ROBERT Vadra, the son-in-law has, it is obvious, a poor sense of humour. To damn India as a “banana republic” and the people of India as ‘mangoes’ is in such bad taste that the less said about it the better. The English media has not risen to his bait and has been treading softly and there have been few editorials on the Vadra issue, no doubt on the theory that discretion is the better part of valour, though CNN-IBN has shown considerable courage in taking up the matter in seriousness.
Rajdeep Sardesai, in the circumstances deserves to be congratulated. It is wisdom not to take on the mother-in-law. The Asian Age (October7 ) noted that Vadra is “not a politician but the Congress leadership appropriately gauged that the attack on him was really an attack on Sonia Gandhi and the Congress, that it was a blatant political move, not one to deal with corruption.”
According to Asian Age “according to the law it is the accuser who must furnish proof but the IAC (Indian Against Corruption) has not done so.” Blaming Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant, the paper said “it is a pity that as prominent lawyers they have sought to undermine the spirit of the law in order to create an atmosphere of suspicion.” Its advice to the Bhushans is that “it might be best if they went to court with the evidence they have.” The Hindu (October 10 ) carried an article by Vivek Katju, a diplomat who retired as Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs earlier this year, which said that the issue concerning Vadra is “more than law, a question of propriety”. “Nothing vitiates a polity more than dark clouds of doubt regarding the conduct of public figures and their kith and kin.”
As Katju saw it, “the Vadra-DLF matter is above all an acid test of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His Ministers have spoken of the law. He must rise above this and dwell on propriety…. the nation wishes that he sets the moral tone of his times.” Well said, but unlikely to be taken seriously.
Editorially The Hindu had more to say about “some perfectly reasonable remarks” by Union Minister of Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, that “India has more temples than toilets.” The paper said that was not “part of an anti-religious tirade, but a piece of hyperbole to stress the importance of sanitation.” “To suggest as some have” said the paper, “that it was an insidious attempt to hyphenate toilets and temples in an ugly alliterative juxtaposition is rank nonsense.” “It would seem that a World Bank study conducted a couple of years ago, estimated the economic impact of the lack of toilets and sanitation facilities is a staggering Rs 24,000 crore annually or 6.4 per cent of India’s GDP.” Question: Should it have taken eight long years for the UPA government to realise that? And what, pray, does it intend to do now? Stop building more temples? How much money is being allotted to panchayats across the country, to build toilets and availability of necessary amount of water for the welfare and betterment of rural India?
And talking of toilets, The Hindu recently published a shocking story about two dalit women, Akku and Leela who have been cleaning toilets at the Government Women’s Teachers Training Institute, Udupi for a monthly salary of Rs 15 (fifteen rupees only!) from 1971 to 2001. Although, it is claimed, that that they were promised that their services would be regularised, they have not got any benefits even after 42 years of service. It sounds incredible. The women had approached the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal (KAT) seeking relief in 2001 and it is said that when the Education Department heard of it, it stopped paying them even that meager salary of Rs 15 p.m. According to Ravindra Shanbag, president of the Udupi-based Human Rights Protection Foundation, both the High Court of Karnataka and the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the women and directed the government to regularise their services but “the order is yet to be implemented by the government”. When The Hindu first published the story it is said that several readers from across the globe came forward to help the women financially, but they refused on the ground that what they are looking for is not charity but justice. What is more intriguing is that the two women are still cleaning the 21 toilets three times a day, but without pay!
The story was even taken up by the London Telegraph which said that even after the Supreme Court judgement in favour of the two women was delivered it has been ignored by the powers-that-be, which is shocking. What sort of administration is Vadra’s “banana republic” running? Shanbag has been quoted as saying: “It is unfortunate that the government spends lakhs of rupees in fighting the cases against the hapless women rather than pay what is due to them.” Can there be anything more shameful? If the women were employed on the promise that they would be paid Rs 3,000 p.m., according to the Telegraph, the amount that they have to be paid as of now would be around Rs 27 lakh! By the time this column appears, justice may have been done – pressure is being put on the bureaucracy, from what one hears – but it is important for the public to know the background to how poor, helpless dalit women are treated. Not only should justice be done to Akku and Leela, but just as importantly, those responsible for ill-treating them have to be adequately punished. The treatment meted out to them is less than human and should not be dismissed casually. But what is intriguing about this business of toilets is that while, in India, 49.8 per cent of households have no toilet facilities and people defecate in the open, 63.2 per cent of households have a telephone connection, of which 52.3 per cent have cell, phones and, as for TV sets, almost half of the country’s households possess one. Can one say, in this connection, that what Indians need is more toilets than TV sets and telephones? What sort of priorities do Indians have? It would be interesting to make a thorough study, State-wise, of how many toilets are in existence in each state, how many TV sets and telephone connections and, of course, how many temples? That should enlighten us on the cultural standards of each State which would be an education in itself.