....."The pioneers of a warless world are the youth who refuse military service"....... - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Experts call WHO & Bill Gates Foundation's role in India's polio eradication campaign unethical

Ramesh Shankar, Mumbai, PHARMABIZ.com
Thursday, April 05, 2012, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]
Medical experts in paediatrics in the country have lambasted the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Bill Gates Foundation for trumpeting India's polio eradication campaign which they knew 10 years back that it was never going to succeed. 'India was taken off the list of polio-endemic countries by the WHO on January 12, 2012 but the polio eradication campaign will have to be continued in some format for ever. The long promised monetary benefits from ceasing to vaccinate against poliovirus will never be achieved', the well known paediatricians said.

“It was unethical for WHO and Bill Gates to flog this programme when they knew 10 years back that it was never to succeed. Getting poor countries to expend their scarce resources on an impossible dream over the last 10 years was unethical,” said Dr Neetu Vashisht and Dr Jacob Puliyel of the Department of Paediatrics at St Stephens Hospital in Delhi in their report in the April issue of 'Indian Journal of Medical Ethics'.

January 12, 2012, marked a significant milestone for India as it was the first anniversary of the last reported wild polio case from India.

The two doctors noted that it was long known to the scientific community that eradication of polio was impossible because scientists had synthesized poliovirus in a test-tube as early as in 2002. “The sequence of its genome is known and modern biotechnology allows it to be resurrected at any time in the lab,” they said and added, “Man can thus never let down his guard against poliovirus.”

Dr Vashisht and Dr Puliyel said that another major ethical issue raised by the campaign is the failure to thoroughly investigate the increase in the incidence of non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP) in areas where many doses of vaccine were used. NPAFP is clinically indistinguishable from polio paralysis but twice as deadly.

The authors noted that while India was polio-free in 2011, in the same year, there were 47500 cases of NPAFP. While data from India’s National Polio Surveillance Project showed NPAFP rate increased in proportion to the number of polio vaccine doses received, independent studies showed that children identified with NPAFP “were at more than twice the risk of dying than those with wild polio infection.”

According to their report, nationally, the NPAFP rate is now twelve times higher than expected. In the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar -- which have pulse polio rounds nearly every month--the NPAFP rate is 25 and 35 fold higher than the international norms.

The authors point out that while the anti-polio campaign in India was mostly self-financed it started with a token donation of two million dollars from abroad. “The Indian government finally had to fund this hugely expensive programme, which cost the country 100 times more than the value of the initial grant.”

“This is a startling reminder of how initial funding and grants from abroad distort local priorities,” the authors noted. “From India’s perspective the exercise has been an extremely costly both in terms of human suffering and in monetary terms. It is tempting to speculate what could have been achieved if the $2.5 billion spent on attempting to eradicate polio, were spent on water and sanitation and routine immunization.”

In conclusion they say that “the polio eradication programme epitomizes nearly everything that is wrong with donor funded ‘disease specific’ vertical projects at the cost of investments in community-oriented primary health care (horizontal programmes).”

The WHO's current policy calls for stopping oral polio vaccine (OPV) vaccination three years after the last case of poliovirus-caused poliomyelitis. Injectable polio vaccine (IPV), which is expensive, will replace OPV in countries which can afford it.

“The risks inherent in this strategy are immense,” Dr Puliyel and Dr Vashisht warn. “Herd immunity against poliomyelitis will rapidly decline as new children are born and not vaccinated. Thus, any outbreak of poliomyelitis will be disastrous, whether it is caused by residual samples of virus stored in laboratories, by vaccine-derived polioviruses or by poliovirus that is chemically synthesized with malignant intent.”

They argue that the huge costs of repeated rounds of OPV in terms of money and NPAFP shows that monthly administration of OPV must cease. “Our resources are perhaps better spent on controlling poliomyelitis to a locally acceptable level rather than trying to eradicate the disease.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jan Lokpal Bill is very regressive: Arundhati Roy

Sagarika Ghose, CNN-IBN, Aug 31, 2011

In an exclusive interview, writer Arundhati Roy said there are serious concerns about the Jan Lokpal Bill, corporate funding, NGOs and even the role of the media.
Sagarika Ghose: Hello and welcome to the CNN-IBN special. The Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement has thrown up multiple voices. Many have been supportive of the movement, but there have been some who have been sceptical and raised doubts about the movement as well. One of these sceptical voices is writer Arundhati Roy who now joins us. Thanks very much indeed for joining us. In your article in 'The Hindu' published on August 21, entitled 'I'd rather not be Anna', you've raised many doubts about the Anna Hazare campaign. Now that the movement is over and the crowds have come and we've seen the massive size of those crowds, do you continue to be sceptical? And if so, why?
Arundhati Roy: Well, it's interesting that everybody seems to have gone away happy and everybody is claiming a massive victory. I'm kind of happy too, relieved I would say, mostly because I'm extremely glad that the Jan Lokpal Bill didn't go through Parliament in its current form. Yes, I continue to be sceptical for a whole number of reasons. Primary among them is the legislation itself, which I think is a pretty dangerous piece of work. So what you had was this very general mobilisation about corruption, using people's anger, very real and valid anger against the system to push through this very specific legislation or to attempt to push through this very specific piece of legislation which is very, very regressive according to me. But my scepticism ranges through a whole host of issues which has to do with history, politics, culture, symbolism, all of it made me extremely uncomfortable. I also thought that it had the potential to turn from something inclusive of what was being marketed and touted and being inclusive to something very divisive and dangerous. So I'm quite happy that it's over for now. 

Sagarika Ghose: Just to come back to your article. You said that Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia have received $ 400,000 from the Ford foundation. That was one of the reasons that you were sceptical about this movement. Why did you make it a point to put in the fact that Arvind Kejriwal is funded by the Ford foundation.
Arundhati Roy: Just in order to point to the fact, a short article can just indicate the fact that it is in some way an NGO driven movement by Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Sisodia, all these people run NGOs. Three of the core members are Magsaysay award winners which are endowed by Ford foundation and Feller. I wanted to point to the fact that what is it about these NGOs funded by World Bank and Bank of Ford, why are they participating in sort of mediating what public policy should be? I actually went to the World Bank site recently and found that the World Bank runs 600 anti-corruption programmes just in places like Africa. Why is the World Bank interested in anti-corruption? I looked at five of the major points they made and I thought it was remarkable if you let me read them out:
1) Increasing political accountability
2) Strengthening civil society participation
3) Creating a competitive private sector
4) Instituting restraints on power
5) Improving public sector management
So, it explained to me why in the World Bank, Ford foundation, these people are all involved in increasing the penetration of international capital and so it explains why at a time when we are also worried about corruption, the major parts of what corruption meant in terms of corporate corruption, in terms of how NGOs and corporations are taking over the traditional functions of the government, but that whole thing was left out, but this is copy book World Bank agenda. They may not have meant it, but that's what's going on and it worries me a lot. Certainly Anna Hazare was picked up and propped up a sort of saint of the masses, but he wasn't driving the movement, he wasn't the brains behind the movement. I think this is something very pertinent that we really need to worry about. 

Sagarika Ghose: So you don't see this as a genuine people's movement. You see it as a movement led by rich NGOs, funded by the World Bank to make India more welcoming of international capital?
Arundhati Roy: Well, I mean they are not funded by the World Bank, the Ford foundation is a separate thing. But just that I wouldn't have been this uncomfortable if I saw it as a movement that took into account the anger from the 2G Scam, from the Bellary mining, from CWG and then said 'Let's take a good look at who is corrupt, what are the forces behind it', but no, this fits in to a certain kind of template altogether and that worries me. It's not that I'm saying they are corrupt or anything, but I just find it worrying. It's not the same thing as the Narmada movement, it's the same thing as a people's movement that's risen from the bottom. It's very much something that, surely lots of people joined it, all of them were not BJP, all of them were not middle-class, many of them came to a sort of reality show that was orchestrated by even a very campaigning media, but what was this bill about? This bill was very, very worrying to me. 

Sagarika Ghose: We'll come to the bill in just a bit but before that I want to bring in another controversial statement in your article which has sparked a great deal of controversy among even your old associates Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan, where you said, 'Both the Maoists and Jan Lokpal Movement have one thing in common, they both seek the overthrow of the Indian state.' Why do you believe that the movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill is similar to the Maoist movement in seeking the overthrow of the Indian state?
Arundhati Roy: Well, let's separate the movement from the bill, as I said that I don't even believe that most people knew exactly what the provisions of the bill were, those who were part of the movement, very few in the media and on the ground. But if you study that bill carefully, you see the creation of a parallel oligarchy. You see that the Jan Lokpal itself, the ten people, the bench plus the chairman, they are selected by a pool of very elite people and they are elite people, I mean if you look at one of the phases which says the search committee, the committee which is going to shortlist the names of the people who will be chosen for the Jan Lokpal will shortlist from eminent individuals of such class of people whom they deem fit. So you create this panel from this pool, and then you have a bureaucracy which has policing powers, the power to tap your phones, the power to prosecute, the power to transfer, the power to judge, the power to do things which are really, and from the Prime Minister down to the bottom, it's really like a parallel power, which has lost the accountability, whatever little accountability a representative government might have, but I'm not one of those who is critiquing it from the point of view of say someone like Aruna Roy, who has a less draconian version of the bill, I'm talking about it from a different point of view altogether of firstly, the fact that we need to define what do we mean by corruption, and then what does it mean to those who are disempowered and disenfranchised to get two oligarchies instead of one raiding over them. 

Sagarika Ghose: So do you believe that the leaders of this movement were misleading the crowds who came for the protest because they were not there simply as an anti-corruption movement, they were there to campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill and if people knew what the Jan Lokpal Bill was all about, in your opinion, setting up this huge bureaucratic monster, many of those people might well have not come for the movement, so do you feel that the leaders were misleading the people?
Arundhati Roy: I can't say that they were deliberately misleading people because of course, that bill on the net, if anybody wanted to read it could read it. So I can't say that. But I think that the anger about corruption became so widespread and generalised that nobody looked at what, there was a sort of dissonance between the specific legislation and the anger that was bringing people there. So, you have a situation in which you have this powerful oligarchy with the powers of prosecution surveillance, policing. In the bill there's a small section which says budget, and the budget is 0.25 per cent of the Government of India's revenues, that works out to something like Rs 2000 crore. There's no break up, nobody is saying how many people will be employed, how are they going to be chosen so that they are not corrupt, you know, it's a sketch, it's a pretty terrifying sketch. It's not even a realised piece of legislation. I think that, in a way the best thing that could have happened has happened that you have the bill and you have other versions of the bill and you have the time to now look at it and see whatever, I just want to keep saying that I'm not, my position in all this is not to say we need policing and better law. I'm a person who's asking and has asked for many years for fundamental questions about injustice, which is why I keep saying let's talk about what we mean by corruption. 

Sagarika Ghose: And you believe that the reason why this movement is misconceived is because it's centered around this Jan Lokpal Bill?
Arundhati Roy: Yes, not just that, I think centrally, that I was saying earlier, can we discuss what we mean by corruption. Is it just financial irregularity or is it the currency of social transaction in a very unequal society? So if you can give me 2 minutes, I'll tell you what I mean. For example, corruption, some people, poor people in villages have to pay bribes to get their ration cards, to get their NREGA dues from very powerful vested interests. Then you a middleclass, you have honest businessmen who cannot run an honest business because of all sorts of reasons, they are out there angry. You have a middleclass which actually bribes to buy itself scarce favours and on the top you have the corporations, the politicians looting millions and mines and so on. But you also have a huge number of people who are outside the legal framework because they don't have pattas, they live in slums, they don't have legal housing, they are selling their wares on redis, so they are illegal and in an anti-corruption law, an anti-corruption law is naturally sort of pinned to an accepted legality. So you can talk about the rule of law when all your laws are designed to perpetuate the inequality that exists in Indian society. If you're not going to question that, I'm really not someone who is that interested in the debate then. 

Sagarika Ghose: So fundamentally it's about service delivery to the poorest of the poor, it's about ensuring justice to the poorest of the poor, without that a whole bureaucratic infrastructure is meaningless?
Arundhati Roy: Well Yes, but you know as I said in my article, supposing you're selling your samosas on a 'rehdi' (cart) in a city where only malls are legal, then you pay the local policemen, are you going to have to now pay to the Lokpal too? You know corruption is a very complicated issue. 

Sagarika Ghose: But what about the provisions for the lower bureaucracy. The lower bureaucracy is going to be brought into the Lokpal, they're going to have a state level Lokayukta, so there is an attempt within the Lokpal Bill to go right down to the level of the poorest of the poor and then you can police even those functionaries who deal with the very poor. So don't you have hope that there, at least, it could be regularised because of this bill?
Arundhati Roy: I think that part of the bill will be interesting, I think it's very complicated because the troubles that are besetting our country today are not going to be solved by policing and by complaint booths alone. But, at the lower level, I think we have to come up with something where you can assure people that you're not going to set up another bureaucracy which is going to be equally corrupt. When you have one brother in BJP, one brother in Congress, one brother in police, one brother in Lokpal, I would like to see how that's going to be managed, this law is very sketchy about that. 

Sagarika Ghose: But just to come back to the movement again, don't you think that the political class has become corrupt and has become venal and you have a movement like this it does function as a wake up call?
Arundhati Roy: To some extent yes, but I think by focusing on the political class and leaving out the corporations, the media that they own, the NGOs that are taking over, governmental functions like health, you know corporates are now dealing with what government used to deal with. Why are they left out? So I think a much more comprehensive view would have made me comfortable even though I keep saying that for me the real issue is what is it that has created a society in which 830 million people live on less than Rs 20 a day and you have more people and all of the poor countries of Africa put together. 

Sagarika Ghose: So basically what you're saying is that laws are not the way to tackle corruption and to tackle injustice. It's not through laws, it's not through legal means, we have to do it through much more decentralisation of power, much more outreach at the lowest level?
Arundhati Roy: I think first you have to question the structure. You see if there is a structural inequality happening, and you are not questioning that, and you're in fact fighting for laws that make that structural inequality more official, we have a problem. To give an example, I was just on the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border where the refugees from Operation Greenhunt have come out and underneath. So for them the issue is not whether Tata gave a bribe on his mining or Vedanta didn't give a bribe in his mining. The problem is that there is a huge problem in terms of how the mineral and water and forest wealth of India is being privatised, is being looted, even if it were non corrupt, there is a problem. So that's why we're just not coolly talking about Dantewada, there are many a places I mean what's happening in Posco, in Kalinganagar . So this is not battles against corruption. There's something very, very serious going on. None of these issues were raised or even alluded to somehow. 

Sagarika Ghose: So basically what you're saying is that it is not the battle against corruption which is the primary battle, it's the battle for justice that has to be the primary battle in India. Just to come back to the point about the law, many have said that this is a process of pre-legislative consultation, that all over the world now civil society groups, I know you don't like that word, are co-operating with the government in law making and a movement like this institutionalises that, institutionalises civil society groups coming into the law making process. Doesn't that make you hopeful about this movement?
Arundhati Roy: In principal, yes, but when a movement like this which has been constructed in the way that it has, you can talk about, sort of calls itself the people or civil society and says that it's representing all of civil society. I would say there's a problem there and it depends on the law. So right now I think the good thing that has happened is that the Jan Lokpal Bill which probably has some provisions that will make it into the final law, is one of the many bills that will be debated. So, yes, that's a good thing. But if it had just gone through in this way, I wouldn't be saying yes, that's a good thing. 

Sagarika Ghose: Let's talk about the media. You've been very critical about the media and the way the media, particularly broadcast media has covered this movement, do you believe that if the media had not given it this kind of time, this movement simply wouldn't have taken off? Do you believe that it's a media manufactured movement?
Arundhati Roy: Well, I'm not going to say that's entirely media manufactured. I think that was one of the big factors in it. There was also mobilisation from the BJP and the RSS, which they've admitted to. I think the media, I don't know when before campaigned for something in this way where every other kind of news was pushed out and for ten days, you had only this news. In this nation of one billion people, the media didn't find anything else to report and it campaigned, not everybody, but certainly certain major television channels campaigned and said they were campaigning, they said, 'We're the channel through whom Anna speaks to the people and so on. Now firstly to me that's a form of corruption in the first place where presumably, a broadcast licence as a news channel has to do with reporting news, not campaigning. But even if you are campaigning and the only reason that everybody was reporting it was TRP ratings, then why not just settle for pornography or sadomasochism or whatever gives good TRP ratings. How can news channels just abandon every other piece of news and just concentrate on this for 10 days? You know how much of spot ad costs on TV, what kind of a price would you put on this? Why was it doing this? Per se if media campaigns had to do with social justice, if the media spent 10 days campaigning on why more than a lakh farmers have committed suicide in this country, I'd be glad because I would say okay, this is the job of the media. It is like the old saying - to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. 

Sagarika Ghose: But don't you think one man taking on the might of the government is a big story and don't you think that that deserves to be covered?
Arundhati Roy: No, I don't. For all the sorts of reasons that I've said, it was one man trying to push through a regressive piece of legislation. 

Sagarika Ghose: Let's come to the role of the RSS which you have also eluded to. You've spoken about the role of aggressive nationalism or Vande Mataram being chanted, of the RSS saying that we're involved in this particular movement, but then your old associates Prashant Bhushan and Medha Patkar are in this movement as well. Is it fair to completely dub this movement as an RSS Hindu right wing movement?
Arundhati Roy: I haven't done that though some people have. But I think it's an interesting question to talk about symbolism and this movement. For example, what is the history of Vande Mataram? Vande Mataram first occurred in this book by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in 1882, it became a part of a sort of war cry at the time of partition of Bengal and since then, since in 1937 Tagore said it's a very unsuitable national anthem, very divisive, it's got a long communal history. So what does it mean when huge crowds are chanting that? When you take up the national flag, when you're fighting colonialism, it means one thing. When you're a supposedly free nation that national flag is always about exclusion and not inclusion. You took up that flag and the state was paralysed. A state which is not scared of slaughtering people in the dark, suddenly was paralysed. You talk about the fact that it was a non violent movement, yes, because the police were disarmed. They just were too scared to do anything. You had Bharat Mata's photo first and then it was replaced by Gandhi. You had people who were openly part of the Manovadi Krantikari Aandolan there. So you have this cocktail of very dangerous things going on, you had other kinds of symbolism. Imagine Gandhi going to a private hospital after his fast. A private hospital that symbolises the withdrawal of the state from healthcare for the poor. A private hospital where the doctors charge a lakh every time they inhale and exhale. The symbolisms were dangerous and if this movement had not ended in this way, it could have turned extremely dangerous. What you had was a lot of people, I'm not going to say they were only RSS, I'm not going to say they were only middle-class, I'm not going to say they were only urban. But yes, they were largely more well off than most people who have been struggling on the streets and facing bullets in this country for a long time. But in some odd way the victims and the perpetrators of corruption of the recipients of the fruits of modern development, they were all there together. There were contradictions that could not have been held together for much longer without them just tearing apart. 

Sagarika Ghose: But weren't you impressed by the sheer size of the crowd? Weren't you impressed by the spontaneity of the crowd? The fact that people came out, they voiced their anger, they voiced their protest, surely it can't just all be boxed into one shade of opinion.
Arundhati Roy: Should I tell you something Sagarika? I have seen much larger crowds in Kashmir. I have seen much larger crowds even in Delhi. Nobody reported them. They were then only called 'traffic jam bana diya inhone'. I was not impressed by the size of the crowds apart from the fact that I'm not that kind of a person. I'm sure there were larger crowds chanting for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, would that be fine by us? It's not about numbers. 

Sagarika Ghose: Is that how you see this movement? You see it as a kind of Ram Janmabhoomi Part 2?
Arundhati Roy: No, not at all. I've said what I feel. That would be stupid for me to say. But I see it as something potentially quite worrying, quite dangerous. So I think we all need to go back and think a lot about what was going on there and not come to easy conclusions and easy condemnations, I think we really need to think about what was going on there, how it was caused, how it happened, what are the good things, what are the bad things, some serious thinking. But certainly I'm not the kind of person who just goes and gets impressed by a crowd regardless of what it's saying, regardless of what it's chanting, regardless of what it's asking for. 

Sagarika Ghose: But what about the persona of Anna Hazare? Many would say that he evoked a certain different era, he evoked the era of the freedom struggle, he is a simple Gandhian, he does lead a very austere life, he lives in a small room behind a temple and his persona of what he is evokes a certain moral power perhaps which is needed in an India which is facing a moral crisis.
Arundhati Roy: I think Anna Hazare was a sort of empty vessel in which you could pour whatever meaning you wanted to pour in, unlike someone like Gandhi who was very much his own man on the stage of the world. Anna Hazare certainly is his own man in his village, but here he was not in charge of what was going on. That was very evident. As for who he is and what his affiliations and antecedents have been, again I'm worried. 

Sagarika Ghose: Why are you worried?
Arundhati Roy: Some of things that one has read and found out about, his attitude towards Harijans, that every village must have one 'chamaar' and one 'sunaar' and one 'kumhaar', that's gandhian in some ways, you know Gandhi had this very complicated and very problematic attitude to the caste system, anyone who knows about the debates between Gandhi and Ambedkar will tell you that. But what I'm saying is eventually we live in a very complicated society. You have a strong left edition which doesn't know what to do with the caste system. You have the Gandhians who are also very odd about the caste system. You have our deeply frightening communal politics, you have this whole new era of new liberalism and the penetration of international capital. This movement just did not know the beginning of its morals. It could have ended badly because nobody really, you know, you choose something like corruption, it's a pot into which everyone can piss, anti-left, pro-left, right, I mean, I was in Hyderabad, Jagan Mohan Reddy who was at that time being raided by the CBI was one of his great supporters. Naveen Patnaik… 

Sagarika Ghose: But isn't that its strength? It's an inclusive agenda. Anti-corruption movement brings people in.
Arundhati Roy: It's a meaningless thing when you have highly corrupt corporations funding an anti-corruption movement, what does this mean? And trying to set up an oligarchy which actually neatens the messy business of democracy and representative democracy however bad it is. Certainly it's a comment on the fact that our country suffering from a failure of representative democracy, people don't believe that their politicians really represent them anymore, there isn't a single democratic institution that is accessible to ordinary people. So what you have is a solution which isn't going to address the problem. 

Sagarika Ghose: So a corporate funded movement which seeks to lessen the power of the democratic state and seeks to reduce the power of the democratic state?
Arundhati Roy: I would say that this bill would increase the possibilities of the penetration of international capital which has led to a huge crisis in the first place in this country. 

Sagarika Ghose: Just on a different note, what do you think of the fast-unto-death? Many have criticised it as a 'Brahamastra' which shouldn't be easily deployed in political agitations, Gandhi used it only as a last resort. What is your view of the hunger strike or the fast-unto-death?
Arundhati Roy: Look the whole world is full of people who are killing themselves, who are threatening to kill themselves in different ways. From a suicide bomber to the people who are immolating themselves on Telangana and all that. Frankly, I'm not one of those people who's going to stand and give a lecture about the constitutionality of resistance because I'm not that person. For me it's about what are you doing it for. That's my real question - what are you doing it for? Who are you doing it for? And why are you doing it? Other than that I think I personally believe that there are things going on in this world that you really need to stand up and resist in whatever way you can. But I'm not interested in a fast-unto-death for the Jan Lokpal Bill frankly. 

Sagarika Ghose: So what is your solution then. How would you fight corruption?
Arundhati Roy: Sagarika, I'm telling you that corruption is not my big issue right now. I'm not a reformist person who will tell you how to cleanse the Indian state. I'm going on and on in all the 10 years that I've written about nuclear powers, about nuclear bombs, about big dams, about this particular model of development, about displacement, about land acquisition, about mining, about privatisation, these are the things I want to talk about. I'm not the doctor to tell the Indian state how to improve itself. 

Sagarika Ghose: So corruption really does not concern you in that sense?
Arundhati Roy: No, it does, but not in this narrow way. I'm concerned about the absolutely disgusting inequality in the society that we live in. 

Sagarika Ghose: And this movement has done nothing to touch that. What precedents has it set for protest movements in the future? Do you think this movement has set a precedent for protest movements in the future?
Arundhati Roy: For protest movements of the powerful, protests movements where the media is on your side, protests movements where the government is scared of you, protest movements where the police disarm themselves, how many movements are there going to be like that? I don't know. While you're talking about this, the army is getting ready to move into Central India to fight the poorest people in this country, and I can tell you they are not disarmed. So, I don't know what lessons you can draw from a protest movement that has privileges that no other protest movement I've ever known has had. 

Sagarika Ghose: Just to re-emphasise the point about Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan, these are old time associates of yours in activism. They are deeply involved in this particular movement. How do you react to them being involved in this movement of which, you're so critical?
Arundhati Roy: With some dismay because Prashant is a very close friend of mine and I respect Medha a lot, but I think that their credibility has been cashed in on in some ways, but I feel bad that they are part of it. 

Sagarika Ghose: You have voiced fears in your article as well that in some ways, this movement and this bill is an attempt to diminish the powers of the democratic government and to reduce the discretionary powers of the democratic government. So you feel that this is a corporate funded exercise to reduce the powers of the democratically elected government?
Arundhati Roy: Well not corporate funded, but there's a sort of IMF World Bank way of looking at it, fuelling this whole path because if you remember in the early 90s when they began on this path of liberalisation and privatisation. The government itself kept saying, 'Oh, we're so corrupt. We need a systemic change, we can't not be corrupt,' and that systemic change was privatisation. When privatisation has shown itself to be more corrupt than, I mean the levels of corruption have jumped so high, the solution is not systemic. It's either moral or it's more privatisation, more reforms. People are calling for the second round of reforms for the removal of the discretionary powers of the government. So I think that's a very interesting that you're not looking at it structurally, you're looking at it morally and you're trying to push whatever few controls there are or took the way once again for the penetration of international capital. 

Sagarika Ghose: But people like Nandan Nilekani have argued this movement and this bill could stop reforms actually. It could actually put an end to the reforms process by instituting this big bureaucratic infrastructure - this inspector raj. But you don't go along with that. You believe that this is a way of taking the reforms agenda forward. 
Arundhati Roy: I think it depends on who captures that bureaucracy. That's why I'm worried about this combination of sort of Ford funded NGO world and the RSS and that sort of world coming together in a kind of crossroads. Those two things are very frightening because you create a bureaucracy which can then be controlled, which has Rs 2000 crore or whatever, 0.25 per cent of the revenues of the Government of India at its disposal, policing powers, all of this. So it's a way of side-stepping the messy business of democracy. 

Sagarika Ghose: That's interesting the combination of Ford funded NGOs, rich NGOs and the Hindu mass organisations. That's the combination that you see here and that's what makes you uneasy.
Arundhati Roy: yes, and when you look at the World Bank agenda, it's 600 anti-corruption plans and projects and what it says, what it believes, then it just becomes as clear as day what's going on here. 

Sagarika Ghose: And what is going on, just to push you on that one?
Arundhati Roy: What I said, that you stop concentrating on the corruption of government officers when you know of governments, politicians, and leaving out the huge corporate world, the media, the NGOs who have taken over traditional government functions of electricity, water, mining, health, all of that. Why concentrate on this and not on that? I think that's a very, very big problem. 

Sagarika Ghose: So it was a protest movement of the entitled and the protest movement of the privileged. Arundhati Roy thanks very much indeed for joining us. 

© 2011 IBNLive.com India  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Anna Movement Reflects Streak Of Fascism

By Sadiq Naqvi, 25 August 2011, Hardnewsmedia.com

‘Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata are not merely innocent patriotic symbolisms, they are deeply identified with the RSS,’ says Anand Teltumbde. An eminent academic, writer, political analyst and civil rights activist, Teltumbde is a management practitioner based in Mumbai. He has authored many analytical books on Left and Dalit movements, including the acclaimed Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop.  In this incisive interview, he critically dissects and analyses the Anna Hazare phenomena. In conversation with Hardnews

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
  • What is your assessment of the structure, leadership, tone, tenor and ideology of this particular Jan Lokpal movement led by Anna Hazare?
As it appears ‘India against Corruption’, which calls itself a peoples’ movement and which is generously supported by many corporates, is behind this Jan Lokpal movement. As such, it appears quite amorphous and even spontaneous peoples’ movement. But it may not be truly so. The thousands of people that are seen collected at Azad Maidan in Mumbai and such other places in other cities and towns inIndia, and of course, many more in Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, are surely not individuals who all came there on their own. Many have been a part of certain organisations. At least in Mumbai, I have found people who are well known as associates of the Sangh Parivar being involved in the mobilisation of people. This hypothesis gets strengthened by the overall complexion of the movement and the manner in which it is being run. Its slogans, its demeanor, its attitude, its tone and tenor unmistakably reflect the imprint of the Sangh Parivar. Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata are not merely innocent patriotic symbolisms, they are deeply identified with the RSS. Ideologically, the movement reflects a streak of fascism, which, again, is associated with the RSS. There is no doubt that RSS’s pedigree is fascist; their praise for Hitler and Mussolini is too well-known to be forgotten.

Anna Hazare is not the RSS person, as he calls himself a Gandhian. But he also instinctively conducts himself in a dictatorial fashion albeit for the cause that he believes to be virtuous. But then, Hitler and Mussolini also believed in the virtuosity of their ideologies and the cause they espoused. People, who are not carried away by the rhetoric of this movement, are embarrassed by the undemocratic language he so casually uses. ‘Lao, nahi to jao’ is his recent slogan, which means the government has to bring the Jan Lokpal, and that too by the specified date as per his draft or else collapse. 
  • What is your assessment of the Anna Hazare phenomenon first in Maharashtra and now in Delhi? 
Anna Hazare came to limelight in Maharashtra by transforming his village, Ralegaon Siddhi, into an ‘ideal’ village as acknowledged by the State. He had launched the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan (BVJA) (People’s Movement against Corruption), a popular movement to fight against corruption in Ralegaon Siddhi in 1991, which led to the transfer and suspension of 40 forest officials. He carried on his struggles against corruption thereafter against ministers and went to jail a couple of times in connection therewith.

He was generally accused of taking on powerful people in Maharashtra so as to seek publicity. People in general did not take him seriously until recently and beyond western Maharashtra he was barely known. It is significant that most of the time BJP and Shiv Sena came in his support. In 2003, he went on an indefinite fast against NCP ministers and compelled the government to appoint a one man commission headed by retired justice PB Sawant to probe the charges. Sawant Commission report indicted many powerful ministers but also observed irregularities in the working of three trusts headed by Anna. One of the charges was spending huge money for his birthday celebration. Abhay Firodia, an industrialist, subsequently donated Rs 2,48,000. Thus, he has been doing good work as a social activist in the state but did not reach the stature even in the state; he has been suddenly catapulted by the Jan Lokpal movement.

What clicks with Anna Hazare is his apparent simplicity, rootedness in the familiar Hindu tradition and the penchant for nationalist rhetoric. The manner in which he has taken up the issue of corruption sans its complexity gels well with the large population of urban upper-caste middle class, which, variously, grudge the government not being conducive enough to their progress. They generally attribute it to the present political system and political class, which is seen appeasing the underclass to get their votes. Neither do they want to see that it is the private corporate sector that feeds them money, nor do they see that the seeds of even political corruption lie within the peculiar electoral system that we have. It has failed to represent the people, who are accused of being pampered. It rather represents the moneybags that sustain the system.

Anna Hazare’s simplistic rhetoric psychologically satisfies these classes and does not demand harsher analyses or actions on their part. Of course, it is not to be taken barely in such causal sense. The political establishment also has been tacitly supporting the phenomenon as it helped it distract public attention from the concrete cases of corruption that were getting exposed on its eve, to the bill-making parley as panacea.The government against which it appears to be arraigned, appears to have a big game plan in its apparent series of foolish actions. It needs deeper disdain among people for the political class so as to drive its neoliberal reforms more intensely. BJP, through its Sangh Parivar, is actively helping it with the hope of destabilising the government.       
  • Why is the corporate media supporting this movement 24x7 even while it compulsively ignores many peoples' movements of the poorest on the ground?
Actually, apart from being an important vehicle for the agenda of global capital, the business model of the media seeks TRPs. It is always on the look out for what clicks with its target audience, which is the expanding middle class which typically comprises English educated, upper-caste, upwardly mobile people, and within that the fastest growing younger segment. I call this class as a neoliberal class as they do share free market ideology of neoliberals and take pride inIndia’s emergence as an economic powerhouse. For too long they were ashamed because of the persisting backwardness ofIndiawith its humiliating ‘Hindu rate of growth’. They saw everything Indian, including India’s customs and traditions, culture, apologetically. But the economic boom of recent years, duly supported by the emergence of a professional class of Indian Americans, particularly in the field of IT, has restored this confidence with some vengeance. This class imagines India to be a superpower and views corruption along with a few other issues (such as reservations/ lack of meritocracy,  appeasement of minorities, subsidies in favour of the poor) as the biggest hurdle in the realisation of this dream.

All these evils are moreover associated with the government, its main prop, politicians, who, for the sake of winning elections, keep on doling out largesse to the ‘undeserving’ underclass. One has to smell their disdain for the lower strata of the society, which, constituting numbers, vote for politicians to power. This is the class, the media is after. It chooses their issues, upholds them, and attracts them. It sets in a virtuous cycle the Hazare episode started. All news channels have been full time projecting this agitation with all superlatives at their command. In one way, it is an excellent example of how the modern media can make or unmake movements. There have been thousands of movements, far more important than perhaps this one, which go unnoticed because the media simply ignores them.

In contrast, one may cite the example of Irom Sharmila, the Manipur lady who has been on fast for more than 10 years demanding the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). But it is barely known to people because of media ignorance of it. That the media is nakedly class-biased is an axiom today. It projects itself as supporting the anti-corruption struggle, but is itself a conduit of corruption. The corporate sector, media, which is essentially a part of it, and NGOs, which are the special vehicles of neoliberalism, are the veritable sources of the current phenomenon of corruption, but skillfully escape the attention of people.       
  • Do you think this anti-corruption movement has struck any chord with the margins, especially, Dalits, Bahujans and the poorest? If not, why? 
I guess the margins are untouched by it. Even after huge publicity, you will scarcely find poor peoples’ representation in those crowds. Rather, Dalits have taken this movement as anti-constitutional. On all the e-mail groups of Dalits, there is strong criticism of this movement -- that it wants to undermine parliamentary democracy and the Constitution given by Babasaheb Ambedkar. As the Hindutva influence on it and the antecedents of the key people started surfacing, they are convinced that the movement is anti-Dalit. Arvind Kejriwal, for instance, was said to be the leading figure of the Youth for Equality, the upper caste anti-reservation movement. Hazare, as the feudal chieftain of Ralegaon Siddhi, who is propelled by the traditional Hindu ethos, wanted Dalits of his village as mere service providers.

Dalits, therefore, see it as an anti-Dalit movement. They have even organised a procession against it in Delhi on August 24 at India Gate (4pm).This is a significant development. Because, Dalits are the only class that has the capacity to effectively prevent the neoliberal march of the upper caste inIndia.
So is the case with Adivasis, majority of which anyway are caught between the life and death battle between the Maoists and the security forces, unleashed by the government. They do not see the legalistic solutions to their problems any more. Even Muslims have kept aloof from the movement, not because of the call of the likes of Imam Bukhari, but because they see through the true character of the movement as irrelevant to their woes. 
  • Do you think the Jan Lokpal is any solution to the structural inequalities, injustices and tragedies of our country? Will the system change in any manner? Is it at all socially transformative?
This movement claims to be against corruption, but, surprisingly, it does not reflect remotely the understanding of what corruption is; neither does it care to know its source, to curb it. Corruption, basically, is the byproduct of power asymmetry in society and, in that sense, Indian society becomes an ideal prototype for it because of its unique institution of caste. It is therefore that India figures among the most corrupt countries.

I guess it is still an understatement because the African countries that appear more corrupt are actually driven into corruption by the Indians there. This structural feature of the Indian society is at the root of corruption. Anna’s movement is blissfully oblivious of it, or rather deliberately overlooks it. Even if corruption is taken in a legalistic sense, as financial irregularity or bribe, that also needs to be identified with the neoliberal economic structure, that is, accelerating enrichment of the rich and impoverishment of the poor. Anna’s movement does not speak about it.

The scam-a-day type incidence of corruption that is behind the Anna Hazare’s movement is a gift of neoliberalism. It is a undisputed fact that corruption has increased during the era of globalisation. A study by Global Financial Integrity, titled ‘Drivers and Dynamics of Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) from India: 1948-2008’ by economist Dev Kar, estimated the illicit financial flows fromIndiaduring the 61 year period at $462 billion. As much as 68 per cent of this aggregate IFF is attributed to the post-reform period of just 18 years. The post-reform size of the underground economy has increased on an average to 42.8 per cent of the GDP as against 27.4 per cent in the pre-reform period and the compound annual rate of growth of illicit flows which stood at 9.1 per cent during the pre-reform period shot up to 16.4 per cent during the post-reform years. But, there is not even a feeble mention of this structure that begets galloping corruption. On the contrary, the entire movement could be seen as helping the neoliberal agenda by spreading contempt for the democratic governance system, howsoever faulty it may have been.

I would add one more thing: this movement for locating a Lokpal needs to be conceptually located within the ‘regulator’ framework of the IMF/ World Bank to take care of market delinquencies.Thus, it just does not relate even remotely with the structural or systemic aspects of corruption.
I do not see it addressing even the superficial aspects of corruption. Because it is intrinsically impracticable. How can an eleven-member team be imagined to be doing surveillance, investigation, conviction of the gigantic bureaucracy and equally pervasive political class? More dangerously, it would create a parallel oligarchy which is not accountable to anyone. It is almost sure that some such Lokpal will be installed soon in the country, but it will be just another institution, which will not scratch anything but perhaps add to the harassment of poor people, whom it purports to protect.        
  • You had earlier told Hardnews that Anna Hazare operates like a feudal lord? Can you please elaborate?
I am sorry if I used that epithet but lord may be a wrong word. I would call him a feudal chief, like what exists in African society where such a figure maintains tribal customs and traditions with a self-righteous attitude -- at times enforcing with force. The chief’s writ is not violated by tribesmen. The vision, with which Anna Hazare brought about the transformation of his village Ralegaon Siddhi, actually fits into the traditional Hindu mould, with a military command structure, with him at the helm. Obedience of the followers is the key word. The village had a significant number of people with army background, which came handy for him to operate that way. (Anna was a truck driver in the army.) Not only did it not have any democratic content, there was public contempt for the institution of party politics. There has not been any election in Ralegaon Siddhi for the last 24 years. 

Many strange things took place in the village, like banning of sale of bidis in the shop and playing music other than bhakti songs, punishment for drinking alcohol -- and all such things have taken place with the acquiescence of people. However, the language of acquiescence can be highly brahminical and hegemonic. Everything is inspired by traditional brahminical values. His explanation of the virtues of vegetarianism, and why Dalits are treated as untouchables, smacks of the typical Hindu philosophy. 

Dalits are generally accommodated in village, but the village ethos, ordained by Hinduism, expects them to meekly provide service to the village. Their condition has not much changed. Notion of Dalits being ‘dirty’ still prevails and the broader values and codes assigned by the Hindu traditions are never challenged. In sum, all that is flaunted as development in Ralegaon Siddhi village is basically in the mould of Hindu idealism which did not leave much scope for people, particularly of the lower castes, to actually participate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Are Dalits Not Enthusiastic About Anna’s Movement?

By Bhanwar Megwanshi, Contercurrents

Anna Hazare’s ‘anti-corruption’ has received considerable support across the country. The ‘mainstream’ media is awash with stories about Anna and his fast. It is as if there is nothing else happening in India that is worth reporting about. 

But, at the same time as the media is busy projecting Anna and his movement, a vast section of India’s population—the country’s Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities, who are at the bottom of India’s social pyramid and who suffer the most at the hands of the corrupt system that Anna and his supporters are supposedly denouncing—have maintained a studied distance from this movement. Not a single well-known and respected Dalit or Adivasi intellectual, social activist or public leader has come out in support of the movement. Nor, too, have ordinary Dalits and Adivasis. Likewise, workers and peasants are hardly involved in the movement. Yet, despite this, the movement and the men leading it claim to represent the entire country!
‘India Against Corruption’, the outfit behind Anna’s movement, claims that it is the voice of the 120 crore people of India. But, when the tens of crores of Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities have evinced little interest in the movement, how can such erroneous claims be made on their behalf and on behalf of this movement, too? One of the reasons that Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities feel ignored by the movement is precisely this sort of behavior on the part of the men behind this movement, self-proclaimed ‘people’s leaders’ who are projecting themselves as the messiahs of the masses.

To understand why the oppressed castes have shown little or no interest in what is being projected by the media as independent India’s supposedly largest mass movement, the movement needs to be analysed from a caste perspective. It is striking to note that when Anna went on a fast at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi, the banners that his supporters put up depicted a whole range of icons, from ‘Bharat Mata’ to Gandhi, Shivaji and Lakshmi Bai. But Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Jotiba Phule, the true liberators of the oppressed castes, were conspicuous by their absence. At the venue of the fast, slogans like ‘Scrap Reservations, End Corruption!’ rent the air. Dalits who visited the venue came back thoroughly disheartened on being confronted with the fact that the movement was distinctly opposed to reservations for the oppressed castes. 

But that was not all. When the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal was formed and five members from ‘civil society’ were nominated for this purpose, not a single one of them was found to be from among the Dalits, Adivasis or religious minorities! Moreover, not one of them was a woman! When Dalit leaders from across the country raised their voice against this, Arvind Kejriwal, the man who heads ‘India Against Corruption’, replied that one needs specialists in order to devise laws. 

Is it the case, Dalits demand to know, that more than 60 years ago, a Dalit, in the form of Babasaheb Ambedkar, was available to take up the task of presiding over the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, but that today not a single Dalit can be found who is thought ‘capable’ enough to sit on a panel to draft a single law? True to form, here, too, questions are raised as to the supposed merit or capabilities of Dalits.

When Dalits protested against this insinuation, Kejriwal simply replied that the government could appoint a Dalit. In other words, reservations may be followed in the rapidly-shrinking government sector but certainly not in the burgeoning private sector, nor in the so-called ‘civil society’ that falsely claims to represent the whole of Indian society. Is it at all surprising, then, that Dalits and other oppressed castes consider this ‘anti-corruption movement’ to be a cover for an ‘anti-reservation movement’ and, hence, have distanced themselves from it? Can Anna’s team, that presides over a movement that is funded by certain corporate houses, tell us what the movement’s stand is on reservations for the oppressed castes in the private sector? What is the condition of Dalits in Anna’s own so-called model-village of Ralegan Siddhi? Is Anna himself a supporter of the varna system in the name of ‘gram swaraj’? What message is being sent out to the millions of Dalits and other oppressed communities through slogans such as ‘Anna is India!’, ‘Those who are not with Anna are thieves!’ and ‘Reservations are the Root of Corruption!’?

Dalit, Adivasi and religious minorities are curious to know why Anna Hazare and his followers did not care to go on a fast when heinous atrocities were committed against their people. Why not when Dalits were brutally massacred in Hazare’s own state of Maharashtra, in the remote village of Kharilanji, which set off mass protests by Dalits across Maharashtra and beyond? Why not when, under the guise of Salwa Judum, the government was seeking to crush Adivasis protesting against oppression by branding them as Naxalites? Might this indicate that Anna and his team have no interest at all in the injustice and oppression that millions of Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities have to suffer on a daily basis? By praising Narendra Modi, who permitted the brutal murder of several thousand innocent Muslims, Anna has clearly shown that communalism and fascism, too, are not issues that he is interested in struggling against. Anna did not sit on a fast to protest against the suicides of tens of thousands of impoverished peasants in his own Maharashtra. Given all this, is it surprising that Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities are, by and large, simply not interested in joining his movement?

The oppressed castes are wary of Anna’s team and its demands for another reason. The Lokpal that Anna’s team is demanding will be so powerful that it will possess all sorts of powers—to hear complaints, to investigate allegations, to arrest, to tap phones, to snoop in on emails and SMSes and even to impose punishments. This enormously powerful body will be even superior to the country’s Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. The Constitution speaks of the separation of powers of these three wings of governance, but the Lokpal that Anna’s team is demanding would clearly subvert this structure by imposing itself, in an Unconstitutional manner, over and above the three wings. While from a village-level patwari to the Prime Minister, everyone would be answerable to the Lokpal, the Lokpal itself would be answerable to no one at all. This clearly indicates that under the guise of Anna’s ‘anti-corruption movement’, an uncontrollable mob is seeking to set aside the Constitution of this country and Constitutional provisions and do away with democracy.

Babasaheb Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, and so Dalits have an emotional attachment to the Constitution. If a movement sets itself above the Constitution and challenges democracy, a key pillar of the Constitution, Dalits will refuse to support it. That is why Dalits and other oppressed caste groups remain indifferent to Anna Hazare’s movement. And, because of this, the movement, despite claiming to speak for the whole of India, is nothing of the sort. Rather, it may be considered the voice of just a section of the English-speaking middle-class Savarna Hindu minority.

Bhanwar Megwanshi is a noted social activist from Bhilwara, Rajasthan. He edits the Hindi monthly ‘Diamond India’, a journal that deals with grassroots’ social issues. He is associated with the Rajasthan-based Mazdoor-Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), and can be contacted on bhanwarmegwanshi@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Many Avatars of Indian Corruption

by Satya Sagar, 22 August, 2011

To call Anna Hazare's crusade against corruption a ‘second freedom movement' may be hyperbole but in recent times there has been no mass upsurge for a purely public cause, that has captured the imagination of so many. 

For an Indian public long tolerant of the misdeeds of its political servants turned quasi-mafia bosses this show of strength was a much-needed one. In any democracy while elected governments, the executive and the judiciary are supposed to balance each other's powers, ultimately it is the people who are the real masters and it is time the so-called ‘rulers' understand this clearly. 

Politicians, who constantly hide behind their stolen or manipulated electoral victories, should beware the wrath of a vocal citizenry that is not going to be fooled forever and demands transparent, accountable and participatory governance. The legitimacy conferred upon elected politicians is valid only as long as they play by the rules of the Indian Constitution, the laws of the land and established democratic norms. 

If these rules are violated the legitimacy of being ‘elected' should be taken away just as a bad driver loses his driving license or a football player is shown the red card for repeated fouls. The problem we face in India is clearly that there are no honest ‘umpires' left to hand out these red cards anymore and this is not just the problem of a corrupt government or bureaucracy but of the falling values of Indian society itself.
That is why it is not clear at all whether the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill with its draconian powers of oversight over government functioning will work as an effective measure against financial or political corruption. 

The other larger obstacle to actually bringing meaningful change in the way India works lies only in the lack of clarity on what the term ‘corruption' itself really means. The sources of this multi-headed evil run deep in our society and must be identified, debated and finally uprooted in all its forms. 

The policeman or government official taking a bribe, the politician acting as a middleman for a corporation and so on are common examples of corruption in India. However going beyond the obvious meaning of corruption as just financial fraud or bribery there is a need to look at the many other ways in which established rules and universal principles are constantly bent to suit one vested interest or the other. 

Here is my take on what I think are at least Ten Avatars of Indian Corruption

1) Caste: This is the oldest form of corruption in the Indian sub-continent and one that continues to this day- the bending of rules in favour of the ‘upper' castes over the ‘lower' ones. In traditional India laws were always discriminatory in content, prescribing as they did different kinds of punishment to people from different rungs of the caste ladder for the same crime. Even today in many parts of India a savarna can go scot-free after murdering a Dalit while the latter can be lynched for even skinning a dead cow. People of the same caste favour each other over members of other castes all the time in different sectors of Indian life from government and business to sports and even crime. Even in Bollywood the hero of every movie is a Singh, Sharma or a Verma and almost never an Ahir, Topno, Pramanik or Sutar. For that matter, there are very few in the English and Hindi language media too with such surnames. Next round Anna can maybe target this form of corruption and kick some ass (in his inimitable Gandhian way, of course) to set things right. 

2) Class: Money power has become the biggest bender of established rules in India as the wealthy get away with almost anything and everything from evading taxes and stealing common resources to changing national policies to suit their business interests. Across political parties today members of parliament have become puppets of different big Indian and even foreign corporations and act against the interests of the ordinary Indian people. Even more than the politicians, who are mostly middlemen, it is the Tatas, Ambanis, Ruias and Mittals who wield real power in India. That many of these corporate bosses have today joined the chorus of voices against corruption is as dubious and laughable as Pappu Yadav going on fast in solidarity with Anna's movement. 

3) Race: Racism of skin color and looks is deeply rooted in a lot of Indian society and is a constant source of discrimination in not just public behavior but also national policy and politics. What else, if not racism, could be the reason that much of India and the national media has not paid any attention to the heroic ten year long fast unto death of Irom Sharmila from Manipur for repealing the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act while a four day long fast by Anna Hazare has the urban middle classes all emotionally charged up? And why else should every depiction of Mother India be of a fair skinned Aryan looking lady with pink lips and not one with dark skin or curly hair or north-eastern looks? Racism is surely one of the most abhorrent forms of corruption possible in any society and Anna can help change social attitudes next time by having a nice Santhal, Munda or Oraon woman play Bharat Mata in the portrait behind him while he fasts on stage. 

4) Gender: The ratio of women to men in the Indian population has been steadily falling in many parts of the country as a silent genocide takes place every hour with parents willfully killing off their girl children. According to the UNICEF foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion by unethical medical professionals has today grown into a Rs. 1,000 crore industry. Women get routinely discriminated against in job selection, the wages they get and the public and domestic violence they are subjected to. Denying women their equal rights as Indian citizens is a form of corruption that not only violates the Indian Constitution but also basic human principles. One does not expect Anna's movement to take on every issue in Indian society but at least they can rebuff the public support that has been expressed for their cause by the khap panchayats of Haryana! 

5) Nepotism : This is the most widespread form of corruption in the Indian context with not just politicians but film stars and cricketers promoting their kids over other more competent candidates all the time. Power, wealth, beauty, talent almost everything it seems can be ‘inherited' without any effort and leads to the accumulation of undue influence in the same few families. The most glaring form of nepotism is practiced by family run business houses of India where, irrespective of their competence or ability, the reins of control keep passing on from father to son or daughter. If Indians want the country to be run solely on merit and transparent rules then they should insist that the CEOs of Indian companies be selected on the basis of an all India examination where everyone can participate. A severe taxation on inherited property as practiced in the UK and other countries will also go a long way in promoting a truly merit-based society. 

6) Urban bias: Here I am referring to the discrimination against rural Bharat by urban India of course. Whether it be in terms of remuneration for their work and produce, investment in infrastructure, job opportunities, healthcare or education the rural Indian is far worse off than the urban one. Every national policy and rule is bent in favor of the cities and this must end if India is to remain a united country for long. The city is always prioritized over the countryside and it is ironic in some ways that almost all the support for Anna's Gandhian movement is coming from the big cities and towns and virtually nothing from the villages. 

7) Language: Forget about the imposition of Hindi on the people of southern India, it turns out that the most oppressive use of the ‘national language' is in fact in the so-called Hindi speaking states. Over a dozen languages like Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Maithili, Rajasthani, Bundelkhandi, Sadri, Chhattisgarhi are given short shrift by the champions of the elite Sanskritised Hindi over the local languages of the northern Indian states. The lack of educational materials in their mother tongue has resulted in low literacy rates for both children and adults in these parts of India for decades, keeping them at a perpetual disadvantage. In states where the local languages are properly supported and promoted like in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal and Gujarat there is much greater literacy and also empowerment of the people. Favouring Hindi or any language for that matter over another is a violation of the principle of equal access to opportunities and a form of corruption that has not been properly addressed as yet in the country. 

8) Education: The open economic and cultural discrimination practiced against the ‘uneducated' people of India is a form of corruption that most ‘educated' people don't want to recognize because this obviously works in their own favour. As a result of this bias those with degrees- real and fake- get paid many, many times more than those who never went through school and confined to manual work of different kinds. Many well meaning people think that the solution is to provide ‘education' the masses of India obfuscating the fact that the ‘uneducated' need food, clothing, shelter and dignified jobs before anything else. The worst aspect of this phenomenon is that the poverty of the poor is blamed on their ‘lack of education' and not on the unjust economic structures of Indian society. 

9) Religion: The biggest religious discrimination in India is not really against Muslims, who are at least organized and vocal about their problems, but against the Adivasi populations of the country. Subsumed under the category ‘Hindu' there is no recognition as yet of their spiritual and religious traditions that are distinct from Hinduism in many, many ways. Several Adivasi groups in recent years have been demanding that the Indian government categorise their faiths as a separate religion called ‘Adi-dharm' or ‘Sarna', a call that has repeatedly fallen on deaf ears. Forcing indigenous people, who form over 10 percent of the Indian population, into a religious identity not of their choice is to deny them their Constitutional right to freedom of religion. Instead of imposing Hindu gods on them and seeking to ‘convert' them to Hinduism with trishuls and Shiva lingas they should be allowed to practice whatever religion they want, derived from their own historical roots. 

10) Nationality: India, for all its ancient glory and history, is really a new nation forged together by first the Mughals and then the British empire. The latter in particular forced dozens of smaller nationalities to become part of the ‘Raj', whose territory was inherited by the current Indian Republic. Gandhi, more than anyone else in the Indian freedom movement was sensitive to this and had in fact declared his support for the demand for independence of the Naga people. Other Indian leaders like Nehru and Patel looked upon themselves as the managers of colonial property that the British had handed over to them. The reduction of the entire idea of Indian nationalism to control over territory and domination over smaller nationalities has been the biggest blot on the record of modern India in the last six decades. It has led to countless killings of innocent people and even crimes against humanity in the name of protecting the ‘integrity' of the nation and is a corruption of every principle of non-violence and humanism that Gandhi espoused.
Anna Hazare could perhaps take on the Indian administration to recognize the rights to autonomy or even self-determination of all nationalities within Indian borders that don't feel or want to be Indian. Doing that will truly make Anna a true inheritor of the Gandhian tradition, which is after all about the fight for justice for every human being and much more than merely sitting on a fast for a public cause or wearing khadi or leading a simple life. When that happens, the sub-continent will surely say ‘We are all Anna Hazare' to the last man, woman and child. 

Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health worker based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at sagarnama@gmail.com

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fighting to Shut Out the Real India

by Manu Joseph, April 6, 2011, The NewYork Times

NEW DELHI — On Saturday night, when India lifted the Cricket World Cup for the first time in 28 years, the nation was filled with rare collective joy and a deceptive sense of wellbeing. Firecrackers exploded in the air. People from all classes celebrated late into the night. Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress party and the country’s most powerful person — and probably the only woman of Italian origin who comprehends cricket — was seen in her car showing a thumbs-up sign to the delirious crowds on Delhi’s streets.

It might have appeared on Saturday that there is much that connects the different rungs of the Indian society and that cricket is the proof. But the truth is that cricket is the only manmade phenomenon that connects the nation’s upper classes with its vast masses. There is absolutely nothing else. In fact, daily life in India is a fierce contest between the affluent and the educated on the one side, and the brooding impoverished on the other.

The pursuit of India’s elite is to protect themselves from India — from its crowds, dust, heat, poverty, politics, governance and everything else that is in plain sight. To achieve this, they embed themselves in their private islands that the forces and the odors of the republic cannot easily penetrate.

The islands that protect Indians from India are simple and material: A luxurious car with an unspeaking driver who works for 12 hours every day at less than $200 a month, or at least an S.U.V. with strong metal fenders that can absorb routine minor accidents. A house in a beautiful residential community that the Other Indians can enter only as maids and drivers. Membership in an exclusive club. Essentially a life in a bubble where there is no sign of the government except for the treachery of the service tax.

This is not the life of the terrifyingly rich alone but also the skilled middle class employed in the private sector.

Shekhar Gupta, editor in chief of The Indian Express, described this population in one of his columns as “long divorced and insulated” from the Indian government. “All of us learnt to become individual, sovereign republics. We send our children to private schools, get treatment only in private hospitals, have our own security in gated communities, never need to use public transport, even own our own diesel gensets to produce power, and in many parts of the country, arrange our own water supply, either through our own borewells or tankers.”

The numbers of these “sovereign republics” inside India are small, and there are islands within islands, each one characterized by how much money it can invest to make its walls higher and thicker to keep India out. The best protected are, of course, the 60-odd billionaires and almost-billionaires, who are even shielded from the justice system. They escape India even when they go to meet their gods in the country’s holiest temples. While hundreds of thousands jostle for a glimpse of the deities, and scores routinely die in stampedes, the rich are whisked away from their choppers for special appointments with their benevolent gods.

Then there are the 170,000 dollar-millionaires, according to a 2010 Credit Suisse report. It is a small figure compared with the 230,000 dollar-millionaires of Switzerland, whose population is less than 1 percent of India’s. Then come the 4.5 million small entrepreneurs and highly skilled workers who own assets worth more than $100,000, a mere fraction of India’s 1.2 billion people.

Rags-to-riches stories in India are popular but rare. The tiny Indian elite is largely an inheritance economy. Its members have inherited their lifestyle and instincts from their parents. They derive their confidence to spend not necessarily from how well they are doing but from the assets they have inherited and will inherit from their families. This is why India’s upper classes are recession-proof. It would take an absolute catastrophe for the upper classes to be thrown out of their islands and merge with the Other Indians.

There was a time when the master of the house and the maid used to watch the same film in the same theater, though in different seats, of course. There was a time when Hindi cinema was about The Angry Young Man, social injustice and even parental love. There were innumerable stories in which the protagonist sold his blood or his kidneys to bring money to his widowed mother who was perpetually toiling on a Singer sewing machine.

But Hindi cinema today is more joyous, and its characters are modern and Western. The film industry has become a hip cultural island. It is a more profitable strategy because producers earn more from expensive multiplex tickets in the cities than from the cheap tickets of small town single-screen theaters.

The bubbles of the elite have strong walls, but the realities of India are so potent that they very often break in. There is a limit to the isolation that the back seat of a Mercedes can provide. The odors of the driver; the crippled urchins knocking at the windows; the million honking horns; the smog of unmoving traffic, these are the relentless forces of the nation seeking to breach the walls of the elite.

For long, schools have been among the most important islands of the affluent. Junior elites went to schools where the hefty fee was a guarantee that the children of the Other Indians would never show their faces. Not surprisingly, a recent law that forces private schools to reserve 25 percent of the seats for financially disadvantaged children has become controversial. It is common to hear elite parents say in private that they fear their children might be corrupted or infected with strange diseases by the poor.

Reflecting parents’ fears is the circular of the Karnataka Unaided Schools Managements Association, which asks, “Will not such mixing of children from different strata of society create conflict, discord and controversy among children and parents in your school?”

Life goes on this way in the great republic with a perpetual battle between the island people and a sea of humanity.

Manu Joseph is the editor of the Indian newsweekly OPEN, and the author of the novel ‘‘Serious Men.’’

Source: The NewYork Times