14 September 2007

ON ARUNDHATI ROY AND THE OTHER INDIA

Nowadays, I am reading Arundhati Roy. The first time I stumbled upon one of her essays was sometime during my under grad days. Those were the days when I, just like many of my peers, used to believe in everything against what Roy had to say. Roy was anti-globalization, anti-MNC, anti-nuclear, anti-developmental infrastructure. She seemed to me more of a leftist with an impractical ideology, which had lost relevance with time. We were the upper middle class urban youth of the country, who believed in the story of liberalization, globalization, 8% growth rate and ‘India Shining’. After all, the holy grail of the engineers at the turn of the millennium was a job in ‘Information Technology’, the mascot of globalization. Not that, now I believe otherwise. I still believe that competition (call it globalization, liberalization or whatever) is essential for all economies and businesses.

But now reading Roy makes me think.

Roy’s writings are meticulously researched, heavily laden with notes giving references. She drives home the point with the proverbial sledgehammer. She talks about social and economic disparities, the results of relentless pursuit for development, how profit-mongering businesses (read MNCs) are eating away the countries scarce resources, human rights violation, how the state utilizes the administrative machinery to routinely and systematically marginalize the ones already marginalized, the organized pogroms against the minorities.

She has a point when she says that are we really free even after 60 years of independence when debt-ridden farmers commit suicides, starvation deaths are not uncommon and young girls are sold for an amount which can’t even buy you a breakfast in a five-star hotel.

But the problem with Roy is that she doesn’t offer many solutions. She castigates the state, the judiciary, the government, essentially the Indian democracy, even the right to the freedom of speech. But I guess she doesn’t appreciate the fact that it is the Indian democracy, which she criticizes so vociferously, which allows her to write what she writes and still get it published by Penguin. Try doing that in China or Russia. I know that this is quite a na├»ve argument.

Yes, our democracy has all the flaw that she mentions and that is precisely the reason why reading Roy makes me think.

On one of these days of blissful idleness of my 2nd yr at B-school, I went to smoke a cigarette after dinner at a shack just 50 meters from our campus. It was around 10 o’clock at night. It is not even a shack but a guy sitting on the pavement with his family and his wares. The night was quite chilly. And this guy and his wife are sitting with 3 toddlers who are already asleep and they have been covered with some packaging material which seemed like a piece of cardboard to keep them warm. The nearby street light cast an eerie shadow. I was somehow taken aback. Something stuck me. I have seen people sleeping on pavements innumerable times like most of my countrymen. But what stuck me was the irony. The sheer chasm. The disparity. Just 50 meters away is a campus full of future ‘business leaders’. The dinner table discussion often focuses on which sector to go – Retail or FMCG. Which IT company offers most onsite opportunities. Which company includes which all perks in the CTC. We all just want the best deal. No, the second best won’t do. And there are another set of human beings who don’t know where their next meal will come from, who while going to sleep don’t know whether they will be mowed down by some drunken brat in their sleep. I know I am getting romantically philosophical. But still I want to write this down. And I know that my blog is not a popular one. Not one that is frequented. So, I actually don’t care.

Apart from the standard miseries of poor and illiterate, you just have to go a little away from the glitter and glamour to know about true stories of human rights violation, misuse of draconian acts like Armed Forces Special Powers Act in J&K and North East, the systematic persecution and ghettoization of Muslims in Mumbai and Gujarat, the plight of the dalits and adivasis who have been crushed, ground since generations. So much, that they have forgotten that they are human beings and they have a right to live a life deemed fit for human beings. Forget what the constitution says about ‘The Right to Life’. At least give them what is their due as a part of the greater fraternity of humanity.

These stories are just around us. It is we who choose to ignore them.

Then I came across the writings of P. Sainath. This journalist has done seminal work in the field of poverty and hunger in rural India. Since, last 14 years he has been spending more than 300 days every year in some of the poorest villages of some of the most impoverished districts of India. How many people have read ‘Everybody loves a good drought’ by Sainath? We are fed by the liberalization diet of ‘The Times of India’. I feel that it is one newspaper which is singly responsible for the corporatization of urban media. Our media has gradually moved from reporting the reality to reporting only what is palatable, only what will sell, only what will get more advertisement revenues. There are many such unsung heroes like Sainath who are getting their hands dirty in rural India. However, the disparity I am talking about is starker in rural areas. In cities, the gap between the two extreme ends of economic spectrum is not that wide. The poor in the cities at least don’t succumb to starvation deaths. (Cities have other means of killing their poor) While starvation death is quite commonplace in rural India where there are no alternate means of livelihood for millions who don’t own any land, work as agricultural laborers in the lands of rich farmers or those who own land which is of no use. In short the picture of rural India is terrible, horror-inspiring. But DLF will continue to build luxury apartments and malls and Gucci has just entered India. The party is on.

All these make me think. It makes me to want to do something which will make a difference in these people’s life. I don’t have any lofty ideals. I just want to do something meaningful instead of preparing some requirement document or doing ‘research’ for some client, whose only objective in business is to satisfy the Wall Street and throw some crumbs in the name of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. Even the NGOs have been corporatized today. It can be anything - a meaningful journalism on the lines of Sainath or activism in the favor of the voicesless. But all these things look good only on paper. As long as they are the thoughts of the irrational part of your mind and don’t manifest into real action. You can’t be so reckless with your career. You have parents to take care of.

But the point of concern is that this disparity is bound to result in unrest and resentment among the have-nots. The Naxalism of Chattisgarh, A.P, Eastern Maharashtra is the precise result of this disparity. It is a terrible feeling of not only being left untouched by the economic boom, but being exploited to the extremes to provide the goodies to the beneficiaries of ‘India Shining’. It’s like snatching away the resources from those who need it the most to those who already have too much and probably can never have enough. People who embody Michael Douglas' ‘Greed is Good’. The government at its best comes up with patchy and near-sighted solutions like relief packages to farmers et al., which ultimately provide increased avenues of corruption for those who are already corrupted to the point of stinking.

But the point which is pertinent to all of us is that we cannot remain isolated from this disparity, resulting in this rancor, this feeling of being left out. Their fallouts are going to spill-over from the swathes of poverty and hit us sooner than we think. If you think that you can remain in your cocoon of prosperity, work in steel glass buildings housed in campuses with manicured lawns and cafeterias serving Russian salad, make four trips a year to ‘onsite’, take pride in the fact that your passport is stamped with the visas of a dozen countries and the starvation deaths and suicides and female infanticide exist in some other India which exists only in the realm of study of social scientists, then you are grossly mistaken. We just can’t remain in isolation. We are sitting on the top of a volcano about to explode. It is just a matter of time.
The solution is not equitable distribution of wealth on the lines of what Marx or Lenin suggested. And I don’t have the solution. But something has to be done. We have to do something. But again doing something needs courage to challenge the status quo and conviction to what is right and not necessarily pleasant. And these are the qualities which are becoming rarer with every passing day.

2 comments:

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

Infact it's the title of your post allured me to it. Yup I agree with you 100%. But how? Who is gonna do it? You said you don't have a solution neither have I. And yes I too oftem find myself quite guilty about this haplessness which I believe is self inflicted. Anyways its kinda ray of hope to see people like you...

Mairi said...

Good post.