Our Chief Minister is now praying for the success of the games and urges to pray too. And what should we pray for? I only keep praying that we won’t let the country down says she. But dear lady who is the we, kindly don’t include us common citizens as we have not let the country down.
A befitting answer to her plea was given by author Chetan Bhagat in an article entitled Please don’t cheer for the 2010 loot-fest. Do read the article. It echoes much of what many of us feel. He writes: The CWG is an amazing opportunity because all Indians have been robbed at the same time. Add to that the fact that the government is desperate to save face. Now is when we can get them. And the way to do it is simply what the father of our nation pioneered in his time — non-cooperation. Yes, and i’ve deliberated long before saying this — do not watch these Games.
But let us get back to the prayers we have been solicited to offer by none other than the CEO of our city. What do you want us to pray for I ask again? For the success of what can best be termed as the most obnoxious display of corruption. For the success of the best example of mismanagement. For having frittered away our heard earned money? For the years we will have to toil to pay for your misdeeds? Do I have to pray for what you call national pride when the whole world is laughing at us? Do we have to pray for the rains to stop and the mosquitoes to vanish so that the corrupt Games can have their place in the sun?
You say we all have to pray for the success of the Games. I wonder who is this we! The ones who lost their homes and jobs? The ones who sleep hungry or die for want of a proper meal? The ones who fight each day simply to survive? I am at a loss.
Yes I will pray Ma’am but not for the success of the Games. I will pray in the hope that no child ever sleeps hungry in my country, that every one has a roof on his head, that every child goes to school. I will pray for the Heaven of Freedom that Tagore dreamt of. But I will not just pray I will continue to do my tiny bit to ensure that one day this does happen.
The day did dawn. The lohar camp was raised to the ground courtesy the commonwealth games. And this time we knew it would not be allowed to be rebuilt no matter how large the tithe. The camp had been in existence for over 35 years. Over time it had acquired what we could rightly call civic recognition: a postal address – Maharaha Pratap Camp -, ration cards and voter’s ID card for all its inhabitants, electricity etc. Over the years promises were made by all and sundry – politicians, social do gooders, administrators – that the camp would be relocated and its inhabitants given proper plots with space to carry on their trade. Let us not forget that these are nomads and nomads were promised rehabilitation by none other than our first Prime Minister. I would also like to add that in most other states they have been properly rehabilitated.
For the past 35 years they have lived in this camp. Children are born, they grow up and get married and have their own families. Sanjay and Vicky both teachers at project why were born in this very camp. Over the past 35 years their camp has been raised regularly and then allowed to be rebuilt after payment of an adequate bribe. It was almost a game that we too have watched from the wings helplessly as for almost five years we ran a small creche and primary outreach and got to know and admire this proud clan.
A few years back the head of the clan affectionately known as Tau – elder uncle – brought some papers to me. These were bits and pieces of a file, very official looking with green sheets and heaps of bureaucratic notings by senior officials. A quick look at the papers showed that a rehabilitation plan had been mooted and surveys done. The Lohars of Delhi should have got their place in the sun. But that was not to be. The plan got hijacked probably by land mafias as is always the case and the Lohars remained where they were. We decided to do something and try we did! A PIL was filed in the High Court and a case was also filed with the National Human Rights Commission. Had not the rights of these proud souls been hijacked with impunity. They had been used and abused by all and sundry: hungry politicians prowling for new vote banks, uncaring bureaucrats, greedy land grabbers and so on. No one seemed to care.
The Lohars continued to live with their head held high refusing to give up, their legendary resilience intact watching impassibly the will it won’t it game that was enacted in front of their tiring eyes. And somehow each time we thought the game was over, some extra time was doled out to meet some new wily agenda. Till yesterday when the final blow was dealt courtesy the commonwealth games and the tiny camp was finally destroyed forever. Our Lohar friends are now scattered all over this uncaring and insensitive city.
I will miss them. Over the years I had learnt to love and respect this proud people. I often found myself walking to their camp whenever I felt in need of a shot of optimism. I would spend hours over cups of tea talking to Tau and imbibing his age old wisdom. I would watch the beautiful children playing in the dust breathing the fumes of the cars revving up at the red light. Were they not children of Indian born with the same rights as others, then who had usurped and hijacked their rights! What could one do. The PIL in court was lost in translation.
Sanjay and Vicky have not come to the centre for the past few days. They are busy picking up the pieces of their shattered life and building a new one. I know they will succeed as they have the wisdom of the gypsies in their veins. I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to have your home and life destroyed in front of your helpless eyes. I just feel angry and sad at the way those in power play with innocent souls and ultimately always win. Is this the India our freedom fighters fought and died for? I just think we have let them down. Is there a way out. I do not know.
How can we forget that for Rs 28,000 crore we could have established primary schools and health centres in tens of thousands of villages? Can we ignore this splurge the next time a malnourished child looks at us in the eye? writes Azim Premji in today’s morning paper. I have been saying this for quite some time. I hope that when an eminent personality echoes the same it would be heard. Then why do I have the uncanny feeling that it will not.
I fell of my chair when I heard a Member of Parliament and also an industrialist state on National TV that 80 000 Rs a month salary was no big deal! This was in the course of a debate on the raise in salaries for Parliamentarians. The MP felt that 80K a month was not such a big salary and wondered why it was being made into such an issue. I would like to remind our esteemed MP that the present minimum wage is about 5000 Rs a month and many across our country do not earn even that. According to recent statistics over 37.2 % of Indians live below the poverty line and 5000 children still die of malnutrition every day.
The question is not whether one should or should not hold international events. The question is one of priorities. And these seem to be totally skewed. But then we are missing the point: such events are wonderful ways of making money and these Games have given us ample proof of that. What is worrying however is the total lack of concern of those in power for what I call the other India. It almost seems as if for them it does not exist. Though if you care to look, it is at our very doorstep. Be it the malnourished child who taps on your car window, or the poor labourer toiling under the rain to meet some new impossible deadline.
The Games are an eye opener to all that is wrong in India. Anyone can see that but we seem to have lost our ability to do that. We are too inured, or perhaps too ensconced in our self created catatonia and unable to move when we should be screaming. If at nothing else than at least at the helium balloon hired at the cost of 40 crores for the opening ceremony, mind you in case you use it for the closing ceremony then you pay more! And let me remind you lest you have forgotten it is you and I and our children who will toil a lifetime to foot the bill. Yes I said let us at least scream at this wasteful expense as we seem to have lost our ability to do so when hundreds of thousands have lost their homes, their livelihood and more.
I have now words left.. I will simply quote Mr Premji again. He ends his article with the following: At times like these, it will serve our leaders well to recall Gandhiji’s talisman: “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?”
Is anyone listening?
Volunteers are an intrinsic part of pwhy. They come from all corners of the world, from the most unexpected places: Senegal, Azerbaijan, Turkey, UK, USA, France, Spain, Singapore, Canada, Sweden. They have one common denominator: their love for project why and their conviction about our work. They spend a few days, a few weeks or even a few months and when they go, they leave a little of themselves in each one of us. They are undoubtedly a very important part of our success.
For the past four years now we have had volunteers from Cambridge University and this year it was Steve, better known as Steve Bhaiya!
I remember the day he landed in our world. It was incredibly hot and his flight was meant to land at 11 am so we expected him around 1pm. The plan was to have him wash up, have a cool drink and then send him to the women centre where we had planned to have him volunteer for the next two months. Steve arrived at my door at around 2pm. He had been stuck in traffic jams and was looking miserably hot. I was immediately charmed by his gentle and warm voice and his heartwarming smile. I asked him whether he wanted to rest or would be agreeable to go straight to work! He agreed to the later and hence began Steve’s tryst with our women centre.
Let us fast forward to two months later. Departure time has come. For the past week Steve has been trying to tell his students that he had to go back to his country and to say the least the news was far from welcome. The no, please dont’ go, stay here, when are you coming back abounded all expressed in the English Steve had painstakingly taught our primary students during two whole months. And every one’s feelings were summed up in Kajal’s words when she said: were are so grateful because that you all the way over from England just to help us. She somehow echoed what I would like to say to him.
You may ask what Steve did during these months. His meticulous blog gives an account of his weeks with us and I must confess I enjoyed reading it as it gave me a insight into our work seen through someone else’s eyes. I of course had only second hand knowledge of his work. As luck would have it, Steve came at a time when our spoken English teacher had taken long leave of absence and we were in a quandary about how we would manage. The pupils in question were those of classes II to V and a lively lot at that. But Steve was not one to be deterred and took the task head on. 128 primary kids divided in 4 groups was quite a handful for anyone but Steve did a super job. Everyone was impressed. I use to get bribes of the going ons either by our coordinator or by Steve himself. I was told about the small pranks, the occasional mischief and antics but also about the incredible progress the children made under Steve’s guidance. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that even the parents felt that their children were learning English. This was a huge moment for me as how could I forget the very first words uttered to me well before it all began: teach our children English. It had taken a young college rugby player and stellar student to do that. Hats off to him.
But there was another side of Steve, one I have the privilege to be privy to quite inadvertently. It was a Saturday morning and Steve’s day off. We on the other hand were all set to take little Manisha to boarding school. We had all gathered in the kitchen of my home and were waiting for the car when Steve came down for a late breakfast. On hearing that we were off to the boarding school he decided to come along, breakfast forgotten. It was a memorable day in more ways than one. Steve truly liked the school and was even treated to a spot of colonial spin off as he was feted by the house master who fell backwards to please him. We all had a merry laugh though in hindsight Steve felt a little sheepish. That day I saw another side of Steve one that I can only sum up with a reference to my favourite book the Little Prince: Steve knew the fox’s secret and saw with his heart. In the weeks to come Steve was to visit the boarding school twice: once on PTM day, and on Independence Day where he was even seated on the VVIP sofa! Each time was special for him and us.
During his two months with us, I have had the occasion to share my thoughts, dreams, fears, angst and more with Steve. He always listened and strangely made me feel better as he managed to chase my blues and fill me with quiet optimism. I deeply value the moments we spent together.
Soon Steve will leave India leaving fond memories in our hearts. The children will stay in touch thanks to the web camera he gave them as a parting gift. I, on the other hand will find myself browsing photographs and remembering this very special volunteer.
Sanjay did not come to the project yesterday. The reason: an eviction notice by the Municipality. Sanjay is a Lohar who lives in what is known as the Maharana Pratap Camp but is actually a motley assortment of 40 ramshackle tenements made of plastic sheets and tarpaulin. The Camp has been in existence for 3o years and Sanjay was born there and for the last 30 years there have been innumerable evictions notices. Along the way the camp gained respectability and recognition with a postal address and voter Id cards for its residents: you see they were after all a sizable vote bank. As for the eviction notices, they were warded away with a few coins. It was almost a game being played to perfection, with every protagonist playing its role faultlessly. This by the way is a play running in many locations across our city. However this time there was a new entrant in the plot: the Commonwealth Games and it seemed that this time the denouement could be different.
Sanjay to say the least was definitely worried. Would this eviction be for real? The red letter day dawned and passed. A hurried visit to the local politicos revealed that perhaps the camp would be saved and the ludicrous idea of hiding it, the one mooted by our Chief Secretary, be enforced. The camp would be hidden not behind bamboo screens as once thought, but behind some kind of screen, maybe even publicity ones to rake in more moolah! The jury is still out on this one.
This incident raises once again the question of our attitude towards what we call, for want of a better word, the poor. With the advent of the Games this attitude has come out of the closet and is out in the open. We are ashamed of our poor and yet unable or rather unwilling to address the situation and find lasting solutions. We just want to brush the problem under the carpet and hope it goes away.
A TV show aired yesterday tried to debate the issue. Sadly most participants did not get down to addressing the real issue but simply tried to defend their position rather unconvincingly. The debate was on the lack of concern of the middle class towards what was termed as the other India. It actually became a weak defense on the said lack of concern. This is the sad reality. We have lost our heart and soul in our quest for riches. Yet we forget that to acquire these very riches we need the other India be it to construct our new homes and malls or simply to make our every day life easier and better.
The question that begs to be asked is how long will the other India remain silent? How long are we going to simply ignore the facts that glare at us: children dying of malnutrition, people living in inhumane conditions, farmers committing suicide: the list is endless. It is time we addressed these issues if we want our good times to continue. As one participant tried to say: we need to empower the poor and we need to do it now.
The last few weeks have been replete with stories of corruption in the CWG. Yet nothing much was said about the people who lost their homes and livelihood, about the children who worked on construction sites, about the labourers who lost their lives. They do not make news. Nor does Sanjay and his kin. They may lose their homes or may be hidden behind a screen as we are too embarrassed to accept their existence. And after the games the screens will be removed and the eviction game will resume after a brief interruption.