Sunday, 28 February 2016

EDUCATION, POLITICS - AND PATRIOTISM

PREAMBLE AND PERSONAL THOUGHTS


Recents events have brought students and universities {well, one particular university at least} to the forefront of the public discourse and media attention, alongwith all its sad and regrettable consequents; this has given rise to yet another impassioned debate in Social Media, Media as well as normal homes  - with both the Pro BJP and the anti BJP lobbies again rising to the occasion, as it were. FB posts, Whatsapp updates in support of the BJP, or questioning it are the order of the day once again, after a short breather...


Next, the Government : I am a middle roader. I criticize where criticism is warranted, praise where praise is due. I have begun to note a clear polarisation of camps into pro and anti BJP, and that makes me highly uncomfortable; both camps claiming the other is wrong, and both sides being demonstrably and completely wrong in at least some of their contentions. Having been questioned by close friends and family on this, I intend to keep my peace. The way forward cannot be arguments with the people you love. Some of my readers have stated I am dodging the issue...


What you call dodging is in reality steering clear of issues where no clear evidence is available for me to take a defined position; that is why I have avoided the specific issue of Mr Kanhaiyya, and have transposed it into the larger College issue. I do not have access to information that enables me to take a stand, and taking a position based on opinionated Media peices is not me. Neither is such a position fair, nor is it desirable.




THE EPISODE


On what evidence are we saying Kanhaiyya is guilty? Conversely, on what evidence are we saying he is innocent? I have seen nothing that confirms either way. If he is guilty, frankly, as a proud Indian, I stand solidly with the pro-BJP camp on this. No one  can be allowed to shout anti-India slogans, and that is my stated position on this : note the the clear and big "if"


Conversely, if he is innocent, {as well as the others}, then he should be exonerated. Then the public will be justified in asking the Government for answers on the episode - not before. I can raise many questions - droves of them - on either side of the coin, none of which has satisfactory answers. Thus, if I am to state an opinion basis available data that I have run across, it would be erroneous.  If he is innocent, far more good would be done by first approaching in a calm manner, laying the complete facts before the public...


It would be really tragic if he turns out to be innocent; that I readily grant. Then, the questions will be asked. The question is how can I as an individual help in such a scenario, given I dont know him, or anything about him? Answer : keeping my peace, hoping in and trusting the Judiciary, and God. Time will tell. It would be a capital mistake to fan emotions by taking any stance in the absence of direction and information. That way lies a path none of us want to take...




 

THE LARGER QUESTION OF OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM

 

HISTORY : LETS US MOVE ON


I draw your attention to Mrs Irani's speech, specifically the third part on youtube. Watch it carefully - not for her intonations, and skills - but for the facts she states. She raises several interesting - deeply interesting - points. I would rather you read it than listen; I prefer reading speeches minus the emotion that distorts understanding. Try and answer those points: Mahishasur, Dalit, Aryan, Aurangzeb, Shivaji and others; all making reference to History. That is one. Then look at the books she shows used in our classrooms, or were used at any rate. That is two.


Moving on - there are two sides : or rather three. History,  Common Sense, and Politics. Regarding History and its related matters, it would be best for me, as well as others, to maintain silence, at least on matters with modern relevance, as these have many parameters than need negotiation, and is thus beyond the scope or recommendation of a blog without a proper detailed study. {Look at my history articles to get an idea of what a study entails; and such dicey matters require far more solid research before any attempt at penning an opinion can be made}


PATRIOTISM AND EDUCATION


Much has been said about nationalism and patriotism; you regard Universities as places of Patriotism? The people who run away from India, change citizenship come from our universities, dont they? What are we doing wrong in our education system? Are we creating Indians, or are we creating people who place self above nation,  who run away, people for whom professional achievement is above national purpose?


The ones who choose self above nation, are ALL highly educated. How many IITians have joined the Army, pray tell? {Just an example}. So yes, the ones who run away DO come from Universities, and . the damage from these has never been calculated; if it were done, I for one would not be surprised if the number beats hollow any benefits accrued, and then some. But let us leave this line of thought here, lest we digress from the topic at hand.


Sure, the Universities produce patriots as well; I could name them at length, for years and years, the list is so long. But few of these are patriots because of what they learnt in college. Statement of simple fact. Do we teach nationalism, patriotism, tales of sacrifice and courage in our Colleges, outside of History Graduation? We dont. QED.


Why do you attend college? To study, get an education - or to indulge in sloganeering? I too have been to college, and never did anything of the sort. Why are politics allowed within the colleges is not the point; what the hell are students doing is the point. I dont buy the nonsense of student activism; students are meant to study, play and get skilled for the nation – not indulge in politics, in my humble opinion


It is for this reason I have a total lack of connect with any students who indulge in this nonsense on any side of the debate. Sorry. Our parents dont send us to college, sacrificing sweat, blood and toil for us to scream slogans against real or imagined injustices. Not done. Period; Try doing politics in your offices, and see how long you survive! Open Challenge!


Was there over-reaction? Maybe. Were they guilty? No idea; on balance - unlikely, but am no expert. Did they deserve the public thrashing? Obviously, no. That does NOT absolve them in my mind in soiling the halloed place of learning we should rightly be calling a Gurukul, a place where we should be on our knees in front of The Goddess Saraswati {for Sanaatanis} ... and giving our thanks for giving us this opportunity that was not given to more than 70% other Indians!


My views may not be shared by you; fine by me. But to me a place of learning isnt a bloody political battlefield, but a place next only to a Temple, a place of dedication and worship no less than a Temple. As a matter of fact, to quote my friend and senior Amitabh Sinha, Vishal, if you're a Sanatani - as you claim you are - you know that a temple is anywhere where the Sanatani performs his karm pooja. So when you say the University is 'next only to a temple' I'm afraid you make a mistake. A University IS a temple for it is here where the teacher and the taught both offer their karm pooja. Is this the way to behave in a temple? Othermay have their views, but this doesn’t fit in mine. Go ahead, Call me an idealist...


{For the record : Me and Amit Sir have our differences of opinion, and the above quote is part of a much longer argument or discussion, with all its varied mutual disagreements}


We scream blue murder just on the question of flying the beloved Tricolor above our universities! The thankless people who go away, after feasting on scarce tax-payers money, scarce seats : where are they from? The UNIVERSITIES. What value and moral education is imparted? Lessons on patriotism, and the sacrifices people have done so that these students can study? This isnt taught - and that is fine. So, by corollary, how can politics be acceptable? First introduce value education, nation concepts as a part of the curricula, and THEN think of politics.


Sure politics has a place in every feature in life; but not active politics. Therein lies the difference. At best, places of learning can be places where opinions are formed, to be expressed later in more mature fora; but wasting the time of your Guru, your teachers, the nation, your parents is not done. Can you hold such enclaves in the workplace? Why not? Then how is something not allowed in the office be allowed in the Temple of Education? We cant have double standards!


Would the Army allow such sloganeering? Why not? Would Infosys? Brittannia? Nestle? Hero? Parle? TCS? TISCO? Tata Steel? Godrej? Bajaj? Reliance Group? Cello?  What's good for the goose should be good for the gander. As it isnt allowed, obviously there is some very practical reason for it: call it what you will. What are we doing in places of education indulging in something that 95+% of the time will have zero positive career impetus, and will in fact, as has proven to be the case, become a major career hindrance?



I can only indulge in a fervent and innocent hope that this incident is a one-off, does not represent the trend in our colleges and Universities, that 95%+ of our educational institutions are actually free from political interference in a major way at least insofar as performance of the core function of imparting knowledge to students is concerned... it may be an idealist hope, sound far-fetched... but then, optimists and realists have never changed the world...

Sunday, 21 February 2016

THE TRICOLOR - A SHOCKING DEBATE!

This was not a news item that had touched me; in fact, I had dismissed it as just another routine decision by the Government – the one on the National Flag, our beloved Tirangaa. Ok, I thought : so universities have to display the flag; nothing passed my mind – no issue, no question, no controversy. Therefore, I found it surprising when I started getting whatsapp updates on how Arnab is liked for his stance; I also ran into a couple of facebook updates on his now-famous Newhour Debate on the Tirangaa issue.




My interest was piqued, and I watched the programme - with bile rising in my throat, tears in my eyes and with a mind numbed and shocked into total disbelief at the display – nay, the mind-numbingly tasteless display that was being presented on the screen. I mean, seriously – you are actually debating about whether or not the decision to tell universities to fly the flag is a correct one? Now how can this be a matter of debate?



MY REACTION

And yet – the evidence of my eyes, my ears and my mind was inescapable : this was a matter of debate; at least in some quarters. The tricolor, our Tirangaa is the pride of every Indian – that I am sure of; then how does this question even arise that telling Universities of fly the flag is debatable? How can it become an issue –even a mild one? But that is precisely what was transpiring in front of my very eyes; that was what my memory also reminded me, with those posts and those updates. A simple google search completed the picture, and I was left in shock, and crying...


The arguments presented by the people objecting were strange; I would call them funny if the matter weren’t so emotionally charged. Liberalism, Intervention, Timing, Extremist Nationalism etc were the reasons trotted out. Some of these, on the face of it, sound perfectly reasonable; especially when viewed individually, and on their own; but the moment you place them in the context of the National Flag, our Tirangaa – it becomes another matter entirely. This is, frankly, a routine albeit laudable decision taken by the Government, one which really has no basis for argument.


This is about the National Flag, which  is the symbol of our nation. It isn’t about anything small; The Flag is what represents India. Any which way you look at it, this is a big, big deal. The Flag is what The Army fights for, The Air Force fights for, The Navy fights for, the Sportsman representing India in international events takes pride in, the scientific achiever in conferences sits under, the diplomats sport on their embassies, the normal Indian loves and takes pride in. People have died trying to protect the flag, and what it symbolizes, and yet this is an issue in some minds?



THE OBJECTIONS TO THE DECISION

The questions raised center around Timing of the Decision, Politically expedient, Liberalism, Intervention, Autonomy of Universities, Extremist Nationalism. Take timing – how can any time be wrong to fly our Tricolor? Are we saying that it is wrong to fly the tricolor? Why on earth? Why should we not fly the flag – and in our own country? How can stoking nationalism and a feeling of pride in our nation be wrong at any point in time? That is a positive step, so how does it acquire negative connotations? The logic escapes me!  


And how is it politically expedient? Is the Government peddling its own party? No! It is simply saying to Central Universities : Fly the National Flag! Ok, fine – this decision is coming in the middle of some protests in one, two or three universities, agreed and granted. So what? The decision to fly the Flag applies to all Universities, for starters. Next, The Flag represents India, and stokes a feeling of love and pride in our nation. So how can that be wrong? It might even be a great decision – given that at least I feel an immense satisfaction, calm and pride whenever I spot the flag!


Any Central University is an Indian entity, first of all. So the question of Autonomy or intervention is also moot. Autonomy does not mean that you do not fly the Flag! How is asking the University to Fly the Flag an issue of Autonomy? I heard one professor state the University Flag flies –but how can this relatively unimportant flag compare with the National Flag? Which flag is more important-  and how can you object to the national Flag being given precedence over your own flag? As an ex-soldier observed, and I concur – are these not in Indian Territory, and Indian Institutions? How can anyone compare the National Flag with a local flag?


The even more amazing argument is Autonomy. Just how is the Flag, the Tirangaa, intervening in anyone’s autonomy of functioning? It is not intervening in your day-to-day functioning, or stopping you from your duties. As an Indian University, how can the National Flag intervene? It should be the opposite – it should stoke pride, and a desire to work and study harder for the sake of the nation! That is actually strengthening the duties and tasks of Universities, who are responsible for delivering trained people for Indian Institutions and companies, taking  forward the cause of the nation!


The saddest argument presented is Extreme Nationalism; how can flying the Flag be termed Extreme Nationalism? What is so damning about flying our Tricolor that some people term it Extreme? Absolutely nothing, that is what! The Flag is representative of All India and all its citizens, and is a powerful symbol of our nation and our pride. What is extreme in asking that it be flown? It is simply a powerful and symbolic reminder of our duties towards our nation!



THE UNIVERSITIES AND THE NATION

The Universities of India have regularly been producing two kinds of people – patriots who stay in India, join the Armed Forces, The Police, The IAS, Universities and Schools, Hospitals, Other Services, Private Companies in India, open their business in India, and contribute in myriad ways to the development of our holy motherland.  They work hard, combat various problems and imperfections that our land is famous for – but stay, struggle, live, love, and contribute here.


These same Universities also produce a steady stream of people who leave India, go abroad, and even surrender their citizenship. These people forget India – to say nothing of The Tirangaa, and prefer to contribute to other  nations, other economies, and other flags than our own. This is a hard reality, and is an inescapable fact. Thus, in a small way, flying the National Flag on the Universities – even if it converts one student to stay, it will have been well worth the effort. Ek Se Ek Jude Ek Zanjeer Bane is what I say. There have also been protests that, as per some Media reports, have some objectionable content. In that light, any even small step that can reinforce nationalist feelings in howsoever small a way should be welcome – and the National Flag is by no means a small step!


People from these same universities who stay in India indulge in various acts that harm India in many ways, like Corruption, and many other social and other evils; as well as other, more grievous but thankfully minor incidents or one-off incidents that have occurred. There is a strong and crying need for a surge in nationalist sentiment so that the Agenda of development can be carried forward, and where better to start that than the place that churns out the people who will carry forward the idea of India, who will eventually go on to lead India?


As a matter of fact, this should be introduced in as many places as feasible – upto school level, as it would serve as a powerful reminder as well as a education to the young  growing up children, some or most of whom will want to know more about the Flag, once they see it more often. Sure, it is a small step – but it is the small, even tiny, but powerfully symbolic steps that have the most far-reaching and strong impact on a people, a society and a nation. And given our overt and obvious love for the Tirangaa, it is bound to kindle a slow change. Kudos to the BJP for thinking of this, and never mind any of the so-called objections...



CONCLUSION

This has, in many ways, been the most shocking and sad debate I have seen in my life. That The National Flag, for which people have died, for which countless young Indians have laid their lives without a second thought – should be a subject of such a sorry debate is mind-numbing, and totally unacceptable. I agree with those who say that this is not open to negotiation;  that this is a long-overdue step that has been taken by a superb Government. Credit where credit is due.


It is surprising that some people find this decision of flying The National Flag at Universities objectionable, and is being politicized by some quarters. It is fine if these places of education produce people who forget the flag, the nation and move abroad? It is even a matter of pride with regard to how many people have gone abroad – but no, the call to simply fly the National Flag is met with objections from some quarters? This symbolic gesture is met with various inane objections and politicization! Why cant we just accept it as a routine, symbolic gesture rather than a political one?



We need a symbolic gesture, a symbol, a reminder as it were, of the idea of India in these trying times. Symbols are known to have a powerful presence and impact, and that is why, given the recent history, it is also good to have this small but potentially powerful step. Full marks to the Government for thinking of this. We need to drive in the idea of India deep into the minds and hearts of all the people-  and where better than a University to start this? In conclusion,  can only state: People have died for this very Tirangaa. Respect that at least, if nothing else. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Bengal Famine 1940s : The Famine Commission : A Cover Up?

Reference Material : Churchill's Secret War by Madhushree Mukherjee

The years 1942 and 1943 will remain etched in Indian History as one of the most horrifying in recent memory, with the onset of the Bengal Famine, a famine in which nearly 5.4 estimated Indians perished. This famine has been researched by Ms Madhushree Mukherjee in her book Churchill’s Secret War, and reveals a stunning story of official apathy and brutality.


Scorched Earth policy was implemented by the "gentle" "civilized" "human" British in Bengal, Assam and much of East India. The horrifying impact of this has to be read to be understood! Fact 2: food was continuously sent to Europe to feed the newly-liberated European lands, to build a stockpile for the Invasion, and to buttress British food stocks. This was done even when there was no need for such heavy stockpiling. This was done even as Indians were dying by the millions... if anyone stock-piled food during the famine, it was the British.


Food was deliberately not sent to India, or retained in India  just so the British could be well-fed. In the same Bengal, the British were eating 5-course meals! The book proves that the British were holding stocks of food that were far in excess of what they required. Thus, they not only caused the problem, they also exacerbated it. Aid from other nations was denied by the authorities. Shipping issues, as well as offers for aid were not implemented, while exports of food took place, despite the severity of the situation


The resulting mess and mass death forced the British to constitute a Famine Commission, whose terms and whose approach remains unchallenged to this day, at least till the advent of this superb research by Ms Mukherjee spanning a wide spectrum of original documents from both India as well as the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and is a treatise of the highest order.




The Famine Commission did not do a fair analysis, of that their can be no doubt whatsoever, as a study of the records shows. As per the data, in late 1943, the then Vicerow Wavell recieved pressure from Bengal for an enquiry. The Secretary of State for India had advised against any definitive commitment {quote from book, pg 267}.




Later on, they had to succumb to an enquiry; but things got very interesting from that point on. Specific conditions were imposed on the topics which the enquiry was permitted to consider. These would include an avoidance of strategical and other circumstances as may have contributed to internal transportation difficulties or affected H.M.G's decisions in regard to shipping of imports. Nor was th commission permitted to summon testimonies from anyone who has since left India (Such as Linlithgow) - page 267. Endnote reference given is 2, which tallies with Mansberg, the transfer of power, Vol IV, 461, 468, 725




Thus, the commission looked only at local factors, and ignored any leads that indicted London. Is that fair? I dont think so.




"For Instance, although the commission deplored the policy of food and boat denial, it heard nothing about the Scorched Earth orders issed by the War Cabinet. The Commission also left the impression that that only imports of rice, not wheat, would have broken the famine, which was far from having been the case. Nor did it discuss any of the international offers of aid that were rejected" Pg 267




Note that : Scorched Earth was employed NOT by the Nazis - but by the people who claim to have saved the world - and in our India. Also note the term Strategic : I am at a total loss of words at this...



Continuing on the same page, 267 - I quote :
"Hints of a cover-up abound. Amery's diary do not contain any  mention of Scorched Earth, and his papers are missing the pertinent correspondence with India. The testimonies submitted to the famine commission were reportedly to have been destroyed [except for one copy that survived as the Nanavati Papers]. Civil Servant Leonard G Pinnell stated in his unpublished memoir that he had restrained his own set of testimonies, but its location is unknown. The unpublished memoir of civil servant Olaf Martin, written some time after the war, is missing pages that appear to have dealt with his refusal to serve as chief secretary of Bengal. 'At time time, I had to be careful what I said' Martin recalled of 1943, 'just as at present, I have to be careful what I write" Endnote reference is 4, which is doubly damning : CSAC, Olaf C Martin Papers, Memoir,  247 {Pages 312-331 are missing}; Mitra, Tin Kuri Dash, 167




At least one India Office File on rice exports to Ceylon has been destroyed, and another on Canada's offer for wheat is missing. No figures could be found for Rice exports from India in 1943-1944.



" In the Minutes of a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff, available on microfilm at th National Archives of The United Kingdom, a section dealing with shipping to India is blacked out"- pg 267. Cabinet Secretaries notes on War cabinet discussions stop abruptly in mid-1943 - Just before Cherwell, Leathers and Grigg made their August Decision to deny relief to Bengal. The papers of Laurence Burgis make no mention of India in Aug 4, 1944 when Amery compared Churchill with Hitler.




It appears that the famine commission also suppressed the results of a government sponsored survey on famine mortality, and presented its own instead.




The above facts are saying only one thing - the commission looks like a sham to cover up one of the most heinous crimes committed by any human or set of humans on this planet. The book goes on to prove that the famine toll was around 5.4 Million. And few people in even India, let alone the West, are aware of this dastardly act that I call a Holocaust was forced on our hapless people.

Germany was made to pay reparations, war crimes were punished, nations have apologized for its ill-deeds - but to this day their has been no justice for the victims of this unknown holocaust; let alone justice - there hasnt even been an apology... that is the truth. The perpetrators of this crime are no more, most of them... and there the matter ends. Now, it is only a question of a apology, let us not forget that the current generation have done nothing to harm us! A genuine apology would suffice! 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Participative Growth - The Need For A 3-Pronged Approach

It has been stated that Industry level growth is the key, the answer to India’s many woes, that industrialisation and its attendant advantages will ensure growth eventually percolates to all levels of society. The caveat in that line of thought is “Eventually” : just how long is eventually supposed to mean? How many lives and generations will have to suffer the pangs of poverty till that eventuality transpires? And, what do we do in the interim?


These people are equal to us, the privileged class – the ones with education and great {or good or even average} well paying jobs. They are our equals in every single way; they have the same rights as us, they have the same dreams and desires as us. The luck of birth, and the chance of education that has been provided us has ensured we live well, by the grace of God. Granted that some among the poorer classes do manage to break the shackles and grow out of poverty; but does that mean we forget the rest of them?


There is a tendency, a rather unfortunate tendency, among the educated classes to equate GDP growth and Industrialisation with the concept of solutions to poverty. That is unfortunate; granted that it is one of the factors that lead to resolution – but this path does not take the full picture into consideration. That Industrialisation is needed is a given; again, a correct observation. I dont differentiate between manufacturing or service here - the creation of options that can be filled by educated people is a needed reality, one which is not upto to speed in the current economy. But who will benefit from this Industrialisation?


The educated people - that is who. The ones with a professional college degree will get the best jobs; the ones with some basic college degree will land jobs and careers that ensures a stable decent life for them and their families; the high-schoolers will get the next level of vacancies; the rest will make do with poorly paid menial jobs and temporary jobs. Some will take advantage of become entrepreneurs, unlocking further jobs and careers for people – but entrepreneurship also generally requires education and a defined skill-set, although service sector entrepreneurship is a different ball-game altogether.


The problem is that the current generation of the poorest segments just cannot afford education for their children; so the question of them benefiting immensely {beyond labour jobs, often poorly paid} does not arise. It only increases the gap; this does not mean we dont industrialise; this does create jobs - even though they are poorly paid ones at the bottom of the pyramid. The key is get out of this vicious circle of poverty. That can only happen throughthe enabler of education, nothing else.


Industrialisation in such an atmosphere does create jobs at all skill levels, but the better jobs that can ensure a proper life are reserved for the educated, as these require certain skills. So how do the poorest and the poor break the barrier? It is manifestly infeasible. There have been jobs created - Engineers, Entrepreneurs, Doctors, Professionals, even Clerical Jobs, Service jobs - a whole new paradigm of change has happened with economic growth. That is beyond debate.  Poverty has also reduced; people have gotten better off, No one can argue with that; the evidence is there for all to see. But we cannot rest on our laurels; not when you see the remaining poor all around you.


Menial jobs for the uneducated and low clerical jobs for the less educated {upto 5-10 years schooling} have been created; these just dont pay enough to ensure a full education to the children often enough. The pace of creation of jobs has also not kept up with the demand, So how to get out of this? Change is happening; but the pace of change is slow; almost too slow. That is the main point of concern for us as a people. We need to increase the pace of change, the pace of growth - as well as ensure that it percolates to the most hapless people in our midst. Like us, they are equal citizens, and we should do far more to ensure they grow.


How do you ensure that jobs lead to development at all levels, without education? How do you ensure that education without jobs will lead to happiness? Both are recipes for trouble; that said, it is true that the latter - education without jobs - can be more harmful as it has the potential to unleash frustration among the educated unemployed. But does that mean we forget the benefits education brings, and place education on a back burner, and not on centre-stage, as the cynosure of all our efforts to modernise our nation and our economy?


What is needed is a balanced approach  - one that caters to Industrialisation, as well as a full scale war-like approach towards education. While the former is happening, the latter is not yet in the public imagination, or Government policy, judging from media space as well as action on Start-ups, Economy, FDI, GDP, Industrialisation etc. Even this two-pronged approach has its disadvantage – it leaves out all of the Agricultural sector from its ambit, where the farmers and the labourers just aren’t earning enough to ensure anything other than a basic life.


And the Rural community, where the farmers and the landless labourers are concentrated, form the bulk of India. We, the Urban Indians, are the exceptions; they are representative – as they are in a majority. High time that we Urban Indians faced upto that hard reality!


And that is yet another reason why Agriculture and its problems need to be defined properly, and solved at the earliest; that can unlock earning potential faster than any other avenue or venture available to us as a people. That will also tend to reverse the trendline we saw in my previous article - with rising imports increasingly becoming a reality



We need to enable the government to allocate more attention to the development of Agriculture than it currently does; that can only happen if the voice of the people reaches the government in a democratic fashion, in Media articles, through people's letters, small {tiny} forums like this blog and its readers and so on and so forth. Urban India needs to realise and understand that improving Agriculture will lead to improvement of the Urban scenario as well, that it is far more important to elevate our villages than it is to build Urban Infrastructure, given the paucity of resources we have! What these initiatives can be forms the next part of this series on participative growth...

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Rural India : How Can We Ensure Participative Growth?

Continuing the series of thoughts on farming, let us  look at some real examples of human tragedy – not suicide, but examples of poverty in farming and rural India to put things in perspective, and look at the scale of the problems facing us as a nation. We in Urban India wax eloquent on industry, technology developments; the question is how to give amelioration in the rural tracts of the country? How can we ensure participative growth? I am not looking at the economic argument of trickle down versus inclusive growth; I am looking at the human side of things – which, in my opinion, is the only way to look at things.


That is a question that requires an understanding of the scale and nature of the problem confronting us. In a previous article, I had listed the problems facing agriculture; and had also analysed profitability from farming Wheat and Paddy for a period of seven years. Those articles list a series of research reports that provide hard data on the abysmal status of the farming community as a general statement;  specifically the Small and Marginal Farmers {and the landless}


To quote from that article : “Now take a look at the absolute numbers of profit that are coming out. It is ranging from a loss of 1400 Rs per crop, to a profit of 9700 approximately per crop. What can a family do in that meagre amount? “ That is one aspect of the problem; the second aspect is the number of Small and Marginal Farmers in India, with holdings of less than 2Ha {avg holding size is 1.41Ha approximately, from memory} – these number more than 70% of total farm holdings, which are in the region of 116 Million, and might even be 80%+ of holdings. We are looking at a huge number:  90 Million Families. Add to that landless agricultural labour, and the reality stares at you in its stark and naked truth : We are talking of 100s of Millions of people.


You might state – with some degree of accuracy – that industrial development will create opportunities and jobs, that slow change will trickle down to all levels. There are two major objections to this from a human perspective. The first challenge is how will uneducated people, people with limited skills outside farming take true advantage of industrial growth? And are the opportunity creations in the rural areas – or are they in the cities? Are we capable of dealing with increasing inward migration and pressure on the cities, or are we creating urban slums? Will the displaced labour get an improved life?


Second level of the problem in this approach is, trickle down takes place over a period of time; that it is effective in eradicating poverty over time is not in debate, under the proper set of conditions. What happens to the people in the meantime? That is why a large level of intervention and help is required by these people from the State as well as the Haves of society. This is so that they can live a decent life, and enable to them to provide health and education to their children. These are the “proper set of circumstances” I am referring to – are we, as a people, truly and really focussing on education and on health?


How can people move from Farming to jobs without a decent education and a functioning and delivering health scenario? Without access to affordable health services of a standard, and access to affordable schooling of a proper education standard that helps in developing the demographic dividend we are so fond of extolling? Thus, if you have focus on Urban India, on Infrastructure {which also benefits rural India}, without an adequate focus on education and health – where is the guarantee that development will percolate faster than what is the current rate?


Given the vagaries of farming in India as a profession and its attendant challenges {my post}, it is a requirement that a helping hand be extended to the farming community for us as a people; Urban Indians would do well to understand that rural India and farmers in particular are facing a series of challenges that have led to serious problems and losses for them as a community, especially in the immediately preceding few years, as covered in my previous article.


The challenge is misunderstood to be one of creating jobs and opportunities – it is also one of creating the right conditions that will enable the rural community to actively partake in developmental opportunities cutting across income lines. That means education & a decent livelihood for their current status that can enable them to attend school. With the terrifyingly low income levels that we have seen, how can a father ensure a decent education and health to his children  and his family?


Are we, as a nation, giving adequate attention to education and to health? Ask that question of yourselves...


To understand,  read this hard hitting article with live examples of the reality of Rural India : http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/bundelkhand-this-year-nothing-has-been-sown/


AKASH, 12
Akash says he stayed back because he did not want to miss school. “I don’t want to be a labourer. I want to get a government job,” he smiles. But for the Class VI student, life has changed. His grandfather is 65, and the 12-year-old must sweep the floor, prepare the hearth in the kitchen with cowdung cakes, and often make chapatis before he leaves for school at 8 am. “I know how to knead atta,” he says. “Today there were no vegetables, so we made chutney.” Chaudhary Sundar Singh Inter-College where he studies is about 10 km away, and he cycles there. When he returns at 4 pm, the chapatis from the morning serve as meal. “This year nothing has been sown, increasing the migration to other states,” says pradhan Raju Dixit, adding that many in Mahoba have also disowned their cattle...


JAVITRI, 18
Just before Diwali last year, trucks queued up outside Chichara village on NH 86, just like the past few years. Among the villagers who left on it for brick kilns of Rajasthan were parents of 18-year-old Javitri. Last year the crops on their one-bigha land were damaged by rains, and this time, the fields were not sown because of lack of water. Village pradhan Narendra says nearly 30 per cent of the residents of Chichara, that has a population of about 3,500, have left in search of work. Villagers say earlier only the poor migrated, now even landowning communities do. “Even Thakurs and Brahmins have left,” says Dinesh Dwivedi.  Javitri, who dropped out of school in 2014 after Class XI as her family couldn’t afford her studies, lives alone in the family’s two-room home now. Her aunt and uncle live next door...


DHALCHAND PATEL, 46
Dhalchand Patel’s father Chaturbhuj had taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh using his Kisan credit card four years ago. The Patels own 10 acres in Ghutai village of Mahoba. Chaturbhuj died in summer last year, leaving behind a family of six and the unpaid loan. On December 21, Dhalchand, 46, was found dead on a railway track nearby. His family members say he had got a notice to attend a Lok Adalat in connection with the loan. “The night before his death, he spoke to me about the loan. He was worried,” says Pratap Singh, Dhalchand’s uncle and the village pradhan


RAM BABU UPADHYAY, 40
In Kalipahadi village near Mahoba town, Ram Babu Upadhyay, 40, had been struggling to irrigate his eight bigha land, on which he had sown wheat. On January 21, while discussing his problem, Upadhyay fainted, and died before reaching hospital. “The wheat crop is our only hope,” says his widow Pinki, holding their two-year-old son Manav. Most of the tubewells have dried up here, with handpumps only providing enough water for drinking. Most of the seven rivers in Mahoba are also dry. The biggest irrigation project, Arjun Sahayak Pariyojana, inaugurated in 2009, is still not complete. The budget was recently doubled to around Rs 1,600 crore. The Rs 7,266-crore Bundelkhand Package, also announced in 2009, kept aside Rs 3,506 crore for the UP districts. It has proved ineffectual in this round of droughts


RAMESHWAR PRASAD RAJPUT , 59
Wearing a torn shirt and trousers, Rajput says his condition has only worsened since. “Both my sons work as labourers. I work as a security guard in Surat. My daughter-in-law’s two deliveries cost me Rs 80,000, and I had to pawn my four bighas..



Each case a testament of the status of Rural India, although these cases are from Bundelkhand, They, each of them, give an indication of the apathy in our society, of societal ills, of lack of access to education, and of distress. The cases tell of societal pressure, of failure of crops, of migration, of deep distress... how can these people or their wards partake in development that we are so fond of extolling? That is why, these people need a helping hand, and that is why Governments regardless of party lines give that helping hand. They need it, they need our help...



Not everything in life can be a simple profit-and-loss statement. Some things are beyond that, the call of humanity. Rather than question the aid given to them without suggesting alternative solutions, let us introspect as to how can we turn around the situation? How can we ensure participative growth? It is easy to state that curtail this and that; rather than do that,  the question should be, is and remains : how can we ensure skills, education, a decent life to our fellow citizens? 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Famers, and The Urban Indian

The past few months {and more} have seen a whirlwind of news regarding great moves by the NaMo Government; highlighting a series of developments and laudable initiatives by this Government by the Media as well as the Bhakt Brigade on Social Media. That is indeed good; a positive environment engenders a powerful impetus towards growth, and is a significant factor. Positivity engenders growth and development, problem resolution in a manner negativity can never do.

In all this euphoria and positivity, one factor lies ignored; the status of the Agriculture Sector. This article isn’t about The NaMo Government, but about our {Urban India’s} response – or lack of it – regarding the Agriculture Sector, about how it has taken the back seat, and about how we just don’t respond, or are not even aware of, the status of this sector, its issues and the problems that plague it. While news regarding Farmer Suicides reaches us due to the sensationality factor, the real issues and problems this sector faces never reach us. And for that, we the people are to blame.

Rising Farmer Distress in some parts of India, for example in Maharashtra is but one aspect of this; the aspect of drought that has hit large tracts of India is another and potentially more troublesome and serious a factor to hit us. Add to this the lack of serious attention to the myriad problems that inflict the agricultural scenario, like Seeds for example, or unbalanced fertilization to take another pertinent and current example.

And yet, despite the scale of these problems, neither the mainstream Media or the larger Social Media is focussed on these factors; the large number of news articles, updates etc are built around digitisation moves of the current Government, Smart Cities, Bullet Trains, Railway Modernisation, Make In India, Digital India, FDI and Economic Growth, Basic Office Hygeine steps by the NaMo Government, Aggression {long-needed} towards the needs of the Armed Forces etc.

Not one of the points listed above is unimportant; not one is without value. Each step truly laudable in its own right, and very welcome. Credit where credit is due; fact is fact. But critically and interestingly, Crop Insurance apart, no news in relation to the Agriculture Sector has made it to Social Media, or to the News that I am aware of – not to the tune of the others, those I mentioned above. That means either the Government has done nothing; which is highly debatable – given that there is a ministry devoted to this; or that we aren’t aware of it- which is far more likely.

The state of affairs in Indian Agriculture is there for all to see, and requires no data to prove it. The shocking evidence of your eyes should shake anyone from stem to stern, with rampant poverty, and abject conditions the moment you move into the Rural parts of India. And yet, we Urban Indians continue to bask in the glory of moves and steps that largely benefit Urban India; I refer to Smart Cities, Make In India and Bullet Trains etc. Even the praise of Digitisation in Social Media hovers around facilities for Urban Indians! Why doesn’t the status of the Farming Community in India reach the consciousness of us Urban Indians?

The news that is coming out is disturbing, to say the least; The Maharashtra government has declared a "drought-like condition" in 14,708 of the state's 43,000 villages. This means the drought covers 34% of the state, as per a Times of India Report. Another Hindustan Times report states As of Nov-end, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions.  That is approximately 50% of India. Another report from October categorically mentions : For India to grow at 8%, agriculture must grow at least 4%. Yet, the farm sector has barely crawled at 1.9% in the first quarter (April-June) this year. It could get worse when the effects of a widespread drought become visible in the next few months.

The same report goes on : Between April 2014 and February 2015, the value of India’s farm exports dropped nearly 3%, as prices in global commodity markets fell. In August this year, tractor sales were down 23%. Rural wages rose at a slower 4.6% pace in a 12-month period ending in June, compared to a 12% rise in the same period a year ago.; earlier, the same report made this point : Alarmingly, a rural distress — marked by slowing wages, poor incomes and lower profits from farming — now looks getting entrenched.


{Image Credit : Hindustan Times, article linked in references}



Another Hindustan Times article strips the Urban Indian naked in this blunt statement, which I fully endorse : Obsessed with the latest, hyper-emotional social media trend, India’s people and mass media are all but oblivious to Bharat’s emergency situation. The only national newspaper that has consistently followed collapsing farms and failing rains is Mint. As of last week, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions. If you ask why none of this is on India’s primetime television shows or splashed on front pages, I will only say that the media, in general, are not interested and neither, dear reader, are we. Sad, but a completely factual indictment of the status of Social Media.

The same report had made this point : The data indicate the essentially dead-end nature of Bharat’s jobs and realities and a worsening farm economy, which grew only 0.2% last year. If it grows that much this year, we should be lucky. The under-reported and largely ignored farm crisis has been made greatly worse and more urgent by two years of scanty rain. Fact upon relentless fact can be piled up to build the case of neglect by we the people in our consciousness...

Going further, a Reuters report goes even further, with facts : Last month, India made its first purchases of corn in 16 years. It has also been increasing purchases of other products, such as lentils and oilmeals, as production falls short. Wheat and sugar stocks, while sufficient in warehouses now, are depleting fast, leading some traders to predict the need for imports next year. The same report also has this stunning statement from an analyst : "There's a complete collapse of Indian agriculture, and that's because of the callous neglect by the government," said Devinder Sharma, an independent food and trade policy analyst.

In our Euphoria about the various Urban developments, somewhere along the line, the hands that feed us, the hands we owe everything to – the farming community in India, lie forgotten. This does not reach the awareness of Social Media, which is busy extolling the virtues of Urban Development and the various and admittedly excellent steps undertaken by this Government in its tenure so far. The reality of the farming scene is  not even on the radar of Urban India.

Furthermore, the other side of the story lies forgotten. I had noted categorically in my budget analysis last year, and I quote : And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments.{ http://reflectionsvvk.blogspot.in/2015/03/is-this-government-on-wrong-path.html}

Note this article from The Indian Express, which corroborates and confirms my reading of the state of affairs :  “During the UPA regime, the Centre contributed 90% for the initiative while the state pitched in with another 10%. But following the Narendra Modi government’s decision to slash central assistance for most centrally sponsored schemes from April 1, 2015, the Centre’s share has gone down to 60%. A condition that this reduced share will be released only after states release the matching grant was also imposed. Given the fund squeeze in the state, officials admitted that funds earmarked for the scheme in 2015-16 have not been released to districts so far. The scheme is applicable in 33 out of the 36 districts in the state. With funding support drying up, it has now come to light that the societies have tapped into the unutilised development funds marked in 2014-15 for the farmer training initiative for meeting salaries of the staff. {Jan 7, 2016}

Farmers produce the food we eat; this is a fact. Their troubles should be on the forefront of the nations’ priorities; alongwith the needs of the Armed Forces. The proofs and reality given above bear mute testimony to two realities : one is the lack of awareness and churlish attitude of Urban India towards the farmers and rural India; and the other reality being the gap highlighted by the Indian Express article on the change in the method of operation of UPA vis-a-vis NDA, which is exactly what I had foretold long back. I am sure the Government will learn and take corrective measures {Note article from reuters}; question is – will we, the people, wake up and understand that it is the Rural India that requires our helping hand? That extolling Urban Developments alone does not suffice? Will the Urban Indian wake up? 

References :