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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > Everybody has a Right to Raise her/his Voice, and Protest in a Democracy (...)

Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 37, September 3, 2011

Everybody has a Right to Raise her/his Voice, and Protest in a Democracy like Ours; but…

Tuesday 6 September 2011, by K Saradamoni

When I sit to write this, I am hearing on the television something which has been there continuously for the last four-five days. It is about Anna Hazare and the movement he has launched to free India of corruption in which our country is nearly drowned. People, women and men, children, youth and the elderly have come out in large numbers in many parts of the country to support Anna Hazare and his team whom they have come to believe. That belief comes mainly from a few of the qualities they see in him. His essential simplicity, that he is not after power, and that he is honest attract these thousands who in normal course would not have come out of their homes. They not only came out and pledged their support to the anti-corruption movement in loud and clear words, they unhesitatingly brought out things that were suffocating them.

Most of them, even those who spoke from far- away Australia or New Zealand, remembered their experience with corruption. They said the same thing from Chennai and Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. They did it deliberately, out of sheer frustration and hidden anger. Anna gave them the courage to speak out. Most of us, ordinary citizens, would agree to ‘pay’ if the child is sick and either wants to consult a doctor or get her/him admitted in a hospital. For a simple clarification in the electricity or water bill senior citizens, mostly women, are made to come again and again unless the palm is greased. There are many for whom even a few rupees count, but the anti-corruption movement we are witnessing now does not limit itself to petty bribery. The people are familiar with the SCAMS around the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum, Adarsh flats and several others listed and not yet unearthed; unholy transfer of money and other favours.

Even when you do not know how to explain it, there is a sense of humiliation and anger when we are forced to pay even small bribery. Several years back I had a colleague who was against bribery. Once he was building a house and wanted cement. He was made to understand that if he wanted the material immediately, he had to pay a specific sum; otherwise he had to wait. He opted for the latter and the wait was about two years. He did not regret it; but friends and many colleagues ridiculed him and pointed out that the delay had caused him spend much more than the payment sought. He got hold of some who agreed to his stand and started a small organisation, which functioned for some time. He would be very pleased with the present movement wherever he is.

What our Prime Minister and his advisers do not understand is that Anna Hazare is neither alone nor unique. Many, many thousands have got tired of the way things happen in our country. What else can explain the comments Hazare supporters raise? They include: how can the PM who has never contested an election to the Lok Sabha, know the pulse of the people? Members of Parliament should always listen to the voice of the people, not only at election time. Even before the present movement started I have heard many say that without bribery or recommendation, nothing can get done, everybody in authority is a thief or rogue. It is these pent-up feelings of discomfort and not knowing what to do that have been shaken by Anna.’s movement.

How has Money become the Villain?

ONE may say that favours, out of place move of a file, and many like these might have happened always. I am not interested in exploring that. But I would certainly say that the present cancerous growth of corruption started with the neo-liberal economic policies we have enunciated since 1991. Over the TV I heard the Team Anna members proclaim that the government’s Lokpal Bill is meant to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Another member of the group said that the government Bill is actually the Pro-motion of Corruption Bill. As I have not seen it, I cannot comment on these. But I hold that, despite the occasional memory of the aam admi by the Prime Minister or some of his colleagues, the ruling party at the Centre is primarily interested in the rich, and their schievements are celebrated.

Do the PM and his colleagues remember that there are thousands of people who do not have even a single satisfactory meal a day, no place to sleep, thousands of children who have no school to go, and even if one exists, no study takes place there? Even if one can be critical of the television with endless advertisements, meaningless serials and reality shows which give flats, villas, cars, and lakhs of rupees even to small children, I would thank them for documenting and showing us many a reality at the lower levels of our society. This includes investigative reports on uncommon diseases from which all children suffer in poor families without regular work or steady earnings. They show us how land belonging to the tribals as well as other poor communities are grabbed often without compensation or paying much below- the-market price to be converted to resorts as part of the flourishing tourist industry.

Small landowning peasants are changed to contract farmers by the new corporates whose only aim is to amass wealth. They do not care about the dangerous pesticides and fertilisers used, and their harmful effect on the soil and water. How is it that rural youth from faraway Tripura, Assam, Orissa or Bengal are compelled to roam about the whole of India in search of work? Is it not the government policies that overnight took away the minimum security which the lower level employees in the government and other sectors enjoyed and made them contract workers? To the government their contribution does not get reflected in the growth of the economy, GDP or ‘Shining India’. For that we need a section of people who, without any qualms like honesty, concern for fellow citizens or natural resources, will go ahead and become crorepatis. Even if they are ‘caught‘ they know how to get out as ‘respectable’ citizens. They have, in the process, recruited a section, small may be, from the deprived sections to do their dirty work. This new class of mafias—in land, water, sand, forest-drugs, and liquor—may make money, but never become crorepatis. Certainly they will add to groups of vested interests.

Has the Government of India shown its concern for the people while tackling (or not) Bhopal and Plachimada tragedies? Do they have the people in mind when they decide to open our retail trading sector to multinationals? Did they have the innocent children of Kasergode in mind when they redeemed Endosulfan from its deadly consequences? Why are they not aware of the consequences on us and our future generations as well our soil, air and water when they endorse the demands of Monsanto and gang to test their GM seeds on our farms?

Finally, the question we have to resolve is the type of society the government policies have helped to create. In other words, where has our development path taken us? The disparities in the society between the haves and have-nots has widened than ever before. It is striking that these do not worry our ruling class. It has to be remembered that this happens in a country which began ‘eradication’ of poverty along with reduction in the concentration of income and wealth. We cannot think of a future for India alone. We proudly proclaim that we are the largest democracy in the world. We have to recognise and admit that poverty, unemploy-ment and inequality cannot be part of a dynamic democracy. Elections alone cannot determine the success of a democracy. We have to listen to the demands for alternate forms of governance and development coming from even the so-called ‘developed’ countries including the USA.

It is certainly interesting that it is the same people—numbed by the opium that corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, money power, the position of the government machineries which we believed were meant to bring fairness, comfort and peace in our lives have unleashed all around us—who have been aroused by the call from Anna Hazare and his team. In their draft there can be lacunae. Moreover it would be absurd to think that all dirt and poison we have collected can be washed away by a Bill, however perfect it is. If laws can do the trick our country should have become a heaven. We have laws against untouchability, dowry, atrocities against Dalits, adivasis, atrocities against women and children both within and outside the domestic situation, laws upholding child rights, to name a few. What is the ground reality?

On the question of the PM and the Chief Justice or the judiciary coming under the Lokpal Bill, it is said that our PM personally is not against the idea, but his eminent colleagues think that his exalted position has to respected. Our immediately previous Chief Justice and his family are already suspects. So are many in the judiciary in different parts of the country. Any concession on this account will lead to many others demanding or managing exemption.

Anna Hazare’s fast will surely have to end. The fervour of the movement will slow down. It would be good if the PM and his advisers remember that the people of India are awake. They have to realise that the people are supreme. For that the debate has to be kept going even after the present pitch slows down. And even after the Bill is passed discussions have to be continued at different levels, not between the government and some groups or interested people, but at the lowest levels of our democratic set-up, at the village, ward or street level, to keep up the spirit, the hopes and commitment, and the dream of a cleaner future for our dear country.

The author is a renowned economist and concerned social activist based in Thiruvananthapuram. She is the former President of the National Federation of Indian Women.

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