Society & Lifestyle
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Time To Take Stock
|by Deepika Singh|
With the dawn of India's freedom in 1947, the issues of our focus and interest have undergone rapid change and development. Not only has there been immense social change but the good that has come of it is that there's been an increasing awareness about issues that touch the lives of the Indian poor, women and children. Not surprisingly, India's social evolution has been closely scrutinized, and many an agency - governmental and non-governmental have mushroomed to promote the interests of the weaker sections in India. But to what end?
The focus of this piece is to find a con to each pro, to hunt for our failures in what has been touted as our success.
Cliched concepts, or to be more liberal to the spirit of India, values like democracy, freedom from discrimination, self-reliance and independence of thought have found a deeper and more resounding meaning in the Indian context. And the attention does not stop at abstracts.
Women and children have probably been 'top-of-the-list' in the government's agenda of social reforms and initiatives. Which is wonderful, but there still is female infanticide, and dowry death, and lack of education for girl child. An entire program with focus on the girl child has all but failed! An attempt to abolish child labor was another philanthropic project by the government, which is probably gathering dust in moth-eaten files in some babu's office. I am not discrediting the work that has been done. I am lamenting all that has not been done.
One phenomenon that has not needed governmental 'help' is the success of the Indians and the Indian economy. With everyday reports of Indian entrepreneurs striking pay dirt in the US, the focus on India and its economy has increased over the years. It's an impressive feat that India's GDP has maintained an annual growth rate of 6.5 percent, for six consecutive years. And that is the indice of the fastest growing economy not only among the third world countries, but also among all the democracies of the world. Software exports from India have maintained a steady climb of over 50 percent over these six years. And it's wise not to focus on the brain drain that will hurt India more than the triumph of having some Indians' name printed in International publications. Why put the spotlight on uncomfortable issues?
Not unremarkable is the increase in agricultural production, which has increased at the annual rate of 3.9 percent. With the figure comparisons, one feels secure that our population is now growing at a much slower rate - 1.8 percent. Are we trying to display the proverbial ostrich attitude? Have we even comprehended the gargantuan ruin looking us directly in the face?
When one analyzes the total amount of population that is growing at the rate of 1.8 percent, its time to do a double take, think back and revisit the issue of economic boom, success of Indian entrepreneurial leadership etc. Does it really matter if a handful of Indians have become billionaires in the US, when the majority is still scrambling to get a decent meal on a daily basis?
Anyway, to revert to issues of success, we have not sought free bees from the world - in terms of foreign aid. We can repay our debts, and are not seeking to be freed of them. In fact we have not begged, ever. We have never sought handouts, and I take pride in this fact. Despite numerous cultural and religious conflicts, we have managed to remain united. But is it fine when you consider the price that we have paid to remain united? Thousands have been killed all over the country - to cull separatist movements. Has the united geographical boundary been worth the people that have been killed?
Not to discredit India completely, we inherited an economy that had a shocking growth rate of 0.67 percent in the few decades gone by, an adult literacy rate of 14 percent and an education system that gave impetus to an elite bureaucracy. Of course this was not a democratic elite - but a section that fuelled itself generation to generation. This is one ill the government tried to overcome by making education imperative for all and free for the poor sections. And what came of it were higher job reservations for those who got through school and college based on reservations! Instead of correcting the evils of an elitist ruling class, the government tried to propagate a polar form of societal cream - that of the uneducated backward classes. Another populist measure failed.
Today, India is working towards a society where the marginalized and underprivileged have equal opportunities, where the future always seems better than the present, where dreams will come true, but that perfect utopia is so distant that even dreams seem ridiculous.
Despite strong-felt faith in the Indian economic boom and progress, there are issues that probably scare the world rather than just us in India, who are facing the lot. Was the birth of India's billionth citizen a milestone? Naive statements by many leading economists, social scientists and of course politicians were adulatory of the population boom.
But the thought is sobering. It is for me an indication that it is time we looked at health care, living standards, education, and population control and not at nuclear feats and missile building.
True, never before in human history has a nation attempted to feed, and feed well, a population of 400 million out of sheer penury. So India gets the credit she deserves for attempting this, but what of the futile attempts? What of the mistakes made along the way that impedes this magnanimity? Even if the mistakes are forgiven, can one forgive the repetition of the same mistakes over and over again?
One would like to believe that the achievements are greater than the mistakes. But that would be false. We as a nation have made valiant attempts at progress, but more flaws eat at the very essence of our roots, our being. But conventionally, one would prefer to end a piece of writing in a more hopeful timber and tone. Hence I desist from looking in the mirror and I quote a recent unattributed statement I came across applauding India's secularism, 'Her prime minister may be a Hindu, but the creator of her nuclear bomb and her richest entrepreneur are Muslims, the creator of her recent economic miracle is a Sikh, and her defense minister is (was) a Christian'.
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