…Or is it the beginning of the realization? Team Anna has left the commoner in me a bit befuddled, I am afraid.
The electricity in the national atmosphere exactly a year back over Anna's 2011 fast had ignited a spark in even the most apathetic or pessimistic citizen.
India was apparently standing on the brink of a much-needed, much-awaited spring a la the Arab one. The script was coherent, the aims clear and palpable. We were excited at the imminence of a cleaner, brighter tomorrow.
The charisma and simplicity of Anna, the chord touched in millions of hearts, the media jamboree -it all added up, it all made for a very promising picture. But was it perhaps a little too bright? Conjured by hasty brush strokes?
I openly admit to being confused about why the Anna magic fizzled out.
It could have been the increasing rambling within the team - the objectives were clearly getting a bit too complicated, political neutrality doubtful and internal leadership issues disconcerting.
Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi may be brilliant, astute individuals but this nation has had its share of brilliance and acuteness. India wanted its heart to beat with the leader of the movement, and it clearly did not resonate with Kejriwal's or Bedi's.
The volte-face of the broadcast media certainly did not help.
Or was it just our fickleness, the all-too-lazy conscience of a nation perfectly happy with its culture of 'jugaad' - if you could get past corruption with a little bit of jugaad, why bother to subscribe to a revolution? It just takes you out of a well-settled comfort zone and into a lot of uncertainty, doesn't it?
Were Anna's methods legitimate? Perhaps not.
Were they effective? Yes, they were.
I do not for a moment think that political dialogue would have brought the Lokpal Bill to where it is today, even if it is not the politician-proof one that Team Anna seeks.
Intellectuals may scoff at this, but it would not have reached the table had the pressure of popular sentiment not weighed down upon our leaders.
If anything had happened to Anna during the August 2011 fast, the country would have erupted. The government and states would have had a pretty mess to handle along with a PR disaster that would even make post-Godhra Narendra Modi's one look insignificant...
If anything happened to Kejriwal in August 2012? I am not so sure...
And I think that is where Team Anna lost it all. That is also what brought about the smug complacence in our political leaders - they knew Team Anna had lost the movement the day it lost its emotional connect with the people. It gave them the brazenness to constantly dare Team Anna to join active politics and validate themselves - in full consciousness of the fact that with the effervescence lost, the quagmire and compulsions of electoral politics would perhaps dilute the movement further and thwart the desired end.
Sadly, that is a knowledge that I also find reflections of in the uncertain tenor of the activist's voice when he speaks of "political alternative."
So, that is where my dream ends.
There may be a thousand theoretical, pragmatic arguments in favour of opting for the political route. But sometimes revolutions are necessary. Zero-tolerance may not bring about change but it is often more effective in bringing about the “tipping point” for subsequent political dialogue to succeed.
Did the Anna movement reach that stage? I am not convinced. And when a revolution dies before heralding that tipping point, as it seems to have in this case, there isn’t much point dreaming. Is there?
Battling drought and identity crisis in India
Have you ever heard of the game Two Lies and a Truth?
It's actually a fun way to know more about people or to test how much you actually know a person. Each person in a group comes up with three equally probable (or improbable) assertions about himself while the rest have to identify the only ‘true’ one among those.
Of late, I have increasingly begun to feel that if we were to play that as a nation, we would have a majority among the guessers stumped.
Sample this: It’s official now that India is staring at a shortfall in monsoon rains of 22% and fears of drought loom large in several parts in the north-west and south-west of the country. While government departments have mandated contingency measures to address the situation, it is only natural and desirable that there will be efforts at multiple levels in government and civil society to seek remedy or lessen the impact of the dry spell.
So here are three facts in this context in our truth & lies session:
1. Scientists in India are collaborating with their counterparts in the USA and Britain in an attempt to crack the monsoon code with the help of supercomputers – this would enable them to predict the normally whimsical movements of the monsoon and consequently provide critical intelligence to the farming community in managing vagaries of Nature.
2. A state ministry in Karnataka – one of the states that are struggling with deficient rain this season – has ordered all 34000 temples in the state to conduct poojas (prayers) for rain. (For those interested in embellishments to facts, the ministry is headed by one KS Poojari, whose surname translates into ‘priest’!) These special prayers could whip up a combined bill of some Rs 17 crore…
3. In the village of Takhatpur, villagers rely on neither computers nor divine intervention. They actually arranged an elaborate ceremony to marry off frogs – a custom that they believe will end the severe water woes that have surfaced in the wake of an elusive monsoon.
Now, tell me which of these is true!
Faced with these questions, I tried getting into an analytical mode: superpower India with its widely acknowledged talent pool and technological prowess could well be expected to approach the problem scientifically, using global best practices and tech forecasting.
But then, a country that has never been able to rise above its thousands of deities and where growth has largely been, to use Edward Luce’s words, ‘in spite of the Gods’ – you really could not rule out a falling-back on religion for respite from tribulations, especially of the kind brought about by Nature’s whims. (I must admit, however, that the stamp of officialdom did make it look a little absurd as did the whopping 17 crore figure).
Finally, the arranged union of frogs in blissful matrimony to appease the rain gods may seem rather far-fetched but then farmers (not just in our country) have relied on frog behaviour to predict the imminence of rains since time immemorial. This could be just an extension of sorts. And knowing our penchant for rituals and exoticism, this was not perhaps completely outlandish.
However, I have not been fair in this game. As it happens, it is not just one statement among the three that is true, but all three!
We do have our scientists working with the best around the world to see how we can bring technology to help our predominantly agrarian and monsoon-reliant economy. We also have a large section of our population firmly rooted in their rituals and conventions à la frog-marriages. But are all contradictions really as innocuous as this?
That India is a land of paradoxes and mystery is something that has been stated to the point of rendering it a cliché, but the growing divide between the many faces of the country disturbs me more than a bit.
An India that sees its women scientists play leading roles in key space or missile missions also has one of the most pathetic records of crime against women and girl children.
An anti-corruption movement that inspires the vast middle class to actually dream of a better tomorrow fizzles out into a confused battle of decibels in a matter of a few weeks for lack of a concerted aim and pragmatic, cohesive leadership.
A country that gives serious thought to foreign universities setting up campuses within its boundaries so that the deserving may have access to world class higher education is blissfully apathetic towards raising the quality of primary education available to a majority of its population.
Who are we and who do we want to be? What can or cannot co-exist? Hasn’t the time come to seriously rethink priorities and principles and decide that?
The merits of pluralism have long been used as a shield to hide the many contradictions in our society that are giving birth to confused, directionless efforts at solving our abundant, very real problems. It is, indeed, time for a reboot.
Which is the most unsafe city in India? Take a guess.
Appearances can be deceptive. And so can general perceptions.
I seriously doubt if a huge majority - when given a choice between Kochi and Lucknow, or even Delhi, as a city to settle in - would choose the latter, when safety is the predominant criterion of choice and all other things are hypothetically the same.
Delhi with its aggressive, brash and pecuniary culture or Lucknow with its associations of gang warfare and political mafia typically conjures pictures of a much more dangerous city than the multicultural, literate and commercially prosperous Kochi in Kerala. Or so I thought, till some time back, as did a fairly large number of people with whom I broached this topic.
However, as things stand, Delhi stands at a not-so-abominable No. 26 among Indian cities in terms of the incidence of cognizable crimes per lakh of population and Lucknow at a marginally worse No 24. Kochi incidentally is No 1.
Forget the grandiose terms. To couch it simply, the Indian city with the highest crime rate is not Lucknow, Kanpur, Patna or Mumbai – but the apparently innocuous and beautiful Kochi.
The most recent data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) – a division of the Ministry of Home Affairs throws up an interesting ranking of Indian cities on the basis of crime records. A look at the top 10:
3. Durg – Bhilainagar
Well, does this sort of knock the wind out of your carefully constructed notions of crime in India? Honestly speaking, it did unsettle me. And there are a number of disturbing questions that have cropped up in its wake.
First, are we as a nation really losing touch with the realities in our Tier II cities and towns? The larger concern over the scourge of terrorism and the usual spotlight on the notoriety of Mumbai’s underworld or Delhi’s shameful record of crime against women seem to have effectively diverted our attention from the alarming law and order situation in the smaller cities and towns.
The cases that are reported are dismissed as odd ones or gradually relegated to the lower end of mindspace as more dominant issues take over. [So, you see, we no longer speak of 30-yr old IPS officer Narendra Kumar – so brutally and brazenly crushed to death for investigating illegal stone mining in the Chambal district of Madhya Pradesh. And many others in his league.]
Secondly and more importantly, how are such research and statistics put to use over a reasonably long time frame? It is important to not just come up with a hierarchy of cities in order of criminality but also to follow it up with an analysis of what has led to the collapse of law and order in these hubs, and of course debate on what could constitute effective remedial measures to check the increasing rates of crime. Why is Kochi – a peaceful town with buzzing tourism so high on the crime index and does the situation here call for the same response as a mining-mafia ridden Bhopal?
If at all any steps are being taken in that direction (and once again I doubt that they are), they are clearly not highlighted enough to act as examples in a larger national context. That could be a dangerous trend since collaboration and empowerment of local bodies are absolutely critical in ensuring the efficacy of measures to check crime across the nation. For example, if any city has seen a successful reduction in crime over a sustained period of time – let us say, as per the NCRB data over the last 3 years – there could be a lesson in it for Kochi or Gwalior or Indore. Sadly, there seems to be hardly any dialogue in that direction, and even if there were, would anybody be listening?
In the absence of any meaningful analysis of the data and deliberations on it at multiple levels, there seems to be just one convenient course of action open – dismiss it all and remind ourselves of the three kinds of falsehood described by Mark Twain – lies, damned lies and statistics!
Is limited public attention span a reason for our inability to cure social maladies?
One of my American friends had asked me once what inspires the analogy between India and the elephant.
Size, slothness, I had told her; perhaps even majesticity.
Remembering that conversation so many years later, it strikes me that whatever may be the points of similarity, the fabled memory of the beast as a trait is perhaps suspect in our national character. What else can explain the short-lived angst, fleeting outpourings of sympathy over incidents that shock and outrage, followed by complete lack of any concerted effort to prevent recurrence?
In March 2012, India was overwhelmed by sadness and repulsion at the sub-human cruelty that man is capable of when the story of Baby Falak hit the headlines.
Within a day or two of media reporting the horrific circumstances that almost blurred the line between victim and perpetrator, Falak, the battered infant had become “India’s baby.” There were offers for Falak’s adoption, for sponsorship of the medical expenses that were sure to continue throughout her life had she lived, prayers for her recovery and copious tears when the little soul finally succumbed to the injuries inflicted upon her by unimaginable abuse.
And then strangely but almost as a matter of routine, we all went back to our usual state of numbness. Discourse on Anna vsManmohan, politics vs economics, inflation vs subsidy, SRK vsSauravGanguly – there is, of course, never any dearth of important and not-so-important issues to dominate national consciousness. We had cried, we had condemned, we had briefly but passionately questioned the systems that force thousands in our country to accept their tribulations and suffering without any redress, but then we had moved on.
Till just about a couple of months later, when we were again jolted by the case of three-month-old Baby Afreenin Bangalore- killed as a result of being battered by a father who had supposedly wanted a son. India reacted again as one would expect, though I personally found a general diminishing in the anger and shockthat followed. Perhaps our sensibilities were in the process of becoming immune to such occurrences, just as they have in the case of so many other failings and injustice.
And now we have yet another – 18-month old Baby Shireen – beaten and burnt by her mother’s paramour. When this was reported just about a couple of days back, it was missed by most; it had become just another statistic – our process of immunization is complete by now.
Three cases that hit headlines in less than 5 months – punctuated by numerous others which almost appear as fine print in local or vernacular dailies. Is it not enough to inspire an awakening of conscience? An effort, however miniscule, at all levels of civil society and administration to ensure that there is some effective deterrence to such inhuman acts?
Individual moral depravity or socio-economic degradation is not exclusive to India. They are also not issues dealt with in a day; neither are they amenable to simplistic solutions. But are we even ready to broach the topic or initiate concrete steps? Or shall we leave them as usual to a handful of disjointed social organizations and legislative bodies, which because of their isolation and disconnectedness have always been and will continue to be ineffective?
In the present age of technology and social media, it would be so much easier than in decades past to facilitate a better eco-system to promote deterrence and improve channels of redress but unfortunately,I was unable to find any such cohesiveness in measures or action that aim to address such social evils.
Helplines, where they exist, are not adequately projected in public visibility. Do you know the local number to call if you come across an abused child or infant in the shanties next to your apartment? I can only think of the police in a jiffy and going by our general perception of the force, am not sure how many by-standers would like to get involved with them.
Even if we were to call the police in, would they even bother if it was an incident involving the lower socio-economic strata, given that it is almost a daily occurrence in some of those quarters?
Laws are formulated but the common man has little or no education to translate or use those laws when he needs it. In fact, in a society and culture where domestic violence has been continuously condoned or brushed under the carpet, getting people to seek legal recourse is in itself a challenge.
There are hardly any civil society groups that work towards spreading relevant knowledge or promoting effective dialogue on such issues. I searched “Prevent Child Abuse” on Facebook and not one of the top results directed me to any functional group in India.
There are undoubtedly NGOs and governmental bodies that have been set up with the express aim of abuse prevention and victim support, but without a very concrete and sustained effort to engage all sections of society – which includes me and you – I don’t see them accomplishing anything.
Till we have active and extended public forums in every village, town and city - where there may be sharing of ideas, knowledge and action agenda - we will continue to be victims of limited memory span. An elephant that forgets all too easily… till the next victim appears on a 24X7 channel.
Do you know of any successful state or organizational initiative that works to prevent non-sexual assault against children and support of battered victims? Write to me at Satarupa@indiasyndicate.com