Is the Nation losing Dignity and Pride?
By Seema Mustafa
The other day a old former government officer who had seen much happier days asked, "are we as a nation losing our sense of dignity and pride?" The question posed between a heated debate on Kashmir and related issues took the room by surprise. There was a sudden silence, and then every one started talking at once. Are we? Except for two persons in a room of 12, everyone agreed that we have failed in nation building and infusing our people with pride in the country.
I know this sounds like one of those quick television sms polls that mean absolutely nothing. But take the evidence that was offered by those who had obviously decided to ask the question in the affirmative. A word in warning, the conversation was about the better to do in urban cities. Not about the poor or the villager who does not figure in the map of government planning. Take the people on the road. They litter, they pee, they drive like maniacs, they abuse each other, they shout at cops, they break all conceivable laws, they pay bribes when checked, and they show scant consideration about the 'other' on the street.
Take the people in their homes. The other day a newspaper carried a story about NRIs who had returned to work in India, and left within months as they could not cope with the lifestyle. And what is this lifestyle? You cannot get a gas connection if you do not pay a hefty bribe, you cannot get a plan to build a perfectly legitimate house passed through the municipal corporation without bribing every one in sight, you cannot pay a challan in the courts without carrying sufficient bribe money in your pocket, you cannot admit your child to school without paying lakhs in "donations", you cannot get a ration card without bribing every one, you cannot get a driving license without paying the under the counter fee, you cannot buy a flat without paying black money. The list goes on and on….
Take the people at work. Every one wants to 'make it' and this means to make as much money as possible. High income but in black is the key, as otherwise you have to pay income tax. Black money allows you to buy a farm house in a good address, travel, shop and not deny yourself the luxuries in life. This is the value system you pass on to your children who are taught, even before they learn the alphabet, that only the fool lives on his salary. The clever Indian earns over and above the legal figure. It is all about stocks, shares, growth, and more growth. Inflation hits only those without the spending ability. It matters little to those live their lives on black money.
The soul less class, that is growing by the day, does not bother about the issues at hand. It has no time for sovereignty, democracy, secularism, stability, poverty alleviation. It wants a good life, and does not tolerate those it perceives as coming in its way. Land has to be acquired for shopping malls. How does it matter if no one in government is now bothering to set up hospitals and schools for the poor? The nuclear deal with the US will bring in the consumer fare, and life will become even more comfortable. Who cares if India has to fine tune her policies to meet US requirements? A little here and there can always be adjusted after all. Kashmir is coming in the way, so let it go. How does it matter? It might destabilize India. Arre let that happen first, nothing will happen, we are too big.
Terrorism? Now that's a problem. They must arrest all these people, so what if they arrest the innocent people and destroy homes and families all over the country. Indians are one of the few peoples of the world who endorse not just the arrest but also the torture of the innocent to get to the guilty. That again demonstrates the complete callousness that has become almost a genetic quality in society, where little thought is paid to the trauma undergone by the innocents who are being detained, tortured and eventually released because of lack of evidence. The resulting anger and alienation erode the foundations of a nation state, but this fact is not even recognized let alone understood by the urban Indians.
It is true that the Dalit is still marginalized, and still the victim of untouchability in the country. There are enough incidents on a daily basis---some reported some not---to underline the crippling discrimination they face throughout India. It is true that the Muslims are getting increasingly marginalized and becoming the target of an increasingly irresponsible and unaccountable security machinery. But when actor Shabana Azmi says that she, despite her stature, is finding it impossible to get a house in Mumbai no one approaches her for remedial action. No one in government tries to find out if this is true and what should be done about it. Instead she is left at the mercy of the communal forces who ask her to apologise for speaking the truth. It is true that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, but no one in government is willing to do anything about it, and no one in society cares. The rich have access to employment, education, health care. The poor live without jobs, cannot educate their children, and die because of the complete absence of proper hospitals, doctors and even medicines in the villages.
So to get back to the senior official and his question. Are we building a nation we can be proud of, where every person can live with dignity and respect, where freedom is not for the few but for all, where secularism thrives, where equality flourishes, and where tears are still shed for the deprived , the marginalized and the oppressed? I do not know, perhaps you have the answer.