Thursday, July 22, 2010

Love, like, hate, hope.

One has to love this country. If, in the midst of a minor parliamentary crisis in one of our most populous states, you can have images like these... I mean, one is appalled. And one has to love this country.

You must have read the morning papers, so I don't need to reproduce the photos but if you haven't, go look at the links.

And one also has to wonder at this country. A country that gets rid of its poor, its homeless, its desperate and hardest working people, even its dogs and bullocks and rats and snakes and elephants - all of which we worship - so that white people are not shocked when they look at us.

This is a disturbing article. Packing off 75,000 beggars, sending them out of Delhi? Not to mention 250,000 stray dogs.

Someone mentioned this on Facebook:"75,000 beggars, 60,000 pavement squatters, 800,000 slum-dwellers and 250,000 dogs" compete with "26 new flyovers, 18 railway bridges, 3,775 low-floor buses" for an Oct 3-14 (Nero's?) party whose budget inflated from initial $413m to an estimated official figure of $2bn (unofficial estimates of $6bn)"

What shocked me more than the statistics or the article itself was the response. One gentleman left a comment saying: ' is a natural tendency and even I like to clean up my house and 'push things under the carpet' whenever I ve visitors at home although there is no human cost attached to it.'

I couldn't get past that one word 'things'. Things? Things under the carpet? And 'my house'?

And that was just it. That is one of the most telling narratives about why we cannot treat ourselves with the respect we deserve as citizens. Because some of us view other people as 'things'. Dirty, messy, extraneous rags that you need around the house because what else will you use when you mop up your floors? Like servants - the people who migrate from villages that have been made poorer over the years - who you assume have no purpose in life except to come shine your floors and clean the fungus off your rotting furniture and pull your cycle rickshaws. And when the nice visitors come, it is time to brush them under the carpet. Keep the mess in the kitchen, or under the bed, or pack off the guy who sleeps on the rickshaw at night back to some village since you are so afraid that the nice visitors might be shocked at how messy your rags are.

What makes us so ugly? What does it cost the state to start looking upon people as citizens?

And beggars and pavement-dwellers are citizens. They're citizens [notwithstanding snarky attempts by the West Bengal official quoted in the article who suggests that despite being Bengali-speaking, the beggars may well be Bangladeshi, which of course would mean that the state will not have them stay. Because Bangladeshi beggars don't deserve to live, right?] and they have a right to be in the house. It's their house too. It's our house.

I am sick of people complaining about migrants and slum-dwellers who mess up your 'developed' cities. This is how cities develop. Maybe we should teach children in their history lessons in school. Cities are centres of power and they grow bigger because there is a lot of administrative and service-sector work available. But hardly ever have cities been planned to accommodate a set number of people with all the facilities they need, pre-fabricated and easily available. When population growth happens, then the state realises that it needs to expand services and citizens realise there is a larger business opportunity. That is why builders and carpenters, sweepers and restaurant-owners stay. That is how they grow. How can a builder possibly lay larger claims to the city than the labourer he brought in to build his building? How can we who live in these buildings forget that the labourer has at least a right to sleep on the streets, if we cannot find him affordable housing?

Cities like Bombay and Delhi develop explosively when there is a problem in other parts of the country. We know that. We know that displacement and drought and water and electricity are a problem. We read newspapers. We know we don't have our own water bodies, not enough to meet our needs. So we take water from villages settled beside rivers. We use their water to build dams and generate electricity to light our streets and give us air-conditioning. Then they don't have enough water and so they come to cities. And we accuse them of stealing water and electricity. Of messing up our cities. We are distressed by their presence because they are things that will need to be brushed under the carpet when nice clean visitors come visiting.

Phew! Okay, so I've let off steam. And now to go back to the article, the one positive thing I spotted was that the MCD will be building 10,000 public urinals and fining people for spitting. Hallelujah! Yippies! I hope they do. I hope the snake-charmers don't show up until after the games begin, though. It will be so much nicer for the nice, clean visitors to get a chance to watch the charmers in action. The snakes might frighten them, true, but think of how much it will boost tourism after the games are over. Delhi will be full of foreign people armed with snake-repellents and cameras and hoping to catch a glimpse of SRK playing the been.

1 comment:

Sumeet said...

The whole question of migrant/slum dwellers etc. remain troubling questions for the whole society, and it is a very legitimate question, as to Who exactly is responsible for this, and who needs to own up and do something.

When I was younger and working in non profit, I used to have a lot of empathy with the migrants and the dwellers and tried to argue (as you are doing) that the bigger opportunities in the city attracts them, they are serving the community, they earn their livelihood, hence the citizens should do something actively to alleviate their miseries.

I do not deny the necessity of social reform, but over a period of time, my perspective has grown more nuanced and cynical. The following facts need to be admitted, before venturing into a full fledged debate:

(1) Statistically, the crime rate from migrant communities is higher ( about 5 x). This creates hostile relationships in the first place

(2) The communities themselves form closed gangs and insist on segregating themselves.

(3) Efforts from NGOs etc. have hardly touched the surface of the problem.

(4) Despite all the *theoretical talk* and propaganda a sizeable difference in the wellness between people on the side of the same road (easily seen in Delhi/Bombay) continues to exist, and most government schemes have remained either on paper or failed miserably.

So devising an appropriate solution would need effort on both political integration, social acceptance, creating new jobs for the underprivileged, and ensuring selection of worthy representatives.

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