Reflections On India
If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who’s being honest with you and wants nothing from you. These criticisms apply to all of India except Kerala and the places I didn’t visit, except that I have a feeling it applies to all of India, except as I mentioned before, Kerala. Lastly, before anyone accuses me of western cultural imperialism, let me say this: if this is what India and Indians want, then hey, who am I to tell them differently. Take what you like and leave the rest. In the end it doesn’t really matter, as I get the sense that Indians, at least many upper-class Indians, don’t seem to care and the lower classes just don’t know any better, what with Indian culture being so intense and pervasive on the subcontinent. But here goes, nonetheless.
India is a mess. It’s that simple, but it’s also quite complicated. I’ll start with what I think are India’s four major problems the four most preventing India from becoming a developing nation and then move to some of the ancillary ones.
First, pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don’t know how cultural the filth is, but it’s really beyond anything I have ever encountered. At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump. Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all to common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight. Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for one’s health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads. The only two cities that could be considered sanitary in my journey were Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala and Calicut. I don’t know why this is. But I can assure you that at some point this pollution will cut into India’s productivity, if it already hasn’t. The pollution will hobble India’s growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small ‘c’ sense.)
More after the jump.
The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: roads, rails and ports and the electrical grid. The electrical grid is a joke. Load-shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swaths of the country spend much of the day without the electricity, they actually pay for. Without regular electricity, productivity, again, falls. The ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanised world of container ports, more in line with the days of longshoremen and the like. Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America. And I covered fully two-thirds of the country during my visit. There are so few dual carriage way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of, and if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced. A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older. Everyone in India, or who travels in India raves about the railway system. Rubbish. It’s awful. Now, when I was there in 2003 and then late 2004, it was decent. But in the last five years the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travelers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses. At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that wait lists of 500 or more people are common now. The rails are affordable and comprehensive but they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like sadhus in an ashram the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the overutilised rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit. Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US, I guess.
Just back after attending Independence Day celebrations by the little stars of Parmanand Education Trust (P.ET). This incredible school educates 250 underprivileged children from various backgrounds ranging from domestic help, contract workers, security guards, orphans, including 12 of my farmers children and more from surrounding villages. Witnessing these children perform with such zeal and enthusiasm was so heart provoking. A dedicated lot of enterprising teachers choreographed painstakingly short skits and dance performances translating the essence of true Freedom.
This one particular skit made a deep impact on me. I hope it did the same to a whole lot of parents, educationists and passers-by. This act depicted the currently existing vices like corruption, unhealthy environment, untouchability, dowry, poverty, caste system and ugly bickering politics. How each one of these vices need to be overcome by reflecting the need to stand up for honesty, transparency, harmony of one and all. After which as future awakened citizens, a celebration of freedom ensued. Truly outstanding.
This to me is our Freedom, not this mindless futile emotive of wishing each other a “Happy Independence Day”. The whole nation and NRI’s galore go into a frenzy by showing patriotism on this particular day. Only to indulge in a superficial celebration, pretending all is well. But all is not! After 63 years of this so called Independence hard earned by our freedom fighters, we have not only let them down but ourselves unfortunately. Our policy makers, industry and scientists have progressed. But not the masses of citizens who remain mute spectators. Alarm bells ring loud. The health of our nation is under serious jeopardy.
The proof is right in front of you. We have an estimated 421 million in poverty. 360 million dying of hunger. We breed a sick nation with every second person a victim of some chronic disease. Is this Freedom? But there is not
—a squeak against the policy makers who get away by designing policies to suit the vested interests of the 48 dollar billionaires and about a 100,000 millionaires in our country.
—Not a squeak against faulty farm policies designed to suit industry but not our farmers. Traditional seeds are under threat, a direct consequence of our food being under assault.
—Not a squeak against pharmaceutical industry that releases day after day new drugs, new vaccines, new prescriptions to suit a new diseases. But the root cause is never tackled. Progress in science they call it but in reality designed to fill their coffers. No wonder India is the Diabetic capital in the world with only a 40.9 million people being diabetic.
—Not a squeak against the flourishing food processing industry that unleashes day after day countless toxic refined foods. In short, we blindly accept the claims of these politically correct nutritionists.
There is no distinction made by these diet dictocrats:
—between whole grains and refined grains, cereals, nuts and more that have lost their nutrients.
—Between foods grown organically and those grown with fertilizers, pesticides and now genetically engineered.
—Between unprocessed dairy products and pasteurised dairy products from confined animals raised on processed feed.
—Between fresh and rancid fats.
—Between natural and battery produced eggs and more.
Just look at the irony—It single out foods grown by independent producers—small farmers but spares the powerful and highly profitable food processing industry, vegetable refined oil producers. It gives lip service to the overwhelming evidences implicating refined sugar as a major cause of degenerative diseases but spares the soft drink industry. It raises not a murmur against the refined flour, hydrogenated fats and foods adulterated with harmful preservatives like emulsifiers and colouring agents. In short, the traditional foods that nourished our ancestors is now replaced with the new toxic products that dominate the modern market place. Diet Dictocrats endorse this, they are none other than doctors, policy-makers, scientists, health associations and more. Dr Sally Fallon has articulated this truths in her book Nourishing Traditions.
With the result being immunities are collapsing. Children are the victims for they are far more susceptible. Children as old as 6 reach puberty, youth at 18 suffering heart attacks, cancer, BP and more. Is this the future we wish to provide our children? What kind of independence is this?
We the educated citizens wear blinkers and stay trapped but do nothing within our own country, then who is to blame? The enemy is not outside of our borders. The enemy resides well within us. Colonised we still are but within our own minds. Our defenses and voice of reasoning dies a tragic death each day. We have no time to question the oppressive institutional policies that have constantly undermined the well-being of our nation. Henry Kissenger forecast is well underway “ if you want to control nations control oil, but if you want to control the society control food”. A handful of MNC’s are merrily controlling our food chain. Whilst they laugh their ways to their banks, you suffer your way to the hospitals with a big dent in your pocket. Wake up. Set yourself free from the clutches of sense habits. Raise your voices against the dictats of the junk, processed food produce. Boycott all such products.
The Right to Safe Food Choices and Good Health is our constitutional Right. Demand it.
By Sangita Sharma
The author is a Bengaluru-based Natural Farmer
The last major problem in India is an old problem and can be divided into two parts that’ve been two sides of the same coin since government was invented: bureaucracy and corruption. It take triplicates to register into a hotel. To get a SIM card for one’s phone is like wading into a jungle of red-tape and photocopies one is not likely to emerge from in a good mood, much less satisfied with customer service. Getting train tickets is a terrible ordeal, first you have to find the train number, which takes 30 minutes, then you have to fill in the form, which is far from easy, then you have to wait in line to try and make a reservation, which takes 30 minutes at least and if you made a single mistake on the form back you go to the end of the queue, or what passes for a queue in India. The government is notoriously uninterested in the problems of the commoners, too busy fleecing the rich, or trying to get rich themselves in some way shape or form. Take the trash for example, civil rubbish collection authorities are too busy taking kickbacks from the wealthy to keep their areas clean that they don’t have the time, manpower, money or interest in doing their job. Rural hospitals are perennially understaffed as doctors pocket the fees the government pays them, never show up at the rural hospitals and practice in the cities instead.
ATHEISTS ARE ALSO HINDU
We are citizen of India, the Constitution of which does not compel me to be adherent of atheist any religion. It only compels me to believe in secularism which I interpret as freedom not to believe in any religion or any God. It also seeks to make me respectful towards all religions although at the personal level I do not feel the need of any religions, including the Hindu religion to function as a loyal citizen of this country. I am, nevertheless, proud of the country’s heritage, its culture, its principle of respect for any faith, any religion and any political philosophy giving me the freedom to practice any political faith I consider proper for me, provided of course that does not make to take arms against other political faiths. As such I do not believe in intolerance for any faith, indigenous or external.
We also understand that our views on religion or political philosophy are not unique for us. This country’s heritage has made us tolerant of any faith, any religion and any political philosophy, except for those preaching violence. The Charvak philosophy of ancient India, we are told, had advocated total denial of anything divine, saying probably if there is no God, how could anything be divine. These views are of course debatable.
However, we had read Rabindranath Tagore in original. We refer particularly to one poem, we had learnt by heart during our school days which had advocated, among other things, assimilation of different communities which have come into India saying, “Ei bharater mahamanaber sagar teeray” (a loose translation could be “to the shores of the ocean of the great humanity”). He recalls the immigration of communities like the Sakas, Huns, Pathans and Mughals among others who have been assimilated in this huge ocean of humanity called Bharat.
We are reminded of an outlaw called Ratnakar, who used to rob other people’s wealth in ancient India in order to feed his family. When, however, he asked the members of his family, whether they would share the sin he was committing day in and day out in order to serve his family, no one said they would share the sin with him. This statement struck him like lightening and he started meditating in a forest for long, till his entire body covered by insects. He emerged as a saint and the entire world knows him by the name Maharshi Valmiki, who wrote in Sanskrit the story of Lord Rama—his triumphs and travails. Today, the Valmiki Ramayana is the authentic story of Lord Rama, mother Sita and their sons Lav and Kush as also of Ravan, the demon and his misdeeds.
Yet, it is the greatness of this nation that Lord Rama, on return to Rameshwaram from Lanka, observed penance for killing Ravana, who was a Brahmin. There are any number of places in India where people claim Ravana was born, the latest being a village near Nalanda in Bihar. The suburb of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, called Mandor, is accepted by many as the birthplace of Mandodari, the consort of Ravana.
In Mahabharata, we find that Lord Krishna, who acted as a
charioteer for Arjuna, the third Pandava brother, a warrior without a parallel, consoled him with divine precepts at Arjuna losing his nerve at the thought that in the Mahabharata war, he would have to kill his own kith and kin, including Bhishma Pitamaha. That message by Lord Krishna at the Kurukshetra battlefield is known as the holy Gita, which inspire crores of Indians even today.
How we can forget the Kalinga war waged by Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty? The fierce war on the banks of the Daya river, near today’s Bhubaneshwar, had turned the river red with the blood of soldiers killed. You can perhaps still feel the scent of blood when you visit the Pagoda near the Daya river even today. But what happened after this bloody war? Emperor Ashoka adopted Buddhism, became totally non-violent and had set up, among other things, a pillar at Lumbini, now in Nepal, marking the place where the Lord was born more than 2500 years ago. He also caused numerous edicts to be etched on stones all over India carrying the message of love and piety. One of these can be found even today in Delhi.
This is our heritage and that makes me proud of our ancient civilisation on the one hand and the message even today that inspired Swami Vivekananda to deliver the famous speech at the International Congress of Religions at Chicago.
Going through what Sister Nivedita said as given below, one recalls that this Christian lady was not forcibly converted to Hinduism. Nor was American actor Julia Roberts in recent days. Sister Nivedita had said: “In these volumes (complete works of Swami Vivekananda), we have not only a gospel to the world at large, but also to its own children, the Charter of the Hindu faith. What Hinduism needed, amidst the general disintegration of the modern era, was a rock where she could lie in anchor, an authoritative utterance in which she might recognise herself. What the world had needed was a faith that had no fear of truth.”
“For the first time in history, Hinduism itself forms here the subject of generalisation of a Hindu mind of the highest order. For ages to come, the Hindu mind who would verify, the Hindu mother, who would teach her children what was the faith of their ancestors, will turn to the pages of these books for assurance and light.”
In the background of these lofty ideals, one is baffled why things like communal riots should take place in India. They have taken place both before and after Independence. They have taken place in Kolkata, at Jabalpur and Bhagalpur, as also in Ahmedabad and other places in the country several times in the past 63 years. The one originating at Godhra was one of the severe ones that Gujarat had experienced in the past too, long before a party called the BJP under the leadership of a person called Narendra Modi had come to power democratically through elections in the state. This riot was condemned by all, not less severely than anyone else but Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who had reminded Chief Minister Narendra Modi about raj dharma. One does not remember any Prime Minister or lesser individual from other party reminding Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav about raj dharma when the Bhagalpur riots had taken place. Nor did other Prime Ministers had taken to task Shyama Charan Shukla or PC Sethi when the Jabalpur riots had taken place.
But why should we refer to these riots? Why should we not remind people of Gandhiji for example today for whom the poor and the deprived were gods?
By Suresh Kaushik
I could go on for quite some time about my perception of India and its problems, but in all seriousness, I don’t think anyone in India really cares. And that, to me, is the biggest problem. India is too conservative a society to want to change in any way. Mumbai, India’s financial capital is about as filthy, polluted and poor as the worst city imaginable in Vietnam, or Indonesia and being more polluted than Medan, in Sumatra is no easy task. The biggest rats I have ever seen were in Medan!
One would expect a certain amount of, yes, I am going to use this word, backwardness, in a country that hasn’t produced so many Nobel Laureates, nuclear physicists, imminent economists and entrepreneurs. But India has all these things and what have they brought back to India with them? Nothing. The rich still have their servants, the lower castes are still there to do the dirty work and so the country remains in stasis. It’s a shame. Indians and India have many wonderful things to offer the world, but I’m far from sanguine that India will amount to much in my lifetime.
Now, have at it, call me a cultural imperialist, a spoiled child of the West and all that. But remember, I’ve been there. I’ve done it. And I’ve seen 50 other countries on this planet and none, not even Ethiopia, have as long and gargantuan a laundry list of problems as India does. And the bottom line is, I don’t think India really cares. Too complacent and too conservative.
By Sean Paul Kelley
The author is a travel writer and correspondent for The Young Turks, on satellite radio and Air America