worrying demographics

worrying demographics

The rise in the crime graph of our city is cause of concern. Delhi today is a megalopolis. With 13 million inhabitants in 2001, we must now be hovering around 18 million, thus being the most populous city. 700 new migrants arrive each day and 600 babies are born every day. By 2015, Delhi is expected to be the second largest agglomeration in the world after Tokyo.

In 2005, (according to the wikipedia)Delhi accounted for the highest percentage (16.2%) of the crimes reported in the 35 cities in India with populations of one million or more. The city also has the highest rate of crime against women (27.6 compared to national average rate of 14.1 per 100,000) and against children (6.5 compared to national average of 1.4 per 100,000) in the country.

Not pretty statistics! And the list goes on: over 8% of Delhi’s population lives below the poverty line and many more barely survive. The galloping inflation rate is just making it worse. The city is bursting at its seams but no one seems to be aware. Quite the contrary. What is visible is a frenzied growth that defeats all logic: new malls, roads, buildings, housing colonies. each requiring its pound of flesh (read electricity, water, hospitals et al).

Whereas for some life is shining (to use a now well known and sated expression) for others it is getting worse by the day and in the wake of this crime is on a spiraling rise. And why not, as hopes and dreams larger than life grow illogically fueled by images and campaigns. The past days has seen the birth of bikers gang and they are on a rampage. The mood is one where everyone wants his place in the sun now and at whatever cost.

The police and authorities are and will remain helpless as they can only intervene after the act. What is needed is to try and comprehend why this is happening. I was recently introduced to the Capability Approach mooted by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum that aims at evaluating social states in terms of well being (welfare) rather than resources (income, assets). Though I am still in the process of understanding this approach, what strikes me is the fact that we often tend to equate poverty simply to absence of money and everyone particularly the deprived is convinced that access to money will resolve all issues.

In the line of such thought the recent access to credit that the poor now have courtesy multinational banks and their financial franchisees, is just adding to the mess. In their frenzied attempt to rope in more and more consumers, such institutions bypass rules for a pocketful of coins. A happy individual gets his loan without understanding the real implications and the seeds of disaster have been sown. Bikes and cars now abound in the narrow lanes of Delhi’s slums. TVs blare in each and every home peddling dreams and false hope. Everything seems possible in this new India which seems to shine for all. What one tends to forget is that for some the sparkle is illusory.

In this almost hubristic environment where even Gods need to be defied, crime proliferates. Reason has been sacrificed at the alter of desires and wants. The shining India beckons all. Education that could have applied a moderating influence has also been hijacked along the way. At one end it reiterates the message of plenty whereas at the other it reinforces the reality of its absence. Moderation, temperance, patience are virtues of another era.

Times are ripe for all kind of short cuts, crime being one of them. Our society is truly sick and it is time we addressed the situation and found the elusive remedy.

Two worlds just across the street

Two worlds just across the street

When I read your blogs most often the word that used to strike me was “angry”; how angry you were about the system, situation and people. for the first time i think i experienced that were the words that dropped into my inbox yesterday. It was from M, a dear friend and supporter who lives thousands of miles away and who has become a confident and close ally. Perhaps it is because we share the same dreams, however impossible they may seem, notwithstanding our age difference or the fact that we live in two different worlds. Perhaps again it is because we both at some times of our lives learnt the fox’s precious lessons and look with our hearts!

She often reads my blogs and gives her views, or we exchange emails on issues that disturb us and often realise that our views or similar. However this is the first time she reacted vehemently and shared what many feel is my anger. M was referring to an article that appeared in the New York Times and depicted life in one of the upcoming and fashionable suburbs of our metropolis. It portrayed in graphic details the life of the two Indias hat live side by side but not in symbiosis. Swanky flats adjacent to crowded slums were residents of both interacted for some hours of the day as one bought comfort and ease to the other. What had riled M was the apparently innocuous and yet portent remark of one of the residents, a Doctor by training, who confesses having thought about opening a clinic in the nearby slums but feels that there is little she or anyone else could do.

M cannot not understand how one could simply waste an education, or put in other words how people lose their conscience somewhere along the way. Or to put it yet again in other words: how one could remain insensitive to the reality that was so obviously there to see.

There are no easy answers. A comment on a recent blog I wrote sent a chill down my spine. To my now almost legendary ranting and ravings about a disquieting issue, the commentator proffered the following: Yes times are changing…… its the beginning of the end.
I hope you don’t harbour any misconception that this civilisation can be changed for the better. We are too conditioned for that. Civilisation began in places like India and here will (or already) it die first. This is not a judgement but an observation. The evolution is merciless and creates the new on the death of the old. Pray for strength to see through the tough and tougher times to come. There is no point in reacting. Lets learn to mute witness to the process of life.

My answer is simple: sorry I do harbour hope that things can change for the better. No bigger example than a warm day in march 2003 as held a death sentence in my hand and yet also saw life. Today Utpal lives for all to see! I am not conditioned and cannot be a mute witness. It would be an insult to my very existence.

Yet one wonders if this is easy way out one could adopt to whitewash every and anything that seems to be out of sync. Like the proverbial karma that is thrown at you each time you try and solve an issue, suggest an alternative or simply do some good an thus threaten to rock the boat.

Too many today hide behimnd the cloak of fatalism and yet each time I am comfronted with a situation like this one, my determination to carry on no matter what takes a quantum leap. It seems that we have walked the passive acceptance route for so long that we have along the way lost our conscience, our sensitivity and our ability to look with our hearts hence defeating the very essence of the karmic view of life. It is easy to wave another person’s karma for all to see, but what about our own. Is it not time to turn the mirror towards ourselves?

Sinking into comfort zones or burying our heads in the sand is not a solution we can be proud of. Change or the much heralded transformation of society can only come when we assume responsibility of what surrounds us and take a step, no matter how tiny towards setting things right.

We cannot wait for Godot. He is there in each one of us, it is for us to find him.

I will end this post with M’s words as they reflect the deep seated anguish of a young Indian: how do we as a society inspire such people to stop squandering their education? i understand that everyone has the right to whatever education they want and to respect their choice on what they do with that education. but are we really a billion people with no concept of “pay back” to our society? what sort of upbringing are we giving our children when we aspire them to complete school, get degrees when we can’t teach them the value of a shared community that benefits from everyone helping out? the other way to look at this is to assume that economic prosperity once established in a quorum population will ignite a string of social entrepreneurship. but that’s a wait and watch game.

It is time to act!

Invisible India…

Invisible India…

The last few days have been terribly hot. The mercury has touched 43 degrees Celsius and is still rising.

Most of us have retreated into the comfort of our homes or working places cooled with ACs and desert coolers and barely venture out. TV programmes urge us to take adequate measures to beat dehydration: electrolytes, cool drinks and watch for warning signs and call the doctor if need be.

If we feel bored we drive in an air conditioned car to an air conditioned mall or movie hall or even take time off to head to the hills or cooler climes in faraway lands though the terrible heat is still a good cocktail party conversation piece.

Yet here is an India just at our doorstep that has no option but to carry on irrespective of the sweltering heat. We do see them as we zip pass in our air conditioned cars and yet never look at them as one of us. Next time you take a trip in your car do take time to look through your window. You will see people who are out in the heat no mater what as if they were to stay home their families would go hungry: the construction workers, the ice cream vendor, the balloon vendor and his shrill whistle, the corner cobbler, the vegetable vendor pushing his cart on hot tared roads his feet protected by flimsy sandals and whose parched throat can barely call out, the water vendor who quenches other people’s thirst; the countless person who are daily wagers and cannot afford a single day off. The very ones that disturb us and that we want to wish away and hide behind walls.

And if you think that they do not concern you, think again many of them make our own lives more comfortable: the delivery boy who cycles in the heat to get you what you need at that very instant, the electrician or repair man who has to come by when your cooler stops working and s so many others who form part of that invisible India we chose to ignore and want to wish away.

a frightening common denominator

a frightening common denominator

The furore created of US President Bush’s recent tirade on the growing appetite of middle class India as the cause of the global food crisis is understandable as it is a blow well below the belt. And many will take up the gauntlet and give befitting answers. This post is not meant to do that.

The battle royale that is now splashed all over the media set me thinking in an entirely different direction. Pwhy has made me aware of many things that earlier did not hold my attention. One of them is the amount of food wasted be it in rich, middle class or poor India. Sadly it seems to be one of the few common denominators that bind all sections of urban India.

Peep into the garbage discarded after any wedding and you will find enough food to feed many hungry souls. Walk into any wedding, party or religious festival and you will find many half finished plates pushed under the tables or dropped into the big plastic containers kept for dirty plates. Look at any one serving him or herself at the buffet table and you will be astonished by the quantity of food piled up on their plate. We are a nation that almost prides ourselves at throwing food.

Every day as I walk the tiny lane of our centre there is food thrown on the street and in every garbage pile no matter how small. This how our very own Manu fed himself for many years: rummaging garbage piles.

In a land where food is equated to God and disrespect to it is considered a sin, this new found frenzy of throwing food is uncanny. Is it a way of asserting that one has finally arrived, reached, bettered one’s self? I wonder. As a child I was taught very early to respect food and not throw it away. My mother after numerous pleas and entreaties put a stop to my habit of leaving food in my plate in a rather harsh but effective manner: the leftover plate was put into a fridge and put in front of me at every subsequent meal. The battle of wits between a 6 year old and her mother lasted two and half days. The hunger oangs made me eat that congealed food as if it was manna from the Gods. Needless to say that since I have not thrown any food away.

Last week there was a party in the lane behind our house. The next morning we found vast quantities of food thrown in the lane. It could have fed over 100 kids. That was rich India. he same week I scolded one of the foster care kids for not finishing his plate. Pat came the answer: my mod allows me to throw what I do not finish. That is poor India.

And yet we all complain about the spiraling rise of food prices.

Food for thought….

think twice before…

think twice before…

Next time you see a woman clutching a baby pounding at your car window, pleading for a few rupees to save or feed her child, think twice before you roll the window down and hand them to her. The child may have been sold to a begging gang.

A baby sale racket was bust in Delhi a few days back. New born babies were being sold at prices ranging from 50 to 100 000 Rupees. These were often children of young unwed mothers, helped by a solicitous midwife the kingpin of the gang. Children were delivered in slums and hence no one was the wiser. The mother was paid a paltry sum. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Wonder how many such racket exist?

The racket is perfected to the T. The baby often drugged looks miserable. A filthy feeding bottle is often held by the so called mother, or at times the baby’s head is bandaged in ways that would beat the best make up artist. The mother delivers her rehearsed lines with the aplomb of an actor, facial expressions and whine in attendance. Have you ever thought why there is no maternal feeling in her eyes or body language? Have you ever wondered what the baby goes through under he scorching sun or in the biting cold

A few months back I had read an article that said that babies were hired to beggars in Mumbai at a hourly rate. Have you ever wondered what the baby goes through under the scorching sun or in the biting cold or pouring rain?

Yesterday in a very up market school in Delhi a whole class was punished for some misdemeanour. The punishment was to have them study two whole days in a classroom without fan or lights. The outside temperature was 42.6 degree Celsius. Needless to say everyone was up in arms: parents, activists and even the Chairperson of the National Commission for Children was seen on national TV defending the rights of children with vehemence. Wonder why she does not see the hundreds of children that are seen begging at every street light in Delhi or is it once against simply yet another tale of two Indias.

Next time you see a woman begging with a child, think twice before you dip into your pocket!

hope and despair – an India song

hope and despair – an India song

India is a strange brew of hope and despair. It has often been defined as unity and diversity. Sadly I hardly see the unity but thank heaven there is some form of diversity as portrayed by the two stories of two girls lying in hospital beds in two cities.

In a hospital in Aurangabad lies a smiling girl. She is mentally and physically challenged and was dropped at outside the hospital six months back. Since that day the hospital staff took care of her with love and tenderness. They also thought it necessary to find a Government run home that would adopt her as they felt she needed appropriate upbringing. Sadly no one responded and the few who did simply said they did not have the resources to care for such a child. Thank God as knowing the state of such institutions , little Soni is better off in a place where she is treated as a human being and smothered with love. We all know how such institutions are! Is that not why the idea of planet why came to us. And seeing Manu in his new home blows away even the slightest doubt that one may have.

In another city a father is trying to sell his son to save his daughter! Sixteen year old Babita needs an open heart surgery and the poor father has no way of raising the 300 000 Rs needed to save his child. By heart went out to this family as pictures was flashed across the screen of the father, mother and son wearing boards around their necks and walking the streets. The image seared my very soul and though some cynical minds may call it a stunt, for me it was a picture of despair. Maybe after the story has been aired someone will come forwards. Anyway we intend to find out the details and try and help!

Both these stories highlight once again the disparity between the two Indias and the total failure of government policies be it for the challenged or the poor.

Incredible India! The slogan acquires a totally new meaning.

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