Saturday, August 20, 2011

India Against Corruption (?)

Sitting here now in USA, it is amazing to watch the nation being swayed by the India Against Corruption movement. Annaji, and his allies, have successfully caught the attention of an entire nation, and have brought people from all walks of life, in almost every part of the country, to a common sentiment.

At the outset, the effort is to be praised. The issue is genuine, this I think we all agree over minimal debate. Almost every one of us have faces the below-the-table dealings of government (and sometimes non-government) civil servants. It is common knowledge - corruption is India's second currency, and politics is essentially a slang. It is heartening to see that there are people who believe that a change is possible. More importantly, it is heartening to see that those people are not alone, that Indians from almost all cultural, religious, economic and occupational backgrounds of all ages have raised their hands in support.

While the intentions are undoubtedly noble, history is witness that even the best of intentions have a bad habit of going awry. Let us take a moment, and for once try to understand why is it that the movement has amassed such a fan following. Of course there are people who know the cause through and through, but which I mean that they have done their homework, read through the actual Government Lokpal Bill and Annaji's version and know what is what. But lets be honest here. Do all the people who are walking the streets today, voicing their vociferous support, really know what the are supporting? If we have a show of hands for who all know precisely what the bill means, how many would come clean?

I am not hinting at some underhandedness in the design of the Jan Lokpal Bill itself. While my understanding of it, like perhaps thousands of other Indians, is only rather basic, with some coverage of who all is under it purview, what can be questioned and investigated and how it differs from the Governement version in some basic ways, for the sake of argument I am willing to trust the people who were behind its fabrication, as well as the judgement of my well-informed brethren who made efforts to put up suggestions and modifications on the websites over months. I am willing to trust them because by the way it was created, it seems that they do not represent the compartmental interests of a particular section of the populace, but has come to be a ground for the agglomeration of opinions, grievances and suggestions across a wide range of people who have long suffered under the said cause.

Neither would I venture to say that Annaji and his group are taking undue advantage of the "right to protest" which itself seems to be much in question now. Arvind Kejriwal has openly discussed the point that there can be no compromise when it comes to curbing corruption, and while the our-way-or-no-way attitude may have been intransigent on another occassion, the fact that the group is not alone in this erases the suggestion that they are trying to blackmail the Government to bend their way. If people all over the nation are trying to bend the government into accepting something, I would personally label it as representation of the opinion of the masses than blackmail. No, my concern resides elsewhere.

Why are the hundreds and thousands of people who actually do not clearly understand what they are vouching for willing to fight and protest? One must realize that this is a powerful emotional moment to many of us, the "common men", the "middle class". Forever have we been taught that "India is a great nation", that we must love our country, that we must live up to the efforts of the greats who brough freedom to our nation, and so on and so forth. Forever have we seen our freedom and rights being taken away from us, in some pretext or the other. Forever have we silently grieved and grudged those who were supposed to be out first point of defense upon desperation - the Government - and only been cheated further in return. Forever have we tried, in vain, to love our contry and be proud of Her. Today, perhaps for the first time after independece, the "common man" has an opportunity. An opportunity to shout out against those who refused him justice and his true rights. An opportunity to feel important and involved in a possible change, hopefully for the better. An opportunity to hope that all that we learned and grew up believing, only to realize that it was an empty dream, can yet be realized. Add to that the shameful and frustratingly blank-headed tactics of the government in dealing with the situation, what with banning protests, imprisoning the leaders of the movement, and people who had any rational doubts about the bill are now all the more convinced about who the villain and the hero is. The power of this psychology is perhaps what is driving thousands of those people who really know nothing about the bill per se. They are waving the banners because like their grandfathers and grandmothers 64 years before them, they feel a frenzy. A frenzy that there is hope for a better tomorrow, and not necessarily becasue they understand the pros of a legislasture inside out. A frenzy that, though well intended, is often not based on sound, concrete and well-reviewed logic.

This is where the concern lies. 64 years before today, I daresay there was a day when Gandhiji aroused the whole nation on probably a much larger scale that what we are seeing today. They too braved the sticks and bullets in the hope of a better day. And when the day came, they danced, they sang, they joyously claimed victory, and went home, thinking all was done. Little did people realize that the deed was not in overturning something that was existing, but in finding a truly rewarding alternative. And so it happened. Power passed from the British to the Indian politicians. The change that people fought and died for remained in the books and papers and the constituion and lectures at the law college. Walk into a village at some remote end of the country, and honestly, they would not know if they were still under the British Raj. For the people who gave their blood, nothing much really changed.

Why did the best of intentions of millions of people go wrong? Because we the people, who attempted to implement the prized changes, were ourselves flawed. We were blinded by the power, position, money and advantage that it offered open in front of us. And so one by one, the political landmass of India slid into debauchery, resulting in a day that we have today, when we are essentially needing to raise a hue and cry for a "second freedom movement".

Do we have a guarantee today that the same is not going to be repeated? I fear and doubt despite all hopes, because the Jan Lokpal Bill today gives the same offer of unprecedented power that some musthave seen one day 64 years ago. Supposing that today we win, and the Bill goes through, most of us will return to our own lives, thinking happily that good times are ahead. In the meanwhile, will those who come to weild the new One Ring of Power not fall prey to the same debauchaery that engulfed generations before them? Are we sure we are not risking the initiation of another landslide of corruption in the years to come? And I fear the most, because the people who are today marching in parades and shouting sloans and weilding banners are the same people who turn a blind eye, day in and day out, to child marriage, female foeticide and suppression of rights of tribal minorities. They are the same people who throw garbage on the streets, besmirch sites of Natinal Heritage, ask for dowry in marriages and go on riotous rampages after Godhra. When we are ourselves so very imperfect, will the utopian expectations of "perfect" laws sit well with us? If tomorrow the same laws for which we fought bite back against us, even if for completely genuine reasons, will we bow our head and learn, or will we go on another nation-wide rampage until our egos and personal needs are satisfied and every voice of unwanted protest silenced?

If we are imperfect, the system that we shall get will be imperfect too. If we want things to really change, then alongside fighting for the BIG issues with flamboyant demonstrations, peharps we should also look into ourselves and mould ourselves from within to try and reach a greater level of perfection.

Friday, June 3, 2011

On Why We Are Going Abroad

Back after a long long lull, with a significant post very relevant to the current season.

Look around you. Its everywhere. And whether you smile or frown, appear proud before your neighbors or openly fret about your frustrations, it is an undeniable truth. We are all leaving. Some for good, others for a good long span of years. Its a cross-country egress - nobody is left out.

The trend has now become so obvious that this post runs the risk of being labelled cliche. Gone are the days when going abroad was the luxury of a chosen few. Today half the nation's youth is going abroad, and the remaining half is wishing they could follow as well. Some are going for work, others for education. Many will never return.

How do we react? We all know the drill. Over the phone, before the relatives and on the jogging track with neighbors we are proud parents. "Oh my son/daughter is going to USA you know, (s)he has got this really great offer.... and the pay, oh, its like 2 lakhs a month in Indian rupees ... blah blah." "Oh really? My cousin is going to UK to do his Masters ... great environment for education ... job opportunities after the degree are great too, even better than what they get from here, like your son/daughter." We openly gloat on it, most of us, and would not mind even to indulge in some competition amongst ourselves to prove ourselves the luckiest of the lot. A LOT.

Luckiest, did you say? In the quiet cover of our homes, our squeals of delight reduce to screams of agony. Yet another son gone to foreign shores. Yet another member of the family lost forever. Yet another step towards a lonely, helpless aged life. "I was born alone, I shall die alone" - the words never sounded more true. But what can we do, oh what can we do? They are our children, and their happiness matters. And they want this. They want it more than anything else right now. We cant hold them back, we cant ruin the 50 years of their lives for our remaining 10 or 20. We have to let go, yes. We shall hold back our tears. We shall bid them a happy good-bye, and write to them, and email them, and see their faces on Skype. Its a small world, is it so difficult?

But each time we garner courage in our hearts, the fear of loneliness, age and death eats into it like termites. We know they might not write back, mail in reply or come online on Skype. They might get just what we wanted to give them all this time - happiness. And we dread that out and out. That they can be happy without us. They can go ahead and find a life of their own, and never bother to look back. Things that were said and taught over and over again in school to be the final aim of an established person - it all seems terrible, too terrible to face with the thousands of miles of separation in between.

And then as the days pays, the pressure of frustration caves our hearts in. We crumble. We shout and fret and blame our children for forsaking us. We cry before those who are closest. We curse the government for doing "nothing about it". And while we are at it, another batch of youngsters is making their way to some other coveted land. And the cycle goes on.

The irony is that parents only think thus far. There is only sadness and frustration. If there is blame, it has to be directed at the children, or, at best,the government. Never do they, never do we think, what did we do about it?

And that is the most fundamental problem. We did nothing about it. If children today are migrating to foreign shores, it is because of us. Us as a whole. Had we done what we were supposed to do well enough, hard enough, then this day would not have dawned upon us. After all, why are all these people leaving? It is because they see no hope. No hope of good education. No hope of employment. No hope of well-deserved pay, respect in society, and a chance to live an honest and equal life. Trust me, all those youngsters going abroad, they are not after millions of dollars. They are not looking to become Hollywood stars or enterprising billionaires (although yes, some of course do end up that way). All they want, all we all want, is a simple life, a loving family, a respectful society and a satisfying and rewarding work. Such things don't change over a couple of generations. It is the means of attaining those goals that do.

And what have we done? Did we wake up at 7 AM each day and go for work? Did we love, live and preach what we do? Did we give it our best at our workplace, and work beyond the scheduled hour just for the kick of it? Did we come back home with a smile on our face and satisfaction in our heart?

Oh no we did not. We went to work late. We lazed away the day. To prevent ourselves from hearing harsh words and a possibility of being sacked, we formed unions whose sole purpose was "We wont work and you cant throw us out because of that". We bribed and asked for bribes to get work done (or undone). We actively engaged in politics. We filled our schools and colleges with people of political influence rather than merit and then sucked up to them for our own benefits. Education, learning and thinking were made our last priorities. When industries and factories closed down, we simply forsook everything that was indigenous, and bought foreign clothes, foreign Tvs and cars. We made going abroad a prestige issue to be boasted about. And at the end of all this, we were never happy. We did not come smiling back to home despite the easy life we had. We were unhappy, each moment of our lives. We wanted more. More money. More relaxation. More useless stuff to buy and fill our useless lives with. Wives, families and children were just for granted. We lived to eat, pretended to work only because it paid, and then boasted about our lives before our neighbors, and competed with them to show whose life was the most worthless.

Is it surprising, that our children, born and brought up in this atmosphere where the governing principle seems to be "I am living because my parents did not resort to abortion" will ever see any hope? Maybe other nations are no better, but at least they have not seen it first hand! They believe they can start a new life there, where people just don't survive, they live with their heads held high. They may be very wrong. But they believe in it, and they will work hard to make their belief come true. Here, we just don't believe in it any more. We believe we are doomed to survive as another voter in a country of over a billion people. We are a 'nobody', and there is no chance we can ever be anything different. We see no hope ourselves, is it unusual that our children don't?

And so they are going. And so they shall be gone. Generation after generation , age after age. Unless you wake up. Unless we start pointing that finger of blame at ourselves instead of at all other directions. Unless we start doing well what we were supposed to be doing all this time. Is it too late already? Maybe it is; but if you believe that it is not, if you believe it day in and day out, so hard and so strong, that there IS hope left, then hope might just reconsider coming back to us on its own.