Haunted by our own apathy, are we?
Editorial: September 2017
In the past two months, every possible calamity seems to have tested the nerves of Indians. There have been monster floods that have seen several states and millions of people under water. The loss is incalculable. Thousands of people have lost their lives and billions of rupees will be needed to rebuild homes and lives. This is a yearly phenomenon, but so indifferent have the government and the chattering classes become that there is greater awareness about the cyclones that hit Texas and Florida than the natural disasters in our own country. Perhaps death and suffering do not prod people to switch on the TV or read the news anymore. The only exception is when the media provides wall-to-wall coverage when Mumbai or Chennai get inundated. When the rains in Mumbai failed to repeat the disaster of 2005, the interest in the flood story waned; meanwhile, we do not really know whether the floods in Assam have subsided. And also, what happened to the stranded rhinos? Are they back to their grassy abodes in Kaziranga? The performance of state governments is usually pathetic. Thanks to technology, they have a better idea of the impending disaster, but their responses and their ability to deliver relief remain pathetically indifferent and inefficient. Consequently, the death toll is inordinately high in comparison to any society that we aspire to compete with.
The same indifference to death has been visible when infants suffering from Japanese encephalitis choked to death in Gorakhpur, as supply of oxygen could not be continued due to manifest venality. Hundreds of newborns have died in past weeks, but this enormous tragedy has refused to register with the authorities. Some ministers of the state government have had the gall to say that there was nothing unusual about these deaths as they always take place at this time of the year. This criminal response may surprise those who live metaphorically in a different world; yet, tragically, this is the unvarnished truth. After Gorakhpur’s unfolding theatre of death, other cities in different parts of the country are furiously trying to compete with it in proving that their death tolls are no less. Nashik, for instance, has been releasing figures of similar proportions. In other towns with non-existent health facilities there is no clue to how many die each day as the infirm and suffering die before they can reach a hospital or a doctor. It is a dismal and depressing reality that does not sit well in a country that is projecting itself as an emerging power in the neighbourhood and beyond.
As if these problems were not enough, we have had to contend with a face-off with our next-door superpower, China, which is relentlessly trying to push its frontiers and explore weaknesses in near and far countries to extend its sway over them. There is a pattern to this growth. China’s enlargement of influence in the neighbourhood comprising Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and in Africa has been facilitated by the economic slowdown, civil wars and poor quality of governance. India’s challenge to China would have to be not just military, but also in the realm of ideas and vision. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal have all pursued policies and majoritarian politics that have excluded minorities and hurt their law-based systems. China loves amoral governments that have scant regard for their constitutions as it allows Beijing to get a foothold in their societies. Only India’s inclusive law-based democracy and its internal strength sustained by its well-fed and healthy citizenry can challenge Beijing, not a milieu in which intellectuals and journalists like Gauri Lankesh are shot for airing their views or minorities are hounded for what they eat and how they look. Our enemies watch us very closely, they read our newspapers and watch our television and know when to add fat to fire.