As my friends, and by now, my regular readers now, I love to read. And by reading, I mean anything that has English words on it. It can range from flyers for random CAT or TOEFL tutorial houses handed out by random people outside of your college, mall or whatever, to the most serious and epic shit like The Godfather. But what I love reading the most are magazines, not the SRK-worshipping so called film magazines like “Filmfare”, but current affairs stuff like India Today, Outlook, Tehelka and the likes. Okay, now that I’ve had my paragraph of chaud, let me move on to the main topic.
In recent times, I had observed this trend in magazines, that how there are two versions to our country. India, and Bharat. India was this neo-soft power, making rapid strides of progress into the future, and along with China, looked set into making the 21st century the Asian Century. Bharat however, was still the embarrassment, the shame of our nation on the world stage. Filled with poverty and desolation. Bharat was like the black sheep of one’s family. Someone whom you could ignore, but had to acknowledge, albeit with your head hung in shame when that relative’s name came up in a conversation. Time and again, it was Bharat that reared it’s ugly face when an Indian and a foreigner had a conversation about stuff related to our nation. No matter how much an Indian tries to gloat about India, all it takes is a foreigner’s comment on Bharat, whether innocuous or mean-spirited, for his pride to deflate.
One of the sad things about us as a nation is that we fail to acknowledge our shortcomings. We prefer to think no end of ourselves, and even if confronted with a failing, no matter how insignificant it might seem, we take offense to the person who brings it up, instead of taking it on the chin and resolving to do something about it.
Take for example the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”, a movie which many Indians, including this author, found to be in bad taste. The movie symbolises the same quality I spoke about earlier. It showed the ugly side of India, with children being mercilessly exploited, blinded, maimed and subjected to unspeakable acts just to earn money for their stone hearted masters. I couldn’t watch the movie beyond a particularly horrible scene where a child is blinded so that he could earn more money out of his talents for singing. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that such horrors can take place in life. I know, you must be going “Psshh.. C’mon Dude, Are you that gullible?” Yes, I am that gullible, or rather idealistic. It’s not human to watch that stuff and not feel hit on a certain level.
But what hits a person harder is in life. Just the other day, I happened to be on a bus at Mangalore with a classmate of mine on a Volvo. (What is it with me and Volvo’s, you wonder? My life revolves around travelling between Mangalore and Manipal, so don’t mind) We were having the typical expletive filled conversation, typical of MIT students, unmindful of the stern glares we were earning from our older co-passangers from Mangalore.
And then, suddenly out of nowhere, this kid shows out of the blue. He hardly measured up to my waist, with huge brown orbs, staring into the depths of my soul. His matted hair, yellowing teeth curled into an innocent smile, with his tiny brown palm extended to ask me for alms, in such a shameless manner that me and my friend reluctantly drew out some coins to hand over to him. He was about to be joined by another girl, probably his sister, when the conductor put an end to it, by first shutting the side door, ensuring no easy escape for the children. He then abused them in the filthiest Kannada, hitting them with a thin bamboo stick, as they ran out of the front door of the bus, full of glee with their earnings, wincing from the pain the conductor had inflicted on them. It was a heart rending sight. They had been probably used to being the scum of the earth, but these sights are few and far in between, and they tend to have a profound effect on a person who isn’t accustomed to them.
Among the many things that symbolise Bharat is the sad state of the children living below the poverty line in our country. Just google “Statistics of poor children in India” and you’ll find about 3,090,000 results. Under the article “Poverty In India” of the website Wikipedia, section “Persistence of malnutrition among children” , and I quote
“Data from The World Bank shows that the percentage of underweight children in sub-Saharan Africa is 24% while India has almost twice the amount at 47%. Out of the 47%, 50 % were from rural areas, 38% from urban areas, 48.9% of the underweight are girls and 45.5% are boys. Malnutrition is often associated with diseases like diarrhea, malaria and measles due to the lack of access in health care which are also linked to the problem of poverty. The United Nations had estimated that “2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of 5 every year – four every minute”.”
Now, take a moment and think. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most god forsaken in the world, and yet, we have double the amount of malnourished children. It’s not only just that, these children should be in school, and yet, they are out there, ruthlessly exploited like in Slumdog millionaire. They try going to school, but there are no teachers, if there are teachers, there are no uniforms, no text books, if there are teachers, uniforms and text books, there are no buildings at all!
The government claims that it does the best it can. But as Rajiv Gandhi once famously said, and never acted on “For every rupee spent on welfare schemes, only 15 paise reaches the common man, the rest, all pocketed.” Amidst all this rampant corruption, there are children out there, deformed, malnourished, illiterate, and instead of being the instruments to completely transform India from half India-half Bharat, to completely India, they are being sucked into anti social spheres, like crime, trafficking, naxalism, dacoity, indolence and what not.
When we, the haves, are being oblivious to the plight of the have-nots, it speaks a lot on our ability to sweep things under the proverbial carpet. Unfortunately, all that dust, has now grown into a mountain of Himalayan proportions, and the carpet is beginning to slide off, revealing the dust and dirt for all the world to see. It’s time for us to clean up, admit our faults, and start committing ourselves socially, by not just donating generously to a charitable cause, but also take part in some social programmes, and take an active participatory interest as citizens of our nation and steer these children from their dark fates to a brighter hope.
It’s time to acknowledge Bharat. It’s time to stop being ashamed. It’s time to change.