FROM India shinning to India suffering is the most colourful description of Manmohan Singh’s regime heard on the floor of Parliament during the budget session. The insensitivity of the UPA to people’s agony and its arrogance of power have crossed all limits.
India is a nation with a great sense of justice. In its history there is no dearth of instances where the rulers set higher standards for themselves than for the commoner. They willingly courted heavier punishment for their omissions and commissions unlike those of today who suggest people not to take sweets if sugar price has gone high. Compassion and empathy were the two qualities Indian scriptures expected in the rulers. So we have the instances of Shibi, Dasharata, Harischandra, Yudhishtira, Sri Ram, Dathechi and the list can go on and on. The sense of justice and fair play was the touchstone for a successful reign. Chakravarti Shibi set one of the most touching examples in this regard.
Once, the legend has it, the Emperor was relaxing on the terrace of the palace when a wounded pigeon fell on his lap and asked for protection from an eagle that was chasing it for prey. Shibi offered the bird safety but the eagle won’t leave its prey. The eagle demanded the Emperor to be fair and release its prey, as it was within its dharma in hunting for food and the Emperor had no right to interfere. The Emperor on his part argued that it was his duty to give asylum to the bird as it was seeking his protection for life. The eagle reminded the Emperor his other duty not to deprive another creature of its livelihood and redeem that dharma. The incident is both interesting and instructive, for it was not the might of the Emperor but his sense of justice that the eagle was putting to test. The Emperor stood high and passed the test. And he presented a great example in self-sacrifice to set the lesson for generations to come. He asked the eagle what price he would have to pay so that the life of the pigeon was saved. The eagle demanded the flesh of the king in equal weight to that of the pigeon he wanted to be saved. Shibi passed the test and proved to the world, the ruler is respected or loved not for his arbitrariness but for his compassion and conciliation. Modern-day rulers will laugh at this legend. But one cannot overlook the message.
Social tragedies have become passé in India today, and the rulers-people in power and position-go about as if there is no value for a commoner’s life. India perhaps is the only country in the world where human life is treated so cheap. The UP Chief Minister made it a matter of prestige in her stand-off with the centre not to pay compensation to the 65 victims of a tragedy in Pratapgarh. Many such situations go unreported. The highlight however is the apathy of the establishment-be it godmen, civic authorities, corporate tycoons or the elected governments-for the value of life of an ordinary Indian, especially Hindu.
Children who go to play do not return home because they get drowned by stagnant water in pits dug by the Delhi Jal Board authority. Men and women who go for early morning walk are discovered bleeding and dead on the roadside because the civic bodies have dug up the pavement and left it in a state of veritable hell for months, if not years.
Imagine the humongous tragedy of the people who assembled at the ashram of Kripalu Maharaj in Kundu, Pratapgarh, for collecting a utensil, a piece of sweet and Rs 20-the total value of which would not exceed Rs 50. This is the level of poverty in the country whose economic growth under globalisation is a matter of mere GDP and statistics. Human beings have become numbers. Sixty-five people dead, families devastated, children orphaned and mothers deprived of their children. Even in the impoverished Sudan such incidents don’t happen at this frequency. For, only a few years ago, over a 100 women died in Uttar Pradesh capital in the stampede. They had come to receive free saris being distributed by a politician. And we can safely bet that nobody would be held responsible and punished for the loss of precious human lives just as it happened in the sari tragedy or the temple stampedes that keep repeating all over the country quite frequently.
Rural unemployment is so high that at every recruitment venue for army and police personnel, the rush of job seekers leads to lathicharge, firing, stampede and death.
Routinely, stampede occurs in places of worship. These are all incidents in which people authorised to make arrangements, are to be held culpable for the crime. One is not talking of the road accidents and terror attacks. That statistics is now becoming listless.
One teenager was killed in Srinagar, allegedly unprovoked, by a BSF constable. The police records, according to reports, said the boy was a criminal. That official was however hounded by the state, his own seniors and with discernible glee the newspapers reported that he has been suspended. Only the jawans and security forces have no human rights. They are treated as cannon fodder in their combat with terrorists, Maoists and North-east outlaws. We take the loss of a security personnel’s life so lightly, so routinely as if the state has become morose. Is justice the privilege of only the terrorists and their cohorts? A few weeks ago, terrorists and their supporters in J&K disguised as lawyers fabricated a case of rape and murder of two women. They created a huge ruckus. The media and the politicians there held the state and defence forces to ransom. In the end it was proved that the women were not raped, and they had committed suicide. Have these lawyers been punished?
Even smaller nations like Philippines and Bangladesh have a better track record of dispensing justice. The Marcos and Ershads got punished there for their greed and crimes. In modern India, not one politician has ever been punished. Nobody knows where the buck stops. We don’t even know who should own up responsibility for the kind of tragedies that have been discussed. There was a time, an air accident or a train collision used to result in the resignation of the minister in charge. Now the accidents have become commonplace and there is no accountability.
So where does that leave the ordinary Indian? Those who have been elected by them are not speaking up for them. The creation of an informed public opinion, non-political social action for justice seems the only way out. Varsha Pratipada marks a new cycle, an occasion that prompts us to pause, think and move on. It is for each of us to do our bit to make our society more sensitive, more assertive and restore the value of each and every life sharing this planet.