At the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2006, the legendary activist writer, Mahasweta Devi gave an impassioned inaugural speech elucidating the many colours of our country India.
She spoke that where there is a girl dressed in a mini skirt there is a woman working in the fields in a khadi saree. Where an eight year old today goes to school and when it is lunch time extracts his mobile phone to call his mother, there is another eight year old who toils in a tea shop facing abuse and molestation under the pretext of employment.
Her speech mirrored the everyday disparities surrounding us.
Its these disparities that exist in our country that define who we are, where we come from and where we need to go. Where we need to go? We need to be in a place where these disparities don't affect us where we can celebrate them and at the same time reduce them. A woman in a skirt needs to be as much respected and considered virtuous as a woman clad in a saree. Their differences need to be celebrated not discriminated. All eight year olds should be in a school though of course some can do without a personal mobile phone.
The world we live in my friends is the one where evaluations of growth are done through sensex and GDP upheavals. Very little is captured in these numbers though. The real progress is in the balancing of highs and lows. In understanding that though coming from different mindsets, different opinions we are all same. We are all Indians.
Today when I need to write about a blueprint for a social change, my calling is to create a world where there is no one better and no one worse. We are all equal.
They say India is one of the most developing country, what in their language is developing? Of course the 20K sensex the 8.0 GDP and the advent number H1B visas given to our citizens, that must be the parameter they are judging.
The issue is not with the parameter, but its effect. If our country is truly India shining then why don’t we see it around us. Why do we still have people who die of hunger and cold? Why are there kids who still sell balloons and roses at traffic lights to people sitting in Mercedes E class. Why this disparity between our sensex levels and condition of our people?
The answer is very simple actually. Corruption.
Close to 40 % of the income generated should legally trickle back to the society and be used for common good. Looking at our sensex levels that is a very huge amount and should be enough to ensure that not even a dog on the street dies of hunger and cold leave alone lakhs of people. Then why does it not happen? Its because this money is hoarded by people sitting in one of those Mercedes class and a red or blue light on top.
What do these people sitting in Mercedes E class, eating out of hands of the corrupt have that doesn’t make them care about hundreds of poor who go without food and water because of them. I will tell you what they have, they have social status. They don’t care how many agitations and dharnas you and I have been sitting in as long as they move in the best of the circles and maintain their social stature.
What if the calling for the social change is that these people should be ostracised looked down upon by the society as a whole on the basis of their notorious money hoarding activities. I call for a setup where we as a society should realise that money on the whole doesn’t demand respect but the activities of gaining it does.
If you know your relative, friend or neighbour is corrupt accepts bribes to do work, stop talking to them. Tell them how you don’t respect them, how their life on the whole demands you to disrespect them.
If a society ostracises such people on the whole, I am sure their indulgence in such activities will lose sheen and also their inclination to do such.
Our concepts about respect are very contorted, so where a corrupt rich official is more valued than an honest poor one, in the same way a saree clad woman is considered to be more virtuous than a mini skirt wearing woman.
Why do we base our perceptions on something as superficial as clothes? The recent Justice Verma commission report has been lauded throughout the length and breadth of the country for its exhaustive analysis of discrepancies in the law today. But what about the discrepancies in the mindset of the people? Who would address them?
Crimes against women can be tackled through stricter laws, agreed. But then there would be those who would still defy them or go unnoticed untracked even despite them being there. How can such incidents be dealt with? How will a woman in the house, beaten black and blue by her husband get justice? Or an everyday college going student bear the brunt of those lustful eyes of her stalkers?
The answer is very simple, the woman today among themselves need to be united. A housewife should understand the pain of a working woman who despite wearing western clothes values her dignity as much as her. And a modern woman must appreciate a hardworking housewife giving her life and soul to her family who also harbours dreams of being a career woman somewhere. They two need to appreciate their exterior differences and identify the woman inside.
When either stumbles into conversations where the other is being stereotyped and spoken ill of, she must stand up for her opposite counterpart and defend.
Going off the topic a bit, do we know that many countries have military training and service as compulsory? Yes for example Israel. Now why do they have so? Because they feel that protecting the borders of a country is their prime concern.
Nobody should get ideas, I am not saying we should have compulsory military training. I for one wouldn’t be able to do it!!
Mahasweta Devi in her address spoke about the two eight year olds. The one with the school and the phone and the other with the abuse and molestation. When this former eight year old grows up, he would have witnessed a life of luxury and happiness. His dreams would be of skyscrapers and Ferrari while the later eight year old would have probably gone on to head a team of different eight year old, forcing them the same atrocities which he himself witnessed. The two have not been able to identify the other life at all.
This inequality of life and its standards is India’s biggest emergency today. Where countries like Israel fighting for their small space in the West Asia make military service compulsory, us Indians need out students and people likewise to commit a good proportion of their time to social service.
For dealing with these disparities prevalent, I propose that after every formidable level of education, every degree should come with a passing certificate identifying the number of hours committed by an individual to social service. For example, a high school passing certificate should be only awarded to a student after showing credible social work done by him or her.
At job too one should be handsomely awarded for their altruistic ventures and such things should be put on record by a company. All this can of course become highly cemented by proper structured systems and laws by the legislature and judiciary.
Speaking of legislature, how can we ensure that all the changes we have committed ourselves to will be brought into action. For example, Justice Verma made a report, what if govt plays with it, what can you and I do about it? We can ensure we don’t vote them next term. But how many of us take such things seriously?
A low voting turn out has also been a root cause for our problems today. Corrupt politicians have gotten away with a lot worse and continued unabashed in power. Why would you say has that happened? Its because people like us stayed indoors on a voting day. And voting day is not only central or state elections, its elections to municipality or panchayats or any elections.
An overwhelming involvement by citizens in the political churning of our nation is the need of the hour. Of course we have our reasons to stay indoors, like voting day in private companies is not a holiday or most of us living our itinerant life don’t stay in the place of our domicile. Here we can ask government to make laws or guidelines. Like offices should compulsorily allow its employees a day or two off under the pretext of voting. People must utilise these days to the fullest and prove their merit in making the right choice.
Other issue which people face is that most of them do not know the contesting candidates and our driven more by the party or brand value attached to a symbol. For this internet portals can be created where every candidate’s resume and credentials can be uploaded, making sure a picture of his works and credibility is given there. People can read all this prior to voting read and make a justifiable decision.
Not all people standing for elections are worthless, there are plenty honest candidates who do not get a chance due to less propaganda or campaigning.
Voting is the most important fundamental duty of citizens today. It is the simplest yet strongest mode of bringing in social change.
A lot of things I could pen down today. A lot of pent up things which I always wanted to write about I could do it today. I know that words that I have written may not affect plenty, but even if they affect a percent I know I did my job right.
I did it because I wanted to. But how could I do it? Who gave me the power to do so? The constitution. The fundamental right of freedom of speech. If it wasn’t for it, I may have never been able to express myself so openly. Our constitution makers knew that this was most valued point in a free and democratic society.
Kamal Haasan. Ashis Nandy. Salman Rushdie. M.F Hussain. Were they as lucky as me? Was their art also appreciated and understood in all its diversity? NO.
Freedom of art and their proponents is today being clambered left right an centre. We may blame the government for this, but then what is government if not a reflection of people’s sentiments. When a group of people protest against Vishwaroopam does the other section who do not have any issue stand up and speak for it? Do they impress upon the government that if they do ban the film, they might appease a few but hurt many?
Last but not the least need for a social change is often brought about and put into effect by arts and its patrons. The world has seen that from times immemorial, wars have been tipped not by the number of people who died but by the strokes ink and pen.
If as a society we let freedom of speech disappear, no amount of hue and cry for progress can ever get registered.
So tomorrow when a Vishwaroopam is banned by people who might have not even seen the movie, you my friend need to stand up and speak about it. Generate awareness, explain at least those around you how banning artists and their works will spell doom for any progressive and developing society.
Mahasweta Devi in her address had spoken few words of the famous veteran Showman Mr Raj Kapoor.
“Mera joota hai Japani, patloon englishtani, sir pe lal topi roosi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani”
She said that the shoes can be from Japan, trousers from England, a red hat from Russia, but the heart always belongs to India.