of your post sums it all up.
    Yes, it is a fact that we would have to accept. We are surely not a civilised country. The country might have been recognised as one of the fastest growing economies of the world but when it comes to providing the basic rights and facilities to the people, we have failed miserably. From child rights to the status of women, from health care to education, from providing safe drinking water to...the list of shame is endless.

    But there has to be a way out of this situation. We can not change all this in a day. In my opinion what we can do is to select things which are absolutely critical for the growth and well-being of people and start working to make a change in our own little way. Education and basic health care I suppose falls under this category.

    The situation is surely grim but I guess the obstacles were far more challenging for Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Vidyasagar. I wont dare to compare ourselves with these two great reformers but let us not forget that they too were human beings.

    It is high time that we start doing some thing, however small it might be.

  4. Many thanks, Manoj, Rahul and Anirban.

    Manoj, in a way, you keep me going. It's good that you mentioned Mr. Koda. In fact, there was something about his exploits too in the newspaper of 10th Nov. But I was too tired to continue the dirge.

    Rahul, many thanks for the URL. We ought to find out more about Dr. Narayan and spread the message around that such a politician exists in flesh and blood. Pl see my note on the side bar.

    Anirban, you have beautifully complemented my points. I am sorry that I ended this piece on a rather dejected note. Usually, I do not do so. Yes I agree with you, the challenges may be grave, but surely we can find the answers too. In fact, this little interaction here is a small part of a big process. Many people are trying to find answers. Do see the video on Dr. Narayan.

  5. Yes, reading the newspaper can be really depressing these days. It is like "good news is no news and bad news is big news".

    The Siv sena and MNS are competing as to who is the better protector of Marathi pride. In the process there are lots of "foot in the mouth" utterances from both sides. The latest is by Bal Thakeray himself taking on Sachin for his well meaning and innocent comment that he is "proud to be a Maharashtrian but first an Indian" and that "Mumbai belongs to India". The protests were so loud that the sena has been put on the Backfoot.

  6. Yes, Gopes. For a change, the Sena has been shown its place by the national media. I would like to fast-forward the clock by say one hundred years and check how many remember Sachin Tendulkar and how many, Bal Whatever. A Lilliputian abuses a Brobdingnag.


I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.