April 19, 2009 12:32:03 am
This week I meant to bring you tales of horror from India that is Bharat. Tales that urban hacks like me garner only when there is a general election and we are forced to travel where we usually fear to tread. Tales of village schools in which no teachers teach. Tales of primary health centres filthier than public toilets. Tales of towns in Gujarat that make the slums of Mumbai look like Malabar Hill. But,on the day that I returned from my travels came the story of the little girl who was tortured to death by a teacher in a Delhi school and I realised that the horrors of our great country are everywhere.
What is there to say about conditions in rural schools if an 11-year-old girl can be killed by a teacher in Delhi? Last week the horror of what happened to the little girl affected us all. TV channels reported the crime in horrifying detail,social activists demanded that the teacher be tried for murder and the Chief Minister of Delhi condemned what happened in strong words. By next week we will forget and the childs parents will be left alone in their fight for justice. That is how it always is.
When the hurly-burlys done and our political leaders fly back to the comforts of their palatial homes in Delhi and Mumbai and people like me ask them why such things happen in India they will say,Its the same everywhere. These things happen. I have heard those words so often that if I had recorded them every time someone said them I could have made a full-length feature film. If we want to change the evil,ugly realities of our dear Bharat Mata we must begin by accepting that these things do not happen in other countries.
In other countries,when school teachers do not turn up to teach they are sacked. When public services like hospitals and health centres do not do their job they are closed down,and long before major towns like Ankleshwar and Baruch end up looking like slums,something is done to stop this happening. When I drove through them last week on Narendra Modis new six-lane highway,I was gripped by a sense of despair. If we can build six-lane highways why is it so hard for us to come up with systems of waste disposal? Will we wait till all our highways are lined with rotting garbage before we realise that something needs to be done?
Probably. It has always been that way. In my view this is because we have tried to build the edifice of a modern,democratic nation without laying the foundations. The foundations can only be created by investment in human capital. You cannot build a modern democracy if 45 per cent of your children are malnourished,you cannot build a modern democracy if your schools do not have teachers and if your public healthcare is mostly a means for corrupt officials to make money by handing out construction contracts to their friends and family. You cannot build a modern democracy if you have not been able to provide that most fundamental of human needs: clean water. Yet,this is what our political leaders have tried to do. And,we have let them.
We in the media are almost as much to blame as the political class because we spend far too much time talking about stupid things and ignoring what is crucial. Throughout the election campaign we have spent so much time discussing the foibles and failings of the Gandhi progeny that we have found little time to talk of real issues. I got so tired of hearing important journalists discuss the badness of Varun Gandhi and the goodness of Rahul and Priyanka that I stopped watching the news channels. How many times did we hear serious discussion of why our public services are such a mess or why after 60 years of Independence our political leaders are unable to provide clean drinking water? Or why unplanned urbanisation has put Bharat Mata well on the road to becoming a continent of slums by 2050?
Having said this I must add that all the big changes that I have seen on my travels in the wilds of India that is Bharat have been wrought by the arrival of television and the cell phone. It is because of these two technological marvels that the 21st century is beginning to limp slowly into even our remotest villages. Thanks to technology,the poorest,most underprivileged Indians have realised that they do not have to live this way. And,that there are many Indians who do not live without clean water,electricity and roads. They know that there is only one real issue in this election. Governance.
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