By Vaagisha Das:
Congratulating India on its 69th Independence Day, US Secretary of State John Kerry called India “a beacon for the world“. He applauds India for being united and inclusive. However, can we – as the ever pragmatic citizens of India – concede this to be true? India’s former president of India, the late Dr. Abdul Kalam, wanted India to compete amongst developed nations, but India is yet to be counted among those at the zenith. As India comes a year closer to completing seven decades of its independence, here’s how we know that we still have a long way to go.
Thirty years ago, India was home to one-fifth of world’s poor, but now it houses one-third of poor people. This means we now have more poor in India as compared to thirty years ago. The most prominent measure of poverty is the much attacked Poverty Line. This is, for appropriate reasons, also called the ‘starvation line’- it measures the calories you consume, and determines whether you qualify for being poor on the basis of this alone. So no matter if you do not have access to basic amenities like shelter, education, or even clean water- as long as you are eating bread daily, you are not counted as being poor. How do you tackle an issue if it doesn’t exist?
Unsurprisingly, most of the rural poor belong to what were once the downtrodden castes in India- which are still marginalised. The country’s great, liberal constitution was supposed to end the old obsession with the idea that your place in life, including your occupation, is set at birth. It abolished “untouchability“, which has now mostly disappeared from Indian society. Various laws forbid discrimination by caste. Which is why it is ironic how voters in ‘modern India’ are easily swayed by notions of the candidate belonging to a particular caste- Mayawati, the leader of the Dalit party, wins by landslides on the very notion. Add to this the instance of the Madhya Pradesh government refusing eggs for mid- day meals (it does not conform to their notions of upper caste meals, never mind the malnutrition suffered) and the situation becomes downright absurd. If we see how far we’ve come by looking at the serious notion of honour killings, and is it clear, not far at all.
Khap panchayats are not the only ones practicing dangerous forms of moral policing. The attacks by the RSS on Valentine’s Day- and the ensuing ‘Kiss Of Love‘ campaign show exactly what the people thought of poorly made attempts to “protect Indian culture“- which apparently, does not include the right to privacy. While the ‘politicians’ of our country are busy berating those who hold hands in public, rape trials go on for months, and policies are poorly implemented. A shift in this laser like focus would do the country- and the public they seem so intent on protecting-a whole world of good.
When India’s Human Development Index is adjusted for gender inequality, it becomes south Asia’s worst performing country after Afghanistan. Women in India are paid 27 per cent less than men for the same work in the corporate sector, and continue to face the drudgery of harsh manual labour as domestic workers. This is to say nothing of the fact that they are expected to manage the home and hearth- doing tasks such as gathering firewood and water, and nurturing children- all without any pay. Meanwhile, the law seems to be on the men’s side as well, an example being the case of the 14 year old who was denied permission by the High Court to abort her child after she was raped. There seems to be less of a focus on women’s rights as individuals and more on them living on society’s conditions of existence.
Indians seem to turn a blind eye to events occurring in their own county, as exemplified by a majority of Indian facebook users changing to rainbow coloured profile pictures to celebrate the SCOTUS judgement on same sex marriage. Most of them seem to care little about the pitiful conditions of the LGBTQ+ community in India, who face criminalisation just for being themselves.
If we start actively looking, we would find no dearth of such many more examples. We celebrate India’s struggle for independence, not only for what it accomplished, but for what it still challenges us to do. So, as we enjoy our traditional waving of the jhanda, it’d be good to remember that we’re not done yet. As the man in ‘Rang De Basanti’ says, “Koi bhi desh perfect nahi hota, use perfect banana padta hai. (No country is perfect, you have to make it perfect).“