Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lost Worlds or Lot's Wife

 Lost Worlds (also published as "By the Rivers of India" in the Financial Chronicle of Weekend February 22nd 2014

 Two women became the symbols of Kerala as it stands today. One brought her two school going daughters and infant son to Jantar Mantar in October 2013 to protest against illegal sand mining in Kerala. It was Jairam Ramesh who immediately wrote to Oomen Chandy asking that he look into the case.( see October is not a very cold month, but it took all of four months for Oommen Chandy to respond to the environmental crusader. Sand mining is one of the most visible of illegal occupations, and no one speaks of it, for fear of being killed. A cursory web check will show the fear in which people live of the sand mining mafia. Yet, construction activity cannot ostensibly be supported without it,  though  now crushed mortar is providing a recycling alternative. Dr  Samuel Paul has argued that 60 percent of Kerala is now urbanised. The promise of  IPL games brought with it its own crushing sense of the morass of traffic, which besieges Kerala with a consumerist culture, now well in place with the Gulf Diaspora returning and looking for what they were used to. Internet parks and shopping malls became the common cause for an industrialising nation everywhere. Sunanda died leaving her families  and friends distraught,  because by all accounts she was likeable and amusing. Development strategies, however, which come with their leisure packages are not without costs. According to a resident in Kuruvillangad,  (a wealthy  rural  gulf diaspora  Syrian Christian outpost in Kerala with its proliferating colleges and ritual sites,)  “Sunanda  was so charming, she could sell sand to desert inhabitants in Dubai”. Jazeera, the autodriver however, had to sit in the freezing Delhi climate when temperatures went down to 4 degrees, to protest against the rampant death of rivers in Kerala. Jazeera’s protest, was supported by her school master husband. The future of Kerala lies in the hands of those three children who survived Delhi’s bitter cold, though the files to Oommen Chandy took four months to be cleared, before he could intervene.
Bureaucracies are the spine of the nation. If one disrupts officialise there is vagrancy. Yet Hannah Arendt said that because the bureaucrat follows orders, and because the bureaucrat is never responsible, the banality of evil is rampant. When Varun Gandhi invoked the name of his father and wished to return in the name of his father, I shuddered, for Emergency excesses were huge, and Sanjay Gandhi’s youth brigade who roistered through the streets of Delhi were very energetic.
I was 17 when the Emergency happened. Coming back from the Delhi University, (before the Mudrika bus seva had completely reinvented our lives), I had to catch a connecting bus to Nizamuddin, where I lived, from Daryaganj. In those days,  a lone 57 number bus went to D.U, and you had to find a place to catch it from. So Daryaganj was where I boarded and got off,  mornings and afternoons, in 1974, all a good forty years ago. And there, every day, I would see the government officers who would put up little tables, where people came and signed up for a vasectomy or a tubectomy because they wanted something from the Government. If one had three children, then one had to sign up and get a  sterilisation certificate. Brinda Karat upturned the apple cart by stating some years ago, that women should decide the number of children they wanted. Working classes, as Mahmud Mamdani argued in  one of our prescribed Sociology readings on the 1970s, see children as the substitute for pensions, which they don’t receive in our country, as they are poor and usually contract labour does not receive identity cards, for what permanent address do they have?
Interestingly, on 18.7.67. Panampilly Govinda Menon wrote a note in his capacity as Union Law Minister, to say “To subject a person to the operation of vasectomy or tubectomy is to inflict “grievous hurt” as defined in Sec 320 of the Indian Penal Code on that person. Currently in our hospitals and family planning centres these operations are done with the consent of the persons operated upon and therefore are not penal. The case here is not of sterilisation with the consent of the person sterilised but under compulsion of law. And the question is whether such law would be within the competence of Parliament” ( NMML Manuscript Section,File 190 xxxv 176)
P. Govinda Menon does not have a problem ethically with people being sterilised compulsorily so long it is not “deprivation of personal liberty by naked executive order.” After having clarified that none of the “religions  of the world”, besides the Roman Catholic one, is against contraception, (and this community may  be exempted along with other conscientious objectors,) the law for compulsory sterilisation may be seen as a reasonable one. “Since the proposal is to have legislation for compulsory sterilisation, the order to be issued to an individual by the appropriate officer will be according to procedure established by law and protected; unless the Courts further stipulate the law in this respect should be a reasonable law; and the stature on scrutiny is found to be unreasonable.” (ibid) In another note in the same file, which is preserved as Symposium on Greater Cochin Development Concluding Speech, dated 1967 he says, “It is time that Malayalees dropped the habit of staying in separate house, each standing in its own compound. The density of population and the scarcity of land does not permit it. Multistoreyed buildings into flats for residential purposes would be the only possible solution for the housing problem in this region. I am sure the Malayalees would be able to adjust to this type of living.”
 The Malayalees love for gardens is a characteristic,  and growing fruits and flowers has been now concretely translated by Diaspora into terrace gardens, since  Kerala government runs courses on growing runner beans, bitter gourds and ladies finger and curry leaves on one’s own terrace, or in pots. Any sorrow for lost gardens is ostensibly nostalgia, which most modernists see as potently limiting. I would just presume that having more agricultural colleges is necessary in the 21st century, and new agriculturists should by right be nurtured, instead of the Indian State going the Bt way monotonously. The survival of rivers, as Jazeera argued, is the most significant thing for those who live in our riverine and ancient civilisations. These are living and sustainable traditions, not to be axed in the name of Development, and archived through Proud Parade marches. Watching the Ladakh villagers growing apricots, apples,  turnips, radishes, runner beans, celery, potatoes, even grapes (in Kargil) for the  consumption of the Indian army, and farmers with small gardens hoping for roads to Delhi to market their excess produce was an eye opener.
Amit Shah would have us believe in television rhetoric,  that prosperity is a neutral thing, and that when water or electricity is provided, Gujarat provides equally to both, in the same village. However post 2002, many Muslims continue to live in refugee camps or ghettos. Muzaffar Nagar has proved that in some states, segregation of communities is sought. Industrialisation comes with heavy cost to the rural poor, many of whom come to the city to earn. Whether town, country or metropolis, the City decides the future of the hinterland.