Where love is obscene, but not hunger deaths
By Tavleen Singh
WE have a strange idea of obscenity in India and last week was a good one to see it in operation. In Mumbai (once the cosmopolitan city of Bombay, now a provincial town) the police spent an entire day arresting lovers for ‘‘obscene’’ behaviour. The ‘‘obscenity’’ they committed was expressing their love for each other in public by physical demonstration.
You would think that in a country where more than 10,000 cases of rape are reported every year, only someone truly twisted in the head would consider consenting love obscene but, no, while listening to a local radio station that took a poll on the subject I was appaled to find that the police had support for their ludicrous decision to put up boards telling lovers what they could and could not do. Many a middle-class housewife phoned in to the station to say things like ‘‘kucch to control hona chahiye na’’.
Meanwhile, in the wondrous world of Indian politics something truly obscene is going on and nobody appears to notice. There are people dying of starvation in several districts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and all that our two most important political leaders — Shri Atalji and Sonia Memsahib — have done so far is make a noise about it in Parliament. Even as they appealed for the drought not to be politicised they did exactly this when they spoke in Parliament last week. Sonia more shamelessly than the Prime Minister because even as she expressed her alleged concern for the manner in which the Centre was handling the drought, she announced that those who had died in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (both Congress-ruled states) had died of ‘‘specific illnesses’’.
Clearly she has not noticed that nobody actually dies crying ‘‘bhookh, bhookh’’, it is usually ‘‘specific illnesses’’ that do the killing. Clearly, she has not bothered either to travel in the affected districts because if she had she would have noticed that the people afflicted with these specific illnesses are those who have not had a decent meal for weeks. It is obscene that she should get away with talking like this and obscene that the only solution the Prime Minister offers is a plan to link India’s rivers that could take years to materialise.
People are dying and if something is not done now to prevent the situation from worsening we could face a massive humanitarian crisis. This can be averted only if the Central government and the governments of the states where the deaths have occurred move into urgent action now instead of making stupid speeches.
It would also make a huge difference if our two most important political leaders would make an effort to actually visit the worst-affected districts because this might crank the inefficient, insensitive government machinery into action.
The Prime Minister might also discover that relatively simple measures could bring immediate relief. In Jaipur, for instance, I met Madan Dilawar, the MLA from Atru, one of the areas in which starvation deaths have already happened, and when I asked if non-governmental organisations could be brought in to run free kitchens he said this was not the solution. How many months will they stay? How many people can they feed because many of those who are currently above the poverty line are in danger of being pushed below it in the next few months. The solution, in his view, was for jobs to be created on a massive scale.
‘‘What the government could do,’’ he said, ‘‘is start constructing tanks to collect rainwater so that whenever the rains come there will be storage available. This kind of construction activity can provide thousands of jobs and that is what we need right now.’’
This kind of relief is infinitely more important right now than the Prime Minister’s plan to build a network of river links that will cost thousands of crores of rupees and will take a minimum of ten years to build. But, if he is serious about this plan he should order work to be started on this as well because it would be another way to provide jobs to people whose families could die if they do not get them.
In a country that has so much foodgrain in its warehouses that it is exporting it to other countries it is obscene that even one person should die of hunger. And, even more obscene that we should pretend that this is not happening.
Yet, this is exactly what we are doing. It is not just our political leaders who are pretending not to notice how grim the problem is it is everybody else as well including, sadly, the media. So, while an obscene amount of attention was paid to the arrival of our newest white moghul, Bill Gates, almost no attention is being paid to the starvation deaths. Why did nobody ask him to divert some of his generosity in that direction?
And, where by the way are all those do-gooding NGOs? How is it that we hear nothing at all about them or about ‘‘poverty alleviation’’ in a time of crisis despite the fact that they collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign aid every year in the name of the poor and the environment. If the Mumbai police wants obscenity they need to start looking beyond the beaches of the city that once was Bombay. —IE