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The Spurious in India
|by Proloy Bagchi|
The other day the Bhopal edition of a national daily reported a raid on a local manufacturing unit of spurious Unani medicines.
Unani is a traditional system of medicine which has been practiced in the country for centuries. Although the name suggests that the system is Grecian, it in fact is a Greco-Arabic system that is widely taken recourse to in South Asia. No wonder, it is generally patronised by Muslims, who would seem to have adopted it as their own. Certainly not as expensive as its allopathic counterparts, Unani for the poor is a default medical system. And, quite heartlessly, there are people who apparently are prepared to harm the hapless poor for a few quick bucks by having them treated by fake medicines.
There was another similar report the same day. An industrialist in a remote corner of the town was nabbed for manufacturing and supplying fake electrical items with names of well-known brands tagged on to them. Even ceiling fans of, inter alia, Usha brand-name were being manufactured by him. Obviously, the budding industrialist knew that the stuff he manufactured wouldn’t sell unless he gave them a brand name. So, he thought nothing of counterfeiting the recognized brands.
But these, perhaps, pale into insignificance before the report of farmers committing suicide because of ruined crops owing to spurious fertilizers and pesticides. Poor farmers bought them taking loans at usurious rates of interest in the hope of augmenting their produce and protecting their crops in the hope of good returns. But that was not to be. The ignorant farmers were cheated and sold duds, ruining their finances. Worse, there have also been reports of spurious seeds being sold to them, even by some public sector firms. Having been heavily shortchanged the farmers facing financial ruin are sometimes driven to take the extreme step of ending their life.
However, it is not the farmer alone who, along with his family, suffers because of such widespread dishonesty; the entire nation suffers by way of reduced agricultural output that frustrates its efforts to build up its food stocks. This is not all. Items of food that are used in large scale are adulterated with toxic materials and are sold openly.
Late last year, during the festive season, the local collector organized raids and detected trade in spurious khoya, thickened milk, which is widely used for making a number of upper Indian sweets. A year before that, a sting operation by one of the more conscientious TV news channels exposed the massive trade in spurious milk products all over north India. It included khoya, of course, and even ghee (clarified butter) and paneer (cottage cheese). Many arrests were made in several north Indian states. Among the most adulterated food items are the Indian spices which are routinely sold by grocers all over the country. While the middle classes and others who can afford to buy the branded packaged products – generally genuine – at a higher cost are able to avoid sickness and ill-health by consuming spurious spices, there is no respite for the poor who have to depend on the neighbourhood grocers.
Sale of spurious spices has been an age-old practice. Ground red-chilly, for example, would be mixed with generous proportions of powdered brick and the powdered coriander seeds would contain liberal quantities of horse dung.
Governance being weak, people go to tortuous lengths to produce fake stuff to make quick money regardless of the consequences of their unscrupulous acts on others. On the one hand, the state surveillance is ineffective, even non-existent, on the other, the relevant laws are old and archaic providing for penalties that are so light that they are not enough of a deterrent. An unscrupulous entrepreneur would rather take the risk of spending a few months in the coup and paying a light fine of a few thousands to make a pile.
The utter lack of governance seems to have promoted all around an amoral culture with almost absolute lack of ethical values giving rise to a pervasive atmosphere of mistrust as nobody knows when one is cheated, swindled, robbed or even killed for a few nickels. In this milieu a straight individual is taken for a ride or is dispossessed of most of his assets –liquid or fixed. There is an enormous trust-deficit prevailing in the society. One is generally suspicious of the next man and one has to watch one’s every step. The gullible and the careless end up as losers. Here, cheats, swindlers and the like are more pious and, with corruption spreading like galloping cancer, religiosity has broken all bounds.
Places of worship are multiplying and hundreds of thousands gather at shrines during religious festivals. Recently, on a festive occasion a hundred-odd died in a stampede when millions milled around to view a, supposedly, spurious divine luminescent phenomenon near a legendary temple on top of a southern forested hill. Even people’s blind faith has become exploitable for unethical gains.
India had won its independence from the colonial power largely on the basis its moral force. Non-violence, “soul-force”, et al practiced during the struggle for freedom had won encomiums from world leaders. Gandhi’s truth and non-violence were the guiding forces which eventually won the country its freedom without any bloodshed. Truly, in those days, which stretched into the first two decades after independence, ethical standards were so high that scarcely was there a person who would be corrupt, and, if found so, would promptly be ostracized. No wonder, soon after independence the country, despite its abject poverty, was acknowledged by the international community as repository of ethics and morality.
Immediately after the end of World War II, unleashed by the self-aggrandising and immoral Axis Powers, India provided a welcome change. A decline in ethical standards, however, commenced around the 1970s and took progressively a precipitous plunge thereafter. It largely started off as political corruption and later, unchecked and unbridled, permeated the society at every level, so much so that today India is among the most corrupt nations in the world. The governments – central or of states – and public bodies make phony efforts to fight the menace of corruption. Even the corruption watchdog - the Centre - recently appointed, has a history of corruption. While politicians and top officials at the Centre, the states and even in the civic bodies loot the public exchequer and have insulated themselves against legal action, they foster sleaze among those who deal with them. Industrialists, businessmen and traders, in league with politicians and officials, make merry at the cost of the people.
The recent missive to the government by corporate houses asking for a check on corruption is, therefore, specious and spurious as it is they who are largely responsible for corrupting the system. Even the democracy that we have is spurious. Politicians work for their own perpetuation in office, instead of working for the larger good. Politics of vote banks has permeated the entire polity. Besides, the country’s parliamentary democracy is progressively morphing into an oligarchy. As Patrick French, the British author of “India- an intimate portrait of 1.2 billion people”, has revealed, seats in the Indian Parliament are progressively going by heredity. The electoral system being what it is, a non-political contestant has scarcely a chance. It’s now the private preserve of the movers and shakers and wheelers and dealers.
The “social contract”, under which people ceded their sovereignty to the government hoping for installation of a just and equitable social order based on the rule of law, has been severely breached by the (central and state) governments and other public institutions. They and their several agencies are promoting, by way of their acts of omissions and commissions, socio-economic disparities. While a few are reaping the fruits of the country’s economic surge, a very large section of the population continues to be deprived, languishing in heart-rending poverty and under-nourishment. The fetish-ised 9% “inclusive (GDP) growth”, therefore, sounds hollow and the claim of being an emerging super-power is nothing but – well, yes, spurious!
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