Life is just wonderful for me as an individual, right now and for most of the time I am without any feeling of gnawing guilt that there is something wrong about me being so happy when that isn’t the case for many of my fellow-beings.
Some days , however, the guilt does take over , like today, watching and listening to the video in which P.Sainath is speaking to the students at Jawarharlal University , in solidarity with the struggle going on in that campus.
It was years ago that I read ,”Everybody loves a good drought” and if I think back , it was reading about the realities of poverty-stricken rural India from a person who had gone around the countryside documenting it first-hand , that one felt this enormous urge to be part of something bigger than myself and connect. My association with a humble effort to bring some education to children of migrant families from rural India , now residing in an urban slum in the National Capital region, was in many ways an expression of that desire.
I do realise that even in that desire to be part of something like this, is also about the self…the need for absolving oneself from the responsibility for the distressing circumstances around us.
But that is another personal jihad.
In Sainath’s own words, he is a field reporter who, who till last year, spent more than 250 days in the countryside and studies and reports about the realities at ground zero.
To me, as to many others, he is one of those who has maintained utmost integrity in his journalistic profession.
So I tend to completely trust what he says and in the cacophony of all the different channels on television and social media, a voice like his , gives me a better insight into the larger picture and the long-term consequences of economic policies that have been manifesting itself in rural lives.
Sainath is an alumnus from JNU.
These are some salient excerpts from his speech:
According to the Socio Economic Class Census data , in less75% of rural households which constitutes around 883 million people , the income of the main breadwinner is less than Rs.5000 and if that limit is raised to Rs.10000, it will include 90%.
He describes the current years as a period in which there is the greatest degree of inequality.
Pitched against the above above average income of rural India , is the Forbes report which ranks some Indians as the fifth or sixth in the list of dollar billionaires and for a better perspective , he draws attention to India’s ranking as per the Human development Index, which is 135th, which is lower than all Latin American countries, fifty positions lower than Vietnam who went through the ravages of the world war, and twenty positions below Sri Lanka , who had a civil war going on for thirty years.
Another glaring aspect of this wider picture that he was sketching in his speech was that of the declared assets of elected representatives through the years. While the number of crorepatis amongst them was 32% of all M.Ps in 2004, it was 53% in in 2009 and a whopping 82% in the 2014 elections.
So who is getting richer at whose cost?
Anybody who questions these inequalities which is being systematically created by political and corporate vested interests, is being branded as a criminal and cases are then slapped upon them. This is what has been going on in Odissa and Chattisgarh and elsewhere, where corporates are setting up their industries, taking away agricultural and forest land and curbing restrictions on the forest rights of tribal communities.
When we talk of love for our country, is it just an abstract idea?
Is patriotism and nationalism worth their names if it doesn’t include empathy and concern for those whose rights to a dignified survival are being gradually eroded away with state collusion?
Are we a free nation if the majority of our brethren are left with no real choices to make about the things that spell the core of their existences?
India is a country which has some of the most regressive practices on earth, said Sainath, but then adds that it also has some of the most fascinating and brilliant things about it as well…a land where 833 million people speak 780 living languages, out of which 6 are spoken by more than 50 million people, 3 are spoken by more than 80 million people and one is the language of 600 million. One language (Jeru in the Andamans) is spoken by just one person and another (Saima in Tripura) by seven persons. This diversity is India and this is the richness it possesses.
Sainath has done extensive investigative studies on the agrarian crisis and the farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region and elsewhere. As he mentioned in his speech, he is a field reporter who till last year, spent more than 250 days in rural areas and he hasn’t been a stooge of any particular Government. So what he says should have some legitimacy.
The responses to the matter of farmer suicides from the Government, intelligentsia, media and the general public have been generally lukewarm, he blames, although he gives more credit to the empathy of the general public as compared to the other three.
And then we have an elected representative of Maharashtra describing these suicides as a fashion trend and another from Andhra who had remarked that they did it for the compensation. The compensation, says Sainath is Rs. I lakh, 30% alone of which is paid to the widow in cash. Of the remaining 70%, which is tied up as a fixed deposit, she gets only the monthly interest of Rs.446 or so.
That’s how insensitive we have become.
Comparitively, he mentioned , the officers of the Defence Institutions where he had given lectures were more empathetic and concerned as many of the jawans were farmers in uniforms and they were witness to their tension and worry when they received a distressing telephone calls from home.
What is at stake here in the present protests, in the context of the arrest of the JNU student leader Kanhaiya Lal, is the liberty to dissent and Sainath emphasised in his speech that the fight was not just for their immediate demands , but against the criminalisation of dissent.
With the death of the ten soldiers under an avalanche in Siachen, the figures of casualties in the Glacier has risen to 879 , says an Indian Express report.
Is it lack of political will that we cannot resolve these border issues.? Who gains from keeping these conflicts alive here and elsewhere in the world?
Who is the enemy of the state?
Does the State always work in the interests of the human beings, they are supposed to represent?
Is it sedition when you speak up for the latter and raise slogans against the former when it is perceived that they don’t?
Jawarharlal Nehru University definitely stands for a place where all such questions have always been raised and debated.
I’ve spent around 34 years in Delhi . Now a persistent regret has raised it’s head…that I never had an occasion to visit that campus.
I stand with JNU.
This is the You Tube link of Sainath’s speech. It’s long , but worth listening to.