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Archive for December, 2009

Books that give answers

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Yesterday evening, at Reliance Timeout, for launch of Dilip D’souza’s book, “Roadrunner”, there was a very insightful conversation that happened. We had the author along with India’s best historian, Ramachandra Guha and Rahul Dravid talking about India, America, about few of the the many dots that connect the two democracies and how this particular book tries to find answers while attempting to understand America from an Indian’s eyes.

But while at it, I picked up P.Sainath’s, “Everybody Loves A Good Drought”. Sainath is probably the only journalist who has worked extensively in India’s most rural districts and has, time and again, attempted to bring out the causes of the poorest of India’s citizens. I first heard about Sainath when Vidarbha was at boil over farmer suicides (I have written about Vidarbha here). The land is still at a boil and with Telangana’s formation imminent now, they might be justified in asking for a separate state as people at helm of affairs in Maharashtra and people in media have conveniently ignored Vidarbha’s problems. But all this, despite being fodder for thought is another topic altogether.

So Sainath, in the introduction of the book, emphasizes that while India’s hunger “would not make for the dramatic television footage that a Somalia and Ethiopia would do”, that is precisely the challenge before a journalist because, I quote here, “while malnourished kids may look normal, yet lack of food can impair their mental and physical growth in such a way that they suffer its debilitating impact all their lives”.

And then there is the case of the “Number of poor”. Back in 1993, the Government of India set up an expert group to estimate the people living below the poverty line. The group, after arriving at a figure of 39% (people living below the poverty line) also recommended changes in the way the Government used to estimate poverty. In a later survey, discrediting the recommendations and the figure arrived at by the expert group, the Indian Administration came at a figure of 19%. But the story does not end here. In the time that was between these two figures, a few months, the Government of India cried out aloud in the World Summit for Social Development at Copenhagen — they presented a figure of 39.9% of people below poverty line. Why? More poor, more Donors, more money. No rocket science, this.

The year this happened was 1994 but aren’t we dealing with the same problems, 15 years on?

Coming back to the conversation between these three great intellectuals that I witnessed yesterday, there was one question from the audience, regarding India still being a developing nation and not a superpower. As a part of the response to the question, the author questioned back — Why do we need to be a superpower? Ramachandra Guha seemed to agree with it and while reading Sainath’s commentary in the introduction to his book last night, I found the answer in the question — Why can’t we be a better democracy first?

We may be the world’s largest democracy and be proud of it but we are far off from being a good democracy. I think its an obligation to each and every well-wisher who is a citizen of this nation, be it you, me, an ordinary citizen or a politician, to make the world’s largest democracy a better democracy. When that happens, maybe I’ll be much more content drawing parallels between the world’s oldest democracy and the largest one.

Written by aditya kumar

December 11th, 2009 at 9:50 am