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Taking stock of harsh realities

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Child labour continues blatantly.
Child labour continues blatantly.

While Europeans applaud India for the high growth rates and GDP, the pitiable governance, poverty and misery are, to them, shocking.

Mohan Murti

First of all, a big call-out to everyone this Yuletide season. I have been thinking hard on what to offer during this time of merriment. In my column this week, coming as it does after Christmas and before we slide into the New Year, it is essential to give my readers some idea of the European perspective of the ‘year that was', for India. Now, let us incise the boil a bit.

Farmers' suicides: The backbone of any nation is its agriculture, its farmers. Over one hundred thousand farmers took their lives across certain regions of India in the past 10 years. The tragedy is that no one is keen to come to grips with the reasons that led to this never-ending saga of human suffering. A well-known German newspaper said: “The ‘mover and shaker' Indians are engrossed in themselves, busy fulfilling their dreams. To them, the 25 per cent of the world's poor living in India are non-existent.”

Corporal punishment: In Lucknow, the headmaster of a government school beat to death a girl student in Std 3. In Europe, such an incident would never happen. And God forbid, if it did, there would have been such a national uproar, debates and quick, firm action that it never recurs again.

An op-ed article in a Bavarian newspaper said: “Indians assume that the law will take its course. But, in the Indian style ‘rule of law', time is ‘eternal' and it could take another 20 years before the guilty principal is brought to justice.

Austerity style: First, there's the austerity drive ordered by the Centre. Then, last week, Indian Parliament cleared a Bill that allows Ministers to take “any number of companions or relatives” along on a trip by air for free.

In the next 15 months, ministers in the Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi will get brand new bungalows, which will cost over hundred million rupees.

BBC news wrote: “Austerity is a joke in Indian politics. Doublespeak and hypocrisy is a national affliction.”

Child labour: Child labour continues blatantly. Children work with hazardous materials in unhygenic conditions. A German-Austrian newspaper reported on the nine-year-old boy labourer who was beaten up in Lucknow by his employer and salt rubbed on the wounds.

Europeans are dazed by the incident and by the fact that innumerable Indian children continue to suffer daily at the hands of their abusive employers.

Manual scavengers: A Swiss daily wrote: “Even if the municipal corporations, municipalities and State governments in India, often refute the fact, manual scavenging is a forced, caste-based occupation, employing more than 3 million people across India.

Manhole deaths have become a day after day affair, in India. Sadly, none of these incidents are a deterrent to the civic authorities who have absolutely no respect for the lives and safety of people and innocent children.

In Europe, such civic officials would be charged with ‘murder by negligence' and punished. Not so in India. Several European nations have now issued travel advisories, warning their citizens about this danger.

Judicial recklessness: Almost two million cases of crimes against women are reported every year but the conviction rate is only 20 per cent. In many cases, the men accused are those meant to uphold the law. But they use their position to evade justice.

A popular society weekly in Germany wrote recently: “Indian laws do not frighten the people anymore. The so-called rule of law has become codswallop and gibberish in India.”

As former Haryana DGP, S. P. S. Rathore gets away with just six months and a Rs 1000 fine for ‘molesting' a young girl, Ruchika, Europeans are shocked at the delays in a justice system which took 19 years and 400 hearings. A European news agency termed it, “...the great Indian judicial recklessness.” Europeans are shocked that Rathore was granted bail immediately, so he will spend no time in prison.

An editorial in a French daily wrote “while bail application is also said to be a discretionary power of the courts in civilised societies, this should be exercised judiciously as otherwise, it would send wrong signals to society. The Indian court's decision to grant bail to this no ordinary sex offender is thoughtless, irresponsible and done in wild haste.”

Indian Parliament: The dignity of Parliament and the Indian governance system is suffering setbacks at every turn, with appalling eccentricities enacted each day through the vulgarised uncultured behaviour of our graceless and eccentric politicians.

When the nations of Europe are uniting, Indian States are bent on dividing. The Central government has opened up a Pandora's Box by saying yes to Telangana State. A popular Scandanavian journal wrote: “While the rest of the developed world is watching India with hope, it is terrifyingly sad to see India swim in violence, inaction, corruption and debilitating poverty — all making the democracy Indians are practising a charade.”

Cancer of corruption: Corruption is, undoubtedly, the greatest threat to the public good. A leading business newspaper of Germany wrote: “The extent of corruption in India has resulted in corrosion of moral values. The vituperative cankerworm has been eating up bit by bit, the social fabric. The worst that can happen is a corrupt judiciary. In India, judges who administer the oath themselves do not speak the truth.”

India continues to be perceived by Europeans as among the most corrupt nations, occupying a prominent position in the contemporary international rogues' gallery.

Taking stock: Before I am accused of being mentally colonised by my numerous citations of the European perceptions of India, I must submit that goodness, wherever it is found, is a pan-human trait that is not a bigoted native to a particular section of the human community.

It is a universal good to which any human or nation can aspire or subscribe to. For too long have we Indians made too many excuses for inhumanity.

While Europeans applaud India's high growth rates and GDP, the pitiable governance, poverty and misery are, to them, grinding and disheartening. At the cost of sounding downbeat, off-putting and negative, it is sometimes imperative to pause and take stock of these realities.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 28, 2009)
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