Independent India: The discussion continues…
August 18, 2007 3 Comments
I heave a sigh of relief when I read things like these in the papers:
She was wearing a Mayan dress, the traditional attire of indigenous people in central America, and the hotel’s response was also traditional: throw her out.
Staff at Cancun’s five-star Hotel Coral Beach appear to have assumed this was another street vendor or beggar, so without asking questions they ordered her to leave. Except, the woman was Rigoberta Menchu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, UNESCO goodwill ambassador, Guatemalan presidential candidate and figurehead for indigenous rights.
And our neighbors haven’t taken too kindly towards car owners. In the bid to improve the quality of air in the run up to the Beijing Olympics next year, the city has come up with a wonderful new idea to test if they can reduce the number of cars in the US. I have always felt glad that some bolt of lightning like this can not come and havoc my life, while I live in India. Sample this:
Finally, yesterday – at yet another press conference – officials announced that they have decided to implement an “odds and evens” system during the last four days of the “Good Luck Beijing” test events. The measure will remove 1.3 million cars from the road on each of these days. On August 17 and 19, only vehicles with odd-numbered number plates will be permitted to take the streets, and on August 18 and 20 only those with even-numbered plates. Drivers caught breaking the rules will be fined a rather measly 100 kuai. A blanket ban on all city and provincial government cars will also be implemented over the four-day period.
Drivers whose plates end in 0 will not be able to enter into deep philosophical arguments about the nature of zero with traffic police, as city authorities have already indicated that 0 is officially an even number.
I have always wondered about the subtle connection between mathematics and philosophy, but it was never so apparent in public life earlier!
Not to be outdone, cops at our capital were ready with a booklet instructing girls in the north-east to dress appropriately since here has been increase incidence of rape and eve-teasing. Since, the women from the north-east are victimized very frequently, they came up with a prescription for the victims instead of going against the criminals. I have always wondered how we tend to take the most convenient path in India. And the instructions are not very kind:
“When in rooms do as Roman does” (whatever that means). Under security tips: “Revealing dress to be avoided.” “Avoid lonely road/ bylane when dressed scantily”. And “dress according to sensitivity of the local population.”
I have only read excerpts from the booklet. For all its good intentions, it is clearly inappropriate and offensive to the sensibilities of women from Northeast India. Not only does it give gratuitous and useless advice to women but it also proceeds to tell everyone from northeast India how they should behave in Delhi. How else can one explain a sentence that reads: “Bamboo shoot, Akhuni and other smelly dishes should be prepared without creating ruckus in neighbourhood”. Smelly dishes creating a “ruckus”? This would be amusing if it were not culturally offensive.
Anyway, India can still claim to have made a lot of progress in the last 60 years. So much so that Amartya Sen makes an argument in his essay ‘India in the World, in the Hindu special supplement on I-Day (I can’t seem to find it online!) that India which earlier “never liked being confined to just minding its ‘own business’, seems now dedicated exclusively to that minding, pointedly excluding larger ideas and objectives. In fact, Indians seem to have become skeptical of the ‘vision thing'”. He makes an argument about why India should celebrate the success of its political democracy and have a stronger voice in world affairs. He grumbles that India has let go of the leadership position that Nehru had created for it during the non-aligned movement. His lament is that Indians now suffer from a ‘ethical near-vacuum in our global thinking as an inescapable result of the priorities of a market economy’. ‘The alleged skepticism in the ‘vision thing’ is really an alternative vision — one that Gandhi and Tagore, even Nehru, would have found a little difficult to comprehend’.
While I do agree with Sen that India should brandish its new position of importance in the world economy and take a moral leadership position, I also believe that we have made rapid progress in the times when we shut our minds to meddling in other people’s affairs and concentrated on cleaning our house instead. And if we try to stake claim to moral leadership, we might just be held in the same negative light as the United States, which has made its mission to cleanse the world of anything George Bush doesn’t like. I would rather that India continued in this path of self-discovery and introspection and improved the life of the billions that inhabit it, and when a situation does arise when it can add some value by saying a few words of wisdom to interested parties, to delve into its own experiences and tender advice. I would not be a very keen supporter of India peddling free advice to unwilling states. (Amartya Sen knows a lot more than me. I am just trying to interpret his words)
Sen also talks about India’s rapid progress in crime control, especially ‘in his humble Kolkata’, which often goes unnoticed. He cites numbers — the average incidence of homicide in the principle Indian cities is only 2.7 per 100,000 people with a measly 0.3 in Kolkata. The numbers in some international cities is devastatingly high eg., New York 5.0, Los Angeles 8.8, Mexico City 17.0 and Rio de Janerio at an astounding 34.9. This indicates the strength of the social fabric in India and Sen speculates that culture, mixed-neighborhoods, family life, and mainstreaming of economic discontent into politics (particularly in Kolkata) might be some of the reasons. I am with Sen on India having a much lower crime rates than many of these cities (having visited NY and LA and finding them rather unsafe). I have, however, two doubts:
- I would like to know what correlation homicide rates have on other violent crimes, such as crimes against women, stealing, burglary and dacoity. My humble surmise would be that India might have higher rates of smaller crimes primarily because going the whole hog and committing murder would still be a mental block, and also because weapons are not that easily available in India as in other places.
- Are these officially published numbers? I know of many instances when the police refuses to take down FIRs in India to keep its books clean, in fact a systematic suppression of crimes which explains the low crime rates in Uttar Pradesh. While I agree that the numbers can not be cooked in the case of homicide, this would be an important consideration while collating data related to petty crimes.
I was still happy reading Amartya Sen’s articles despite the fact that I might not find myself agreeing on a few counts. Jawaharlal Nehru had said:
A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the sound of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.
And Sen’s article indicates that India is ready, now, more than ever to find utterance of its sounds in the global cacophony.