India First is the campaign launched by a leading TV channel in the wake of the judgement being pronounced later today on what is known as the oldest property dispute in Independent India. Political parries are urging all to remain calm and young India is exhorting us to look forward and at the real problems that plague our land. I guess all this because the memories of December 1992 are still fresh in many minds. No one is willing to take any chances: schools have been shut incertain states, demonstrations banned, leave of police personnel cancelled and the country is on tenterhooks.
So what is all this about.
There are many ways of looking at the Ram Janam Bhoomi/Babri Masjid issue. I will take the most candid one and borrow the title of an earlier blog I wrote: it is all about ladoos, cake and sewaiyans! In December 2009, when a volunteer decided to celebrate Xmas in our newly opened women centre where the children were predominantly Muslims and Hindus, I had to explain what Xmas was, I did so by telling them that it was a festival where you ate cake and not ladoos or sewaiyans and somehow the children understood. I could have also sung them the Usha Uthup song where she talks of all festivals as being days when you wear new clothes, visit friends and relatives and eat nice food be it Xmas, Eid or Diwali. That is how simple it actually is. You can either see temple or mosques, or if you do with your heart see a house of God.
But sadly religion has been used by power hungry people to justify the worst aberrations possible like the one that happened in December 1992 when a house of one God was brought down in the name of another. On that December day I was ashamed of my religion as I am each time an aberration is committed in the name of religion. I wrote an earlier blog on this and am reproducing some of it below.
I am a Hindu by birth and by choice. I was born to profoundly Hindu parents but grew up in lands of diverse faiths. My parents never imposed their views or beliefs. At home Hindu festivals were celebrated with fervour and some ritualism and the many questions I asked at different moments of my life were answered candidly and without fuss. It is much later in life that I discovered that my mother was not really bent on ritualism but it was her way of introducing me to my faith. I grew up with my set of questions and doubts and each one got cleared with simple honesty.
When I asked one day whether I could go to church and partake of communion as all my school friends did ( I was in a convent school) my parents simply answered that I could if no one had any objection. I guess I had expected a vehement refusal and was a little perplexed by their reaction. I did go to church often and even found a humane priest who allowed me to taste the holy wafer. Some years later while in an Islamic country I wanted to fast in the holy month of Ramadan and once again I got the warm approval of my parents. I celebrated the Sabbath with my Jewish pals too and with every such occurrence my belief got strengthened as I was proud of belonging to a religion that did not close any door in my face but on the other hand allowed me to embrace all faiths. I was proud to be a Hindu. The tales my parents told me only went to reinforce my faith. I was delighted by the pranks of Lord Krishna and by the touching tales of Ram when he ate the fruits proffered by Sabri or rode in Kevat’s boat. I never felt the need to question the sagacity and humanness of the religion I was born in. Till the fateful day in 2002.
Today as India’s stands waiting for a court decision that will decide which faith a particular piece of land belongs to and hoping against hope that no violence will ensue, my thoughts go back to that fateful day when my headache vanished thanks to the prayer of a little boy to a faceless and nameless God who listens to those who pray with their heart. He is the one I now pray to and hope that once again he will hear.
It was a relief to finally see an article on the human price of the CWG. The article entitled Labour bore the brunt appeared on the NDTV website. Do read it. It talks not only of the plight of the labour that toiledto make the games a reality but also off the callous attitude of the authorities towards the workers and how they have been exploited. The article also refers to a report entitled Games the State plays. This report makes disturbing reading. The exploiting of the voiceless poor seems to be a huge moral scam. Minimum wages were not paid and neither was overtime. Few women were employed and were not paid the same wages as the men. And children too were employed. There was no safety of the workers and the living conditions were abysmal. According to a member of a civil liberties organisation, “the depressing living conditions at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium labour colony represent hovels where human beings have to literally crawl like animals.” This was the plight of about 40 000 workers who toiled day and night to make the show a success. I urge you to read this report as if nothing else, the people who made the Games possible deserve at least that. That is one part of the human tragedy.
The other is being staged as I write these words. Today’s newspaper carries the following articles: poor banished from public spaces, cops asks hawkers and vendors to pack up and so on. The message to the downtrodden is clear: don’t step out, lest the Games visitors spot you. This is the order of the day.
Many of our parents have come to inform us that they will be leaving the city as with no work they will be unable to survive. We course are not closing pwhy during the Games. This is our own way of protest!
For the past months now I have been writing about the terrible human tragedy that has been the result of the Commonwealth Games: loss of lives, loss of homes, loss of livelihood and these continue by the minute. I have tried to keep a distance from all other issues such as corruption, national pride and more. Not that these did not affect me, far from that, but because many have taken up the cudgels on these issues. But a news item that appeared yesterday changed all that.
I refer to an interview given by the CEO of the CWG where the gentleman resorted to attack as the best form of defense. It may be said here that this gentleman has been in India for three years, supposedly supervising the preparations of the show. Among other things, the gentleman blamed India’s population for the traffic snarls! Needless to say he was promptly rebutted by a: can we just make half the population vanish or keep people indoors! Another case of off with their heads!
Somehow this comment stung me and touched many raw nerves. How dare anyone make such a remark! I always felt that the whole Commonwealth concept was passe and outdated, a vestige of colonialism that we could well do without and this more than validated my stand. How could I forget my own existence. Was I not the child born in free India that a woman way back in the 1930s decided to bring to life. My mother who reached a marriageable age in the mid thirties refused to be wedded as she did not want to bring a slave child into this world. She waited till India became independent to marry and thus I was born a free Indian. Yet for the past days all I have heard are outrageous remarks about my land and that for not fault of its proud people but because of a handful of incompetent, corrupt and unscrupulous people who were handed over the responsibility of staging an international event. What riles me is that today a whole nation is being abused and considered inept and incapable. Offensive expletives are being used to define us: dirty, filthy, unlivable, unhygienic and more. Unacceptable reasons are being given for not coming to our land: safety, health, security and more. Inadmissible demands are being thrust upon us and we as a nation feel let down, helpless and angry.
And to make matters worse, the incompetent, corrupt, unscrupulous people are trying to appeal to our patriotism and national pride in the hope that we may forget the rest and after the show is over some scapegoat will be branded and the rest will escape free and ready to exploit us again. I wonder what people like my mother would have made of all this. Perhaps simply whispered that we did not deserve and treasure the freedom they so valiantly fought for.
An opposition leader stated yesterday on national television that he felt like hanging is head in shame. So do I as we have a let down not only those who gave us the precious gift of freedom but the multitude of proud Indians who do not deserve what is being foiled upon them.
My roof has been leaking courtesy the unprecedented rains and I mean really leaking as we had to place buckets and pots in strategic places. This morning as the rains stopped I got the mason in hoping to get it all fixed. To my surprise he told me that he would get the work done with extra workers as after the 1st no construction would be allowed in our city till the end of the Games. And as there would be no work most workers were going back to their villages. Good grief! Here was a smart way of getting ride of the poor aka as eyesores, party poopers or those who spoil the image of the city. The rumour is that train rides to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are free!
A lot is being written about the corruption, the soiled toilets, the missing athletes and more. Every self respecting Indian is outraged at the humiliation that has befallen the country for no fault of ours. But what about the human factor. Did you know that people are being pushed out of the city to accommodate the few thousands that are going to grace it for two short weeks. And I am not even mentioning the hundreds of thousands who have lost their homes and livelihood.
Shankar comes from a village in Bihar. He had to leave because his home because his meagre possessions were washed away in the floods that ravaged his village. He came to the big city hoping to survive and maybe give a better morrow to his family. He became what I call a small entrepreneur and set up a small samosa stall. Every morning before dawn he would go to the wholesale market and purchase what he needed and then by come home and prepare the vegetable filling, roll the dough and make his samosas. He would then go to the street corner and set his stall. By 10 am hot samosas fried in front of you were ready to relish. The earnings of the day were used to feed his family and purchase the next day’s needs. Business was good and there were even some savings. His children were all in school and life was good.
Yesterday Shankar’s stall was destroyed and he was manhandled by the cops who informed him that he was not to set up shop till the end of the Games and it would be best for him to pack up and go to the village. And that is what he will do as with no work he would not be able to feed his family. This is the plight of many small entrepreneurs, daily wage workers who are all being forced to leave the city. Many of our parents who have vegetable carts are doing the same as the powers that be have decided to close the wholesale markets all together! Only multinational outlets will be selling vegetables during the games. Is this a taste of what is to come?
This is outrageous. In a country of over a billion people one has to allow tiny entreprises as that is the only way people will be able to survive. All this is frightening to say the least. These free and forced train rides spell doom.
The mood is upbeat. Even the television channels that were till yesterday decrying the Games are now urging us to support them. The late intervention of the Prime Minister (where was he all these days) and the cosmetic alterations to the Games administration seem to have turned things around. But not for me. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that everyone’s pocket’s are full and loot well stashed away in outside havens. Come to think of it the dirty toilets and walls were to say the least timely as they made us all forget the corruption and loot. National pride was hurt and something had to be done. Now it seems that the success of the games is what every self respecting Indian wants.
But why is no one thinking of the 40 labourers that got injured last week, of the ones who last their lives, of the people rendered homeless, of the loss of livelihood, of those who today sit on a train to nowhere: in a word of the human factor! What is paining me is that no one is really concerned or should I say conscious of this terrible human tragedy.
Last week was PTM time and boy I needed it as this is the only time when I get off my spinning planet and catch my breath. The day dawned dark and cloudy. The rains were imminent but that did not lessen our enthusiasm though we were apprehensive of traffic snarls. We set off early. Agastya my grandchild was with us. That made the day even more special. We of course had not forgotten all the goodies that the children has demanded: cookies, biscuits, chocolates and of course the pizzas!
The roads were empty and we made good time. It began pelting though but we were almost there. The school ground was inundated and looked almost like a swimming pool. There went Agastya’s favourite playground! But we knew we would still have lot of fun. The first stop was the children’s classrooms to get the unit test results. I felt a little hand in mine and looked down: It was Utpal who had come from nowhere and joined us. I asked him how he had done and he looked a little forlorn as he told me that his maths and English results were not good. I was a little perplexed but then tried to rationalise my reaction: it was not right to always expect the impossible. I did not know that my little Popples had played a trick on me: it transpired later that he had A+ in both subjects. We did the rounds and collected the results; as always the children had done well: Aditya and Meher topped their class and the rest were second or third. Only Nikhil’s results were disappointing. It seemed the child wanted to convey something we were not able to comprehend. A challenging behaviour of sorts. Would have to delve further.
On the way Agastya made new friends, two being class XII students. Quite a charmer! It was then time to go to the hostel and meet Dolly Ma’am the housemother. We would also be able to unpack the goodies all the children were waiting for. I decided to rest my bones and sit with Dolly whilst the kids ate their pizza. The rest of the goodies was to be handed over for later.It was lovely to see them all looking so happy. Agastya had taken his cars out and soon everyone was on the floor playing with the cars. Dolly briefed me on the children and most got glowing reports: Babli was very well behaved, Meher was the little granny, Manisha was now well settled, Yash was still a holy terror, and the boys were just that boys! Dolly also shared how Manisha ate a lot, I guess she was making up for years of want now that she was in the land of the plenty. I did realise she had put on quite a lot of weight. I sat for along time taking all this in and savouring the moment. This was a dream come true. I wish I could have given this chance to many more. This was what each and every child born in the country deserved.
It was soon time to go. We had all had a terrific time as always and I had more than caught my breath. My batteries were fully recharged at least tell the next PTM!