This picture was taken by a man right before boarding a bus (Mumbai-Pune) at a stoppage known as Bisleri stop in Andheri, Mumbai, perhaps, a day before Diwali. It’s not a masterpiece clicked by some professional photographer with a pro-DSLR camera. The image is noisy and somewhat blur, but despite that it’s really one of those powerful images that touches our heart and leaves deep impressions. The image has put things in perspective.
The picture was posted on a social media platform and it stirred a debate in which many Indians and a few foreigners took part.
A woman is creating a ‘Rangoli’ outside her shed to celebrate India’s most popular festival Diwali – the festival of lights, the day when triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’ was marked.
It’s difficult to figure out whether the lady in the picture deserves appreciation for her spirit of celebration while living on a roadside shed or to mourn for this deprived soul and millions like others.
But after looking at this image, India must realize that the battle against poverty is still on. Corruption within us is the modern Ravana, who has abducted humanity, looted them of all ethical and moral values. Corruption has diluted sense of kindness, empathy, compassion, justice, and equality.
In this country, life is hell without wealth. Poor are getting poorer, rich are getting richer. Poverty is the ugliest creation of corruption in India’s political and social sphere. The governments, irrespective of which party is in power, have eaten the nation like termites. The structure looks intact, but inside, it’s being turned into powder.
Number of poor is so high in India that even world’s average poverty ratio depends on it.
The policymakers have been deceiving people by deliberately keeping poverty line low, according to Angus Deaton of Princeton University, a noble laureate in economics. The statistical exercise has become political due to policymakers who want to show that Indian economy is lifting.
Indian government’s official poverty line is a vital economic statistic, but its validity and methodology have always been debated. The poverty line in India is based on consumer expenditure surveys of the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). That implies a poor household is defined as one with an expenditure level below a specific poverty line.
While it helps deceiving people to gain votes, keeping the poverty line at such a low means millions of people, who are officially considered lifted above poverty line but are poor in true terms, are deprived of the government assistance they deserve to come out of their misery.
India’s poverty line, as defined by Suresh Tendulkar Committee in 2011, is based on monthly spending on food, education, health, electricity and transport. According to Indian government, a person who spends a penny above Rs.27.2 in rural areas and Rs.33 in urban areas a day are living above the poverty line. A family of five that spends anything over Rs.4, 080 per month in rural area and Rs, 5,000 in urban areas is above poverty line. Isn’t it too low?
Presently, one cup of tea with an ‘aloo parantha’ at cheapest roadside food stalls cost Rs. 30 in urban area. So, how Rs. 33.3 a day are sufficient to survive?
According to a committee headed by former Reserve Bank Governor C Rangarajan, 20.9% (363 million) of India’s 1.2 billion people were living below poverty line in 2011-12. His panel had set poverty line at Rs. 32 and Rs 47 a day in rural and urban area respectively. The government claims that between 2009-10 and 2011-12, India has lifted 91.6 million people out of poverty and poverty ratio fell from 38.2% to 29.5%. But that is according to definition of poverty line set by government. Quality of life as an aspect of poverty eradication is still missing.
According to an estimate mentioned in Rangarajan’s report, 57% of a rural family’s budget and 47% of an urban family’s budget is spent to procure food alone.
According to economists and critics, a low poverty line has benefited government to project that millions have been lifted above poverty line when actual state of affairs is lot worse.
Let’s take a look at developed nations and their criteria for defining poverty. In United Kingdom, any citizen living with a current net income of less than Rs. 22,500 a week (over 3,000 a day), is poor.
In US, an individual with annual income less than $11,770 is below the Federal Poverty Level. A family of two and a family of four earning less than $15,930 and $24,520 per year respectively are poor.
Even South Africa’s poverty line was higher than that of India.
India’s latest Socioeconomic and Caste Census (SECC) projects a picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation. According to the survey, in which 300 million households were surveyed, 73% lived in rural areas and less than 5% earn enough to pay taxes. Only 2.5% of the total owned a 4-wheeler vehicle and less than 10% claimed salaried jobs. The literacy rate in rural India is also saddening. About 37.7% of residents can’t read or write.
However, discussion rarely talked about these facts. While a few criticized extravagancies of rich over marriages and birthday parties when poor are starving to death, some others admitted how badly this image has hurt them. A foreigner put the misery of poor in the following words,
It’s really sad, but their cultural behavior is detrimental to progress. The whole country is covered with trash, they have no appreciation for hygiene, and they have no respect for one another. My dad worked there for a couple months and said it was the most miserable experience of his life. He said it seemed like people would kill people over for next to nothing. Like no one makes way for ambulances. They don’t care that someone is dying, they don’t want to be inconvenienced for a moment. It’s just one of those situations that money won’t fix.
Some others didn’t see any valid reason why they should restrict their spending just because others don’t have the same means. There were people who were so much moved by this image that they wanted to do something for that poor lady and the poor kid standing right behind her. May be, a box of sweets or money would help. As matter of fact, it does sound inefficient and insufficient to do a charity for one day for one person when the problem is gigantic. Crores of other continues to live their whole life below poverty line, hand-to-mouth. Misery haunts them their entire life.
Unfortunately, poverty is a catalyst for many other ill effects such as illiteracy, poor mental health, lack of awareness regarding their constitutional rights, anti-social behavior, maximum domestic violence and ill environment for children growing in these slums.
Slums or mohalla’s where these people are forced to spend their entire life are eyesores for government, businessmen, and property dealers. These people are hated for their unhygienic lifestyle and stinking locality consisting of ugly sheds. Try to remember scenes from the movie “Slumdog Millionair”. The reality is way far horrible for poor souls fighting for survival. Quality of life is the least thing that’ll come to their mind.
The government sanctions billions of rupees for development of slums and housing projects but very little have changed even after nearly 70 years of Independence. The poverty isn’t a natural phenomenon. It is manmade. Also, the corruption in government can’t be attributed to only politicians. Individual acts of corruption and silence of people also accounts for our nation’s misery. Our elected leaders are also a projection of our society.
India’s politicians have learnt well from British trick of ‘divide and rule’. India is divided by bars of caste, religion, region, class or status. Indian people have still not learned to respect common interests and community participation.
Biggest cause, as it seems, is that the people are deceived by those whom they consider their leaders. The creed of politicians has become vicious. It needs to be replaced and, eventually, it will be. But that’ll be possible only after individual reforms. All that people need to do is to be honest with themselves.
Shimla MC allegedly makes insensitive comments over mishap caused by its carelessness
Shimla: The change of power in Himachal Pradesh, as well as in the local bodies, has now begun to manifest itself through the attitude of government staff. Keeping with the trend, the staff of Shimla Municipal Corporation House also seems to have emboldened.
An aggrieved citizen brought to our attention his bitter confrontation with one of SMC’s Junior Engineers, who showed complete indifference to a risk that his own carelessness posed for the public safety.
On March 8, 2018, a lady had fractured her leg after she stepped on an uncovered ‘water valve box’ or road box of the SMC. right outside the gate of Auckland House School for Boys. She was returning home after attending a parent-teachers’ meeting.
Another man, a father of two kids who attend nursery classes at same school witnessed the accident and was one of the first to come to help the woman. The fractured leg had left her groaning in pain.
It would be a mistake to consider it a trivial and isolated incident as several other spots in Shimla town pose the same threat to the public. While several road boxes are uncovered, some others are placed in a haphazard manner.
As a matter of fact, despite being a public safety concern, none of the local journalists found it worth highlighting.
Himachal Watcher, in its previous article, had also tagged the Mayor, Kusum Sadret, to apprise her of this safety issue.
After the lady was taken to the Indira Gandhi Medical College for treatment, the father made a complaint to the SMC on its helpline number 1916.
He requested the SMC to take up the matter immediately and cover the said box to avert further mishaps, especially with the nursery kids. Moreover, similar mishaps have been reported due to this carelessness of the Corporation, he told the SMC.
However, the SMC still not fixed it properly, rather, did a ‘Jugaad’ job (as shown in the picture below).
The man clicked a fresh photo on March 14 and made another phone call to the SMC to file a verbal complain about the poor job done by its field staff. The official on the other end could not give a satisfactory answer to the queries of the father.
Therefore, the SMC office further diverted him to the concerned Junior Engineer, who looks after the area. The father approached the JE phonically and expressed concern over the safety of his own children as well as several others who use this road.
The father told the JE that the field staff did not take this safety concern seriously despite the said accident and covered the road box with a damaged lid, which was still posing threat to children and pedestrians. The gap in the lid was still large enough to trap foot of a nursery kid. (See photo 1.0)
When questioned about the issue, the JE said the SMC don’t have a proper arrangement to cover it. He said it will be replaced later. The man, however, told the JE that even the temporary arrangement was made with equally irresponsible manner.
He reminded the JE that this box must be covered on priority bases as it is a matter of safety of the public, especially the school kids. The JE tried to wash his hands of saying it will be fixed later but did not give any readdressal period. He asked the JE to define an approximate deadline for the replacement.
The father apprised the JE of the mishap with the lady, who had fractured her leg.
The JE, however, allegedly made a very rude and insensitive comment in the following words,
To logon ko bhi jameen par dekh ke chalana chahiye (People should walk with their eyes on the ground).
The complainant again asked the JE to at least provide an approximate time that the SMC would take to fix the box.
The complainant asked the JE,
Who will take the responsibility if a kid gets injured meanwhile SMC delay replacement of the damaged cover?
To the dismay of agitated father, the JE once again repeated,
Admi ki bhi jimedari hai ki wo jameen par dekh kar chale (It is the responsibility of people to keep their eyes on the ground while walking).
The father was not only offended but also stunned at the insensitivity shown by the JE towards the safety of kids and public in general.
In a way, he told me to apply same to nursery kids. Is it a sensible thing to do to leave the kids on their own and turn a blind eye towards his own error,
the father told HW.
It’s the height of irresponsibility. Despite being the responsibility of JE, he showed indifferent towards the safety of children and ignored his duty he is paid for. To make things more ugly, he did not hesitate to make offensive comments and insult a citizen, who had approached him with a valid complaint.
Woman fractures leg after stepping onto Shimla MC’s trap of negligence
Shimla: The Carelessness on the part of Shimla Municipal Corporation today led to an accident in which a woman fractured her leg. The woman was taken to the Indira Gandhi Medical College where the fractured leg received a plaster cast.
It implies that the woman’s mobility will be restricted for at least one month, affecting her entire routine. In addition, she will have to bear the pain inflicted due to the negligence of the civic body and pay the bill for treatment.
This little gift from the SMC to the lady on the Women’s Day resulted in both physical and mental harassment. The woman can actually sue the civic body and demand compensation for her injury if she wants.
The woman, who was identified as Anjana Janartha, told Himachal Watcher that she had come to attend a parent-teacher meeting at the Auckland House School for Boys.
After the meeting, she had barely taken a few steps when she suddenly stumbled. A few meters away from the school-gate, an uncovered water valve of Shimla MC, which was located in the middle of the road, waited for her.
The woman fell a victim to it as her step landed in the uncovered cavity around the valve, and she stumbled. The other parents present on the spot helped the woman. However, the accident twisted her leg badly.
Some of the parents, who talked to HW, complained that the cover of the valve is missing for years now. The absence of a stop tap cover turned it into a dangerous trap.
It was not an isolated incident. Last year, a woman had stumbled after stepping onto the same trap, but fortunately did not receive major injuries.
The parents said there had been occasions when children either stumbled or had narrow escapes. The children upto primary level are more vulnerable to this trap of ignorance.
There are innumerous underground water valves in Shimla, which are lying without any cover or closure. It is a matter of safety of the public and no compromise should be made in this regard.
The SMC needs to take stock of such spots and cover them properly to avert any future mishaps.
U-turn over ‘Joothan’ book controversy, never had intention to withdraw it from HPU syllabus, says HP Govt
The Chief Minister had sought a reply from the Education Department regarding the controversy, which suddenly popped-up during January 2018.
Shimla: Today, the Himachal Pradesh Government took a U-turn over controversy pertaining to the withdrawal of a book titled ‘Joothan: A Dalit’s Life’ – a piece of Dalit literature written in the form of a autobiography by Om Prakash Valmiki – from college syllabus of HP University.
The book is being taught in the sixth semester of English subject in the colleges of the state.
Today, a spokesperson of the state government clearly rejected the controversy over this book written by a Dalit writer saying the government has neither withdrawn nor there is any proposal to take out ‘Jhoothan’ book from the education curriculum.
The novel is still a part of the syllabus and there is no proposal to withdraw it,
the government spokesperson said in a statement issued today.These parties did not verify the facts before making such accusations, said the spokesperson.
However, this statement doesn’t look entirely fair as the Chief Minister had himself taken cognizance of a news published in a Hindi daily.
The book is a based on the horrifying personal experience of the writer while growing up in inhuman living conditions in a Dalit basti (slum) of Uttar Pradesh in post-Independent India. The writer has manifested his anguish against the practice of untouchability, discrimination of various sorts, and exploitation of lower caste people by those belonging to the upper caste.
The book is a compilation of experiences and social and psychological conditioning that a member of the lowest caste goes throw under extremely wretched socioeconomic conditions. It is a record of writer’s grim journey from deprived childhood to prominent social critic and writer. The words which are at the centre of the controversy are used to appraise the reader of the fact that lower-caste people were addressed not by their names but their caste.
To get a better idea of about the content of the book, you can go through an acclaimed review by Namit Arora.
The book was originally written in Hindi. It was in 2003 that the Joothan was translated into English by Arun Prabha Mukherjee, a professor of English at York University in Canada.
Similarly, a column by writer Sheoraj Singh Bechain published in a Hindi daily condemned the efforts to undermine Dalit literature, which was rarely recognized.
Sheoraj is one of the most respected Dalit writers in Hindi. He is best known for his book, “Mera Bachpan Mere Kandhon Par.”
It was alleged the book contains words which are highly casteist in nature and the teachers find the use of these words in classroom awkward as well as inappropriate.
The allegations also speculated that the book was actually encouraging caste discrimination. Majority of the teacher community, as well as student organizations, had made it an issue demanding the withdrawal of ‘Joothan’ from syllabus or removal of several words used in it.
The government is washing its hands of the controversy by terming it an unnecessary political agenda created by rival political parties like the Communist Party of India.
However, it must be reminded that the Chief Minister had sought a reply from the Education Department regarding the controversy, which suddenly popped-up during January 2018.
As a matter of fact, for decades now, the book had been part of the English literature syllabus of over a dozen of Indian universities including some of the Central varsities.
If the report published in Hindi daily Amar Ujala’s January 8, 2018, to be believed, the Director of Higher Education, H.P., Dr. Amar Dev, had ordered a review of the book a couple of days after it. He had said that if needed the book would be removed from the syllabus.
As per the report, the Vice-Chancellor of the H.P.U., Rajinder Chauhan, had ordered the formation of a committee headed by the professor Girija Sharma of the Department of English, HPU, to look into the matter and submit its report within 15 days.
The reaction of the upper caste lobby was such as if the practice of caste discrimination or untouchability exists no more in India.
It still exists in rural Himachal and the recent incident of discrimination against children of a government school in Kullu district is a proof of it. The magisterial probe had confirmed that the incident did take place and police had filed an FIR. Three persons including the headmaster were arrested. But they were released on bail within 24 hours arrest. Dozens of other persons were also named in the case by the police.
The segregation of students during mid-day meals and preference to upper-caste candidates while recruiting mid-day meal workers in schools is another allegation that has surfaced again after the Kullu school incident.
Meanwhile, the Dalit community leaders expressed agitation over the issue and threatened widespread protest in case the government decides to withdraw the book from the syllabus.
The issue could have triggered a nationwide Dalit community protest, which makes it a highly sensitive matter. The step would have hit the Dalit vote bank of the ruling party ahead of 2019 assembly elections.
It is a bitter truth that the caste system is still prevalent in our society. The exploitation by politicians through caste-based politics makes it even worse. This divide in society is deemed beneficial in politics.
Despite being educated, the inter-caste marriages are still not acceptable to the parents and society.
Manual scavenging still exists and labourers, who are mostly Dalits, often die in septic tanks or manholes as they are made to clean them with no gas mask, safety gears or proper equipment. On February 15, 2018, three such workers had asphyxiated while cleaning a septic tank in Ponthur near Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu.
Similarly, in October 2017, three workers of a company near Hero Honda Chowk in Gurgaon had died of suffocation while they were attempting to save one of their colleagues from drowning in the septic tank. Again, all safety measures were missing.
A 2017 news report published in the US Today had highlighted how the manual scavengers become the victim of widely flouted laws. At least 750 deaths has been reported from across India since “manual scavenging” was first banned by the Indian government in 1993. The year 2017 had witnessed around 75 deaths during manual scavenging.
So, it would not be correct to say that the young minds do not need to read about this evil anymore.
In Himachal Pradesh, the atrocities on lower caste members may be missing, but the practice of untouchability still continues unabated.
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