DR JAY DUBASHI
AS Indians have got richer, they have changed, and are changing, beyond recognition. In the last twenty years, some Indians have become richer as well as more westernised – witness the number of English schools and the rising number of English publications. At the same time, more and more Indians are behaving like savages. Otherwise, how does one explain the beastly behavior of a bunch of hoodlums who attacked a poor innocent girl in a Delhi bus – supposed to be our political as well as cultural capital – and slaughtered her and her friend?
And for a week there was no reaction from the government, neither the prime minister who has become a sort of mouni baba, or anybody else. Such a thing can happen only in an uncivilised, barbarous society, which we seem to have become.
I have a feeling that too much money too quickly has gone to our swollen heads. Too much money is as bad as too little. For years, we had very little money and were known, in the last two centuries, as a poor country. Even Dadabhai Naoroji, the grand old man of his generation, was puzzled about it, and wrote a famous book, blaming our poverty on the British. That was only partly true, for a society is responsible for its own poverty, or wealth, and not someone else, particularly a society like India’s, which has thousands of years of civilisation behind it, and should be able to handle its own problems.
We now seem to have too much money, instead of too little, and do not know what to do with it. Compared to twenty years ago, we have become five to six times richer, which means some of us have ten times as much cash as we used to have. Ten times in twenty years is a kind of bonanza few societies can deal with. That we are unable to handle so much money is clear from the long series of scams, one bigger than the other, that we are running into, and the state’s failure to deal with them. In fact, there is considerable evidence that the state itself is at their bottom. Too much money has evidently corrupted not just the state but also the society as a whole, including, of course, the man in the street and those in the Delhi bus who killed the poor girl. We have all become corrupt in one way or another, for corruption cannot be confined to only one facet of life, and spreads like cancer until it devours everyone, as it did in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, and led to their eventual collapse and extinction. Their corruption was moral and ethical and so is ours, for morality cannot be divorced from other aspects of life and holds good for all.
First, take the money aspect. Don’t go by the statistics doled out by the government from time to time. They mean nothing. There is much more cash in the economy than you and I suspect. Go to Mumbai and look around. I was there a few days ago, after nearly five years, and was amazed at the rate the city is expanding. It is literally bursting at the seams. You have buildings after buildings as far as the eye can see, one taller than the other, and all of them packed tight with people, like bananas – in a box.You hardly see a tree anywhere or anything green, for every little inch of the land is occupied and you wonder how it is all put together and may not one day just tumble into the Arabian Sea, which seems to be waiting to swallow the city. People are reduced to ants, who somehow manage to make their way through the alleyways like zombies, and survive miraculously from day to day, as the concrete jungle soars around them.
No wonder there is violence. No wonder, people go around killing one another at the slightest excuse. In Mumbai alone, there are a hundred violent deaths every day and hundreds of corpses lie unclaimed in morgues, and some times, in the city’s gutters.
Remember, Mumbai is a modern city; so, for that matter, is Delhi. They have everything modern cities boast of – skyscrapers, metros, airports, and now, a spanking new bridge over the Arabian Sea, which is so expensive that very few motorists use it. You have banks and ATMs at every corner, which means instant cash at your fingertips, and you have fancy restaurants and hotels where you can spend it all, while beggars crowd the streets outside, and mothers tug at your sleeves for cash to buy milk for their dying babies.
Where there are people with wads of cash, there are also people without a paisa in their pocket. This is the kind of system we have built, and there is nothing we can do about it. Anyway, that is what we are told by our all-knowing experts and of course, by Dr Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram. These are the people who built the system, and now that it is beginning to yield poisoned fruit, they are saying they have nothing to do with it.
I went to the Taj Hotel one afternoon for a cup of tea and on my way back home, encountered a young man lounging at one of the entrances. He did not look like a beggar – there are many of them hanging about in the shadows of the Gateway of India – and did not really ask for alms. He said he had not eaten for three days and could I spare twenty rupees for a cup of tea and a bun. This is what I used to have in Irani hotels when I was a young student and I asked him what he did for a living. “Nothing much,” he said. “I just want something to eat.”
He had a long story, as they all have, and I gave him some money. I thought I would not see him again, but he was there again the next day, and also the day after. And he looked more and more like a beggar, though he was obviously not one, but would soon start sleeping on the pavement.
One day, he will start stealing and soon he may use a knife. Then, perhaps, he may even join a gang and then… What do we do? We are building more and more five-star hotels and luxury flats, while thousands have no place of their own – through no fault of theirs’ – and join criminal gangs. This is the kind of society we are building, and when there is trouble, as in the Delhi bus, all we can do is ask for more police or fast-track courts and perhaps more prisons and more and more of everything. And we all know that this is no solution, that young men from villages will continue to come to cities and beg and loot and kill, and there will be more and more young women hammered in buses and more and more fast track courts and more and more police.
Where will it all end?