Monday, February 20, 2012

Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India's Poorest Districts: P. Sainath

Let me begin with two quotes:
How agonized we are over how people die... how untroubled we are by how they live

- P. Sainath
Behind every great fortune, there is a great crime

- attributed to H. de Balzac
In brief, these two quotes sum up the effect of government-led development on those displaced by it and our attitude towards the plight of those affected by such development.

P. Sainath is a well respected authority on the subject of the economic and social status of the poor rural people, most of whom were either displaced or detached because of the development and industrialisation policies of the government (both central and state). Moreover, from his articles, it seems that the government isn't willing to learn from its mistakes and most of the rectification is finally left to a few brave individuals and local officers (who can be transferred as per the whims of any politician).

Everybody Loves a Good Drought is a collection of articles written by P. Sainath as a work funded by the Times of India fellowship. He toured a lot of districts across states (mainly Orissa, undivided Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh), which were 'backward' according to the government's definition. The book is nicely divided into sections such as the adverse effect of government's development policies, the effect of lack of education, the desperate state of the financially poorest sections of the population and the way the poor are striking back. His research and field experience shows that in district after district, the economically poor and politically unorganised people are the ones most vulnerable to the adverse effects of so-called 'development'. Imagine the plight of people who carry 40-50 kg of coal loaded on a cycle over almost 40 km so that the end up earning hardly Rs. 10-15 per day! Or places where the government organisation has almost decimated the local variety of bull and replaced it with a hybrid one, which yields more milk. Never mind the fact that the hybrid variety was more prone to illness and more expensive to maintain, thereby turning the milk surplus region into a milk deficit one.

There is a place in Orissa, whose official name is 'Cut-off area', as it is so remote, being submerged by a dam, whose water and electricity have ended up darkening and drowning the future of the people in this area. In all places the policies are made at the top and implemented without understanding the implications at ground level. No minister or officer as ever bothered to personally visit some of these areas to get a hands on idea of the problems faced and solutions needed. More often than not, it is the flawed implementation that leads to such disasters. And more often than not, the government prefers to rely on feedback from 'expert groups', rather than the locals who are experiencing problems. The book describes their plight in detail. It also highlights, how the mighty and powerful (and obviously politically well-connected) are trying to crush the few seedlings of dissent and resistance that are rising out of the desperate need for survival.

The fabric of the developed urban India is stained with blood of the tribals and extremely poor rural population who have been hounded out of their traditional homes and lifestyle using draconian laws like the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. This may be because we chose to turn the Nelson's eye towards such issues. The media, which was supposed to be our eyes and ears, has chosen other priorities, thereby losing focus on this beat. India may be shining, but for what percentage of the population? Backward areas, with no access to education, health care and proper legitimate means for earning a livelihood. Some British era views of development are still being perpetrated and thereby forcing many of the population to abandon their traditional ways of living and be forced into oblivion or the clutches of debt and perennial poverty.

The book is a must ready for everybody who keep on harping of the progress India has made. The realisation that a lot still needs to be done, will arise. And a realisation of how it should be done. We wonèt need a Swades movie, to inspire people to work for the country. My feelings are, that this book should be enough for us to do that.
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