The absence of governance in Haryana has managed to unite workers, women, underprivileged and over-privileged alike and brought them out on the streets in protest.
At first glance, Haryana doesn’t appear to be a failed state. If anything, it looks the very opposite. Regardless of which direction you enter the State from — whether from the bustling beehive that is Delhi, or from the lush fields of Punjab, or from the populous towns of Uttar Pradesh, the difference is perceptible.
There is a clear air of affluence, a sense of things being done, money being made. Not just in the futuristic steel and glass skyscrapers of Gurgaon, proudly sporting the names of the world’s biggest corporations, but even in the busy little towns and villages that dot the Delhi-Chandigarh highway. Vehicles of every description clog the streets — heavily-laden monster trucks roar through what appear to be by lanes — and wherever you look, there is some kind of construction activity going on.
So at first glance, Haryana is the poster boy of India growth story. The State is rich; the people are healthy and wealthy and business is booming. And the trickle down theory is clearly working here, because, even though the villages are as dusty and cluttered as any other Indian village, the houses are all pucca, dish antennae sprout from the rooftops, and there are vehicles parked casually everywhere.
But first glances — or drive-by glances — never tell the whole story. Behind this façade of apparent success and achievement, Haryana is a text book example of what can happen when governments abdicate from the job of governance.
The State has been in the news several times in the recent past. And every time, for the wrong reason. Three examples suffice. Take the Maruti strike, where a sudden and unexpected outbreak of violence left a senior manager dead, several injured and led to a month-long stoppage of work at India’s largest carmaker, hitherto held up as a model for employer-employee relations in an industrial context.
Then there was the furore over the rising number of incidents of rape in the State, including a flurry when as many as 19 cases were reported in the span of a couple of weeks or so. Or take the massive traffic jams on one of the development showpieces of the State — the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway — which led to angry protests by commuters and a court-ordered temporary stoppage of toll collection in order to free up traffic.
All three examples, in their own way, highlight the extent to which problems can be either precipitated or exacerbated by the absence of governance.
Attacks on women
Let us first take the astonishing rise in the number of crimes against women. An average of two women are reported raped every day in the State.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s data, the ‘rape index’ — the number of rapes per lakh of women, is 6.11 in the State, placing it seventh in the national roll call of dishonour. Tiny Mizoram leads that list with a rape index of 7.1, but that may well be because the reporting there is much more extensive and accurate.
In a patriarchal society such as Haryana, the true incidence of attacks on women is almost certainly far higher, but does not get reported, for fear of reprisals. The reprisals can be brutal, ranging from retaliatory attacks and even murder, to social ostracism of not just the victim, but her entire family. In the latest incident to hit the headlines, for example, a 13-year-old girl who was gang raped over a period of months by some youths, was promptly expelled from her school
— along with her sisters — when she finally worked up the nerve to complain.
One could argue that this is a societal issue, and one which is common to other States in India as well. Where is the question of governance?
That lies in the way the State responds to such incidents. Accused of failure to protect women, the response of a former chief minister of the state — backed by the all-powerful khap or caste panchayats, which have a very strong role in shaping policy in that State — was to say that women should be married off by the age of 16 — presumably so that they can work off their raging sexual appetites within the safe confines of home and marriage, instead of resorting to getting themselves raped by random thugs!
The State spokesperson for the Congress — the party which rules both in Haryana and the Centre — even said that 90 per cent of all rapes were consensual There have been any number of cases documented by researches, social workers and women’s organisations to demonstrate that the standard response of the authorities when confronted with issues of violence against women is to either ignore it, or try and blame the victim.
It’s not just women. Haryana’s record in protecting other disadvantaged groups of society is abysmal. That includes workers. The Maruti strike exposed the fragile reality behind Haryana’s prosperous industrial façade.
The Gurgaon-Manesar belt is one of India’s major automotive hubs, with several global auto majors being located there. The workers who man these thriving factories often live in abysmal conditions.
Organised trade unions have repeatedly alleged that the State administration and the police actively collude with managements to sabotage the formation of legitimate unions, and that attempts by workers to claim their legitimate rights — enshrined in law and which should be protected by the state — are often brutally suppressed.
Such charges, of course, are always stoutly denied by the government — but have so far not been convincingly disproved. But perhaps nothing illustrates the abdication — as distinct from mere absence — of governance as the so called ‘millennium city’ of Gurgaon.
It stands cheek by jowl with the capital, full of futuristic office blocks and apartments, home to some of the largest and most luxurious shopping malls in India.
It is home to one of the largest IT and ITES clusters outside of Bangalore and the India headquarters of dozens of mega multi-nationals. Its per capita income, at Rs 1, 22, 212 per annum, is the third highest in the country.
But the city stands on a mountain of uncollected garbage; it has a non-existent sewerage system, virtually no public transport, faces a growing water crisis and is powered largely by individual enterprise, since assured power supply is non existent.
That is because the State simply vacated the space as infrastructure developer and handed it over to private enterprise. Modern Gurgaon is virtually the brainchild of India’s largest developer DLF, now embroiled in scams of altogether different colour.
But Gurgaon’s ills cannot really be blamed on DLF or the other developers who followed. They did what they had to efficiently — convert a dusty village into a vision of tomorrow, got individuals and businesses to buy into that dream — and moved on. Details such as connecting roads, drains, water, external power, garbage collection and disposal were left to the Government — which was presumably under the impression that that too, had been privatised, and therefore, did nothing about such things!
That is why people who owned apartments worth crores and drove vehicles worth lakhs had to abandon both to take to the streets to protest the lack of access to cross the road, which meant they had to use the PPP-built highway — and pay toll in the process — to cross the street!
That is the enduring irony of what is arguably India’s most successful post-reform State. The absence of governance has managed to unite workers, women, underprivileged and over-privileged alike and brought them out on the streets in protest. The outcome of the protests would depend on whether those who rule us realise that power, unfortunately, does not come divorced from responsibility.