The Sunday Magazine of the Hindu [Oct 3] carries two articles side by side on page 3: ‘In a class of our own’ by Kalpana Sharma, and ‘Death on the streets’ by Harsh Mander. The first deals with the typical Indian hypocrisy when it comes to projecting ourselves as ‘world class’, while the second tells of the poor people dying on Delhi’s streets every day.
Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s Chief Minister, expressed her grief many a time when people criticised the inferior quality of the Commonwealth Games-related constructions, the delay in completing the works and the sordid corruption. Her unusually maudlin face lamented the lack of patriotism in people who raised such criticisms. When a whole foot-over bridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium collapsed she called it a just another “hitch.” She even did not hesitate to say that the bridge was not meant for the sports people but for the ordinary people. Implication: the lives of the ordinary people are not so important.
This is exactly the point that Harsh Mander’s article in the Sunday Magazine makes, though without ever referring to Ms Dikshit or any person in power. There are at least 10 persons dying every day on Delhi’s streets. That’s what Mander says in short. According to the records of the Delhi Police, 12,413 unidentified dead bodies were recovered from Delhi’s streets between 1 Jan 2005 and 31 Dec 2009. That is, 7 deaths per day. Mander mentions that two of his associates studied the records of Delhi’s electric crematorium and a Muslim cemetery where unidentified bodies are buried, and found out that an average of 10 unidentified bodies are cremated/buried daily in these two places. You only need to take a ride through Delhi’s streets late in the night or early in the morning to see rows of people sleeping on the footpaths, under flyovers and foot-over bridges or on verandas of buildings.
This is happening in Delhi which is now providing “world class” facilities to sports people, guests and the citizens as well. No doubt, we need to provide them particularly on an occasion like the Commonwealth Games. In spite of all the “hitches and glitches” (Sheila Dikshit’s phrase), we have managed to present “world class” infrastructure, even if in the last hour.
Kalpana Sharma questions the hypocrisy that underlies our obsession with “world class.” Are we really interested in taking the country to the “world class”? That’s what she is asking, in short. We are so keen to give a good impression to the international society by providing world class infrastructure for the CWG. But are we interested in raising the standard of the country to any class at all? What have we done for the 665 million Indians who don’t even have toilets of any class? What about the homeless people, or people who cannot even afford to take their sick to a hospital? What about our sports people who are now given world class accommodation but will be left to their own meagre resources once the games are over? What about the obnoxious corruption among our politicians and bureaucrats (who have stashed away billions of dollars in clandestine Swiss bank accounts)?
Once the Games are over, let’s hope that India will wake up from hypocritical delusions and look at the harsh reality in the face.
Post Script [An SMS joke]: Why did Suresh Kalmadi fail in his suicide attempt? Because the roof of the stadium collapsed.
The number of Dengue cases increases by leaps and bounds in Delhi even as the Games are going to start: at the rate of about 80 per day.