Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | April 17, 2010

India – inequality

India is undergoing a huge transformation and income inequality is on rise. Whilst professionals in India still overburden their juniors unfairly, wait to be given a separate room for their seniority, expect luxurious perks etc etc there is a huge population who are suffering – day in and day out. Every time I speak to a middle aged “success story” in India, I end up fearing the situation.

Today, we continue to christen people like Lalit Modi as visionaries and at the same time there have been numerous killings and a few natural and lot of manmade disasters there.

The Park Street (Kolkata) fire shocked me because the accident brought out our apathy to get basic amenities in the country right. There are numerous such “old buildings” all across India and for convenience’s sake we call them “heritage buildings” but in reality they are disasters waiting to happen. I used to be a frequent visitor of the Park Street region in Kolkata and I have visited some such buildings. When one set of decision makers decide to either renovate or bring down such buildings, the opposition agitates and when an accident happens then the opposition complains. As always, there is deliberately no equilibrium reached. Many of the tenants in those buildings pay paltry rents or illegally occupy the flats, so even they are not very interested to draw unnecessary attention by suggesting renovation. Illegitimacy has become a habit with our country and we hardly care what anyone says about it. It has become such a habit that we can even risk lives for that. It shocks me. I feel sad for the poor firemen, most of them in their mid forties (apparently they don’t recruit anymore and I am not sure whether that is true!) trying to do a thankless job with limited means at disposal. They talk about them coming late and I am not even certain whether they have proper phones. But yes, Lalit Modi still continues to be a visionary in India (may even get a Padma award) and everyone wants to befriend him.

Having had an urban upbringing in India, does not help in understanding about the plight of people who live in our forests. My lack of knowledge exemplifies how ignorant generally we are. However, I have read about our people, visited a few of those villages and have met some such people. It is a shame that other than constituting a mere vote, our own people have remained in total isolation from us. Neither have they got any fruits of development nor have they got any hope for their future. Sympathising with them is the least we can do probably.

Is it then fair for them to have gunmen battling on their behalf? Of course not. Sadly they were “used” by established Government earlier and to my mind now they are being used by the gunmen. In either scenario they are the ones who are at loss.

As far as the activists are concerned, I for one doubt most of their credibility. At least the “celebrity activists” don’t convince me at all. This is because I have never been very convinced about their writings or laments on such issues. Somehow most of their talks appear detrimental to any peace process. It looks like they always want to remain in the limelight themselves and just because they are celebrities they get to voice their opinion either on television or print media. All this has made me disillusioned about the whole scenario.

On one hand, I wish the killers be punished at all costs because not just security men but many villagers, politicians, government officers and teachers are getting killed due to Naxal violence and on the other hand I wish we expedite the process of “actual development” which we have not done in 60 plus years in villages. I know wish in India does not get fulfilled like that. Amidst all this Lalit Modi is still a visionary. I wonder why cannot USD350 million spent on buying a cricket team be spent of development. Corporate Social Responsibility is such a myth in India.

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Responses

  1. I have pondered over this issue aloud again and again in my own blog, as you know, Tanmoy. There is a broad consensus among sociologists and economists (except those who blindly swear by the free market as a panacea) that rapid and highly unequal growth creates a pressure-cooker syndrome with likely explosive consequences, and China and India seem to be on that kind of ‘development’ curve. That is why I worry so much… everyone from Lalit Modi to the Maoists to fashion models to the latest petty crook who is setting up a private hospital or engineering college is trying desperately to cash in on the growth story, in the process undermining the broad social legitimacy of that growth process itself. It’s a good thing that both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh seem to be aware of the looming danger: I read in the papers that one reason why Dr. Singh visited Brazil is to find out first hand how President Lula, thanks to a very innovative social welfare program of his, is riding a popularity wave. Maybe we shall have a much improved version of the NREGA in place soon, among other things…

  2. This post comes at a good time, having begun to work, I was just wondering about the CSR divisions of all these major companies and whether they really do any productive work. I may love cricket and football, but you are absolutely right, just imagine the amount of money that is being poured into these two sports alone throughout the world. The country may go to hell but IPL cannot and Christiano Ronaldo alone is worth 90 million!!


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