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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Make India shine for all its people, everywhere!
By Syed Shahabuddin

At a time when some hearts and minds are glowing with a ‘feel good’ factor generated by industrial upsurge, we begin to feel that we have finally taken off – at least we are poised for a take off to our legitimate and well-deserved place in the constellation of nations. But the Indian reality is too complex to be encapsulated in one set of statistics: the anticipated rate of growth of the GDP or the level of foreign exchange reserves.
The real question is whether this feeling is universal, shared by all our 1000 million plus people? Is it only the feeling of the rich, the affluent, the elite, the beautiful people, the upper classes and the rising middle classes? Is it also the feeling of the common man, who faces deprivation and indignities at every step?

National Objective in 1947
The common man was once upon a time the measure of our aspirations and our planning for the future. Gandhiji said ‘what cannot be shared with the masses is a taboo for me’. Nehru defined India’s Tryst with Destiny ‘as ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity ....., to wipe every tear from every eye’. In the Constitution, we gave to ourselves, we put in Article 21- Right to Life as a Fundamental Right and added Article 38, 39 and 47 as Directive Principles to define a life of dignity for all, as the goal of the Republic. In his concluding address the President of the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Rajendra Prasad said: "To all we give the assurance that it will be our endeavour to end poverty and squalor and its companion, hunger and disease. We assure decent condition of living for all."

National Scene Today
And where are we today in the 56th year of the Republic? The latest, the 57th Round of National Sample Survey says:
n in every 1000 rural and 1 in every 1000 urban households are chronically hungry.
n 16 in every 1000 rural and 3 in every 1000 urban households are seasonally hungry.
n Nearly 50% of our people sleep every night on empty stomach.
n Nearly half our children suffer from malnutrition and therefore from stunted growth.
The UNDP says India has the largest number of hungry people in the world.
The FAO says: 26% of the Indian people are hungry.
The WFP says: 1/3 of the Indian people are starving.
The World Development Report lists India, the second biggest country, the biggest democracy, at Sr. No. 134 from the top in a list of 178 countries!
Lakhs of homeless people in our towns and cities sleep on the pavements under the open sky and many die of cold, simply because they have no clothes, no cover, to protect them. In any city, you can find old women and children rummaging through the garbage dumps, just under the shadow of our sky-scrapers.
With a rate of growth of 1%, net employment is falling. 75 lakhs overqualified candidates recently applied for 20,195 menial jobs in the Railways. 
Prices of essential articles of mass consumption and cost of essential services are rising.
One can see queues of children waiting for a can of drinking water.
The old and the young are dying because they cannot afford doctors and medicine.

We read of parents selling their children, of peasants committing suicide, of children contracted into bondage, and minor girls raped into flesh trade.

As a nation we seem to suffer from collective but selective amnesia. We have become deaf and blind to our social environment. We have lost the feeling of compassion. We are tending to become amoral, self-centred.

We are accumulating economic capital; we may be accumulating knowledge capital. But we are dissipating our cultural capital, our moral capital, our spiritual capital. There is something wrong with our scale of values, with our sense of priorities, when moral capital is dissipated and cultural capital degenerates, when knowledge capital is wasted.

National Glory
We see national glory in stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, in fleets of fighter aircrafts, in our possession of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. We see national glory in State of Art installations, to match the best anywhere in the world.

But real national glory lies in our capacity to abolish poverty, to provide livelihood for all our people, to feed, clothe and shelter all our people, to educate all our children, to give health care to all our sick, to take care of all our handicapped, all our indigent, all our disabled, all those who are old, with no one to support them.

National glory lies in replacing our urban slums and rural ghettos into neat and hygienic living space, in providing potable water to all our mahallas and tolas, in providing social security to all the jobless.

National glory lies in creating a society without Violence, Tension and Fear, in eliminating atrocities against the Adivasis and the Dalits and the occasional pogroms against the minorities, in abolishing of hate.
National glory lies in transforming our polity into a participatory democracy, a model for the multi-ethnic States of tomorrow.
National glory lies in peace within and friendship with all our neighbours and in transforming our Sub-continent into a Zone of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation.

Face of Deprivation
Destitution is nationwide but examine it closely, it has a recognizable face. 
So has Fear which stalks the land. So has Terror and Violence.
So has Illiteracy. So has Disease
Corruption has become a way of life but he who bears the burden has a face. 

The face is not of the elite, the affluent, the beautiful people who live their own lives, attend fashion shows and shop in the glittering malls, for the latest cut and design, who dine on caviar and champagne in five star hotels, who travel by air, who live in exclusive, well guarded, well-groomed localities, whose children go to special schools, who are treated in speciality hospitals, who vacation in tourist resorts, who spend more on their pet dogs than a hundred Indians spend on themselves! 

The face is not a Beautiful Face; it is an ugly face, it is a withered face which has experienced no joys of childhood and no pleasure of youth, knows no comforts in old age.

The face is the composite face of the disinherited Adivasi, the degraded Achhut, the deprived lower Shudra and the marginalised minority.
The face is everywhere, but it is more visible in rural areas and in urban slums and in backward districts, in the tolas and mohallas where the weaker sections live.

Before the Social Divide, the Cultural Divide and the Economic Divide, we have to tackle this reality, bring smile to this face, we have to bring a little sunshine, some hope, some life in the dark corners of our national existence.

Bridging the Divide
We have to apply the test of Gandhi’s Talisman to all planning, every project, every scheme. We have to cut down the cost of governance. We have to provide the minimum good for everyone before we go for the better or the best. We have to change our priorities from production to just and equitable distribution, from high-tech to labour intensive technology; we have to change our national goals and reach out to everyone; we have to universalize gainful employment, adequate food and clothing, shelter with water and electricity, education for all our children, health care for all, welfare for the handicapped and the aged. We have to universalize justice, peace and harmony, build bridges of mutual understanding across religions, caste, cultural, linguistic and regional divides. 
The Government cannot do it. It cannot even keep peace, deal with the criminals, tackle corruption, discipline those who threaten to break the law or not to accept judicial verdicts. It cannot ban the Senas and the Trishuls and stop the flow of invectives. It cannot enact anti-hate laws, it cannot enforce the rule of law, it cannot assure justice to all.

The people can. 
For ages, our people have been silent. Now they are speaking out, often incoherently. But, whatever the language, even the language of silence, they want justice and dignity. Let us listen to their utterings and understand their modest but real aspirations.
They want the Government to change planning priorities and to cut down cost of governance, their mania for the latest, to ensure fruits of development for all. They want the Government to create an environment free of want and free of violence. They are demanding a life of dignity.
The civil society can, if it cares, if its heart is still in the right place. Let the Rich and the Beautiful cut down conspicuous consumption and their insatiable lust for good life and share the burden of development by investing tax-exempt savings, and even black money, in school education and technical training, in clinics and dispensaries, in low cost mass housing in adopted villages and towns and by promoting dialogue and goodwill across social divides.

Reinvent Idea of India
Our politics has generated corruption.
Our education has bred social antagonisms. Our development has generated disparities.

There are more hungry Indians, more illiterate Indians, more Indians suffering from disease than the entire population of our country at the moment of independence. We need a new paradigm of holistic development.

We shall reinvent the Idea of India, of Gandhi’s India, of People’s India. Thus we shall conserve our Cultural Capital, stockpile our Social and Moral and Spiritual Capital, alongwith our Knowledge, Economic and Political Capital. Then we shall really ‘feel good’, we may even ‘feel great’. Then we shall again be proud of being Indians.

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