Sunday, December 29, 2013

Things happen elsewhere too

I start off with a warning. To myself. At the end of the post I am going to come off like I am defending things that are happening in India. Today I happened to read a few articles [1, 2, 3] from The Economist, the newspaper published from London, the issue dated February 2, 2013. Yes, these articles had been on my reading list for nearly a year and I got to them only today. A bad day it is turning out to be.
One of the articles is about a night club fire in the Brazilian town Santa Maria. The second article is about abortion laws in Ireland, how the wheels of governance move – snail paced. The third article is about a politician making sexist remarks. The funny thing is the politician does not carry the badge of (dis)honor – Indian. He is a German, for heaven’s sake!
There are parallels and perpendiculars and it is in the parallels I am going to fish, for the most part.
In the Brazil night club fire incident 235 people were killed; the tragedy is compounded by the fact that most were asphyxiated or crushed. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We lose people to fire in elementary schools has happened in Kumbakonam some years ago, or in a Kolkata hospital more recently. “A catalogue of negligence” was the major contributing factor. The place was over stuffed - 1,000 people in the place designed for 690 (This precision, by the way, is a perpendicular). “The buck passing has already started.” “The mayor blamed the fire brigade.” “A proposal from 2007 to set minimum national standards has idled” in the power corridors and rooms. One difference from the conditions we can expect in India: “At least Brazilians could take pride in the emergency response.” Well, India has the recent Odisha cyclone to boast.
Let us jump from Brazil to Ireland. Both belong to the Roman Catholic flock, apparently of similar feathers even if not same. But Ireland takes the cake and we all know what happened to Savita Halappanavar. But then, we may not have known that the Irish Supreme Court ruled 21 years ago that abortion was legal “if the risk that pregnancy might prompt suicide.” It might sound frivolous and let me assert that I have no intention of joking about things this serious. However, the thought did cross my mind: what if Savita had threatened suicide instead of repeatedly going to the doctor pleading for an induced abortion?
No luck. The government promised to bring in appropriate legislation this year, a full two decades later and three years after having been pulled up by European Court of Human Rights. No difference in the speed of governance, be it Brazil, Ireland or India! What is worse is that the anti-abortion lobby is vociferous in its denunciation of procedures to save life, all ironically supported by the Vatican! A quasi-parallel: Shiv Sena is opposed to the black magic bill in Maharashtra. They must have kindred souls across the spectrum of religions!
Now to Germany. At the time the article appeared, Rainer Brudele, aged 67 was “the lead candidate for Germany’s Free Democratic Party” and he made some really crude sexist comments directed at a “female journalist young enough to be his daughter.” Stern, the magazine that “often spices its stories with naked women is leading the charge against sexism.” That is irony fit enough for Indian media double standards, wouldn’t you say. Take this too: at the time of revelations, the incident was at least a year old! Was there any election tactics behind this sudden outcry about sexism? Perhaps not, as elections were more than a few months away. It might have been just that stern wanted to sell more copies. Indian media are not immune from using such underhanded tactics to increase sales.
The most revealing sentence in the article is this: “Yet to many German women it is precisely the affair’s banality that reminds them of daily harassment, in the office or the gym, on the bus or in bars.” “That is India for you,” Germans, before this incident thumbed their noses at Indians. Good riddance. They do it too.
Having come to know all these parallels, I do stick to my own take on how to handle such matters. Do not jerk your knees. Make sure you think through the host of issues that are bound to be intertwined. But, do not take decades to draw up an action plan. Do it quickly and act faster. This advice is not only for India, but for all countries, including the USA. They are never going to bring a gun control law and people, including school children, continue to be under risk of being felled by bullets.
There are lobbies, National Rifle Association in the US and the Vatican on abortion, for example, that are content with status quo. In India, we must be able to identify, be aware of and counter, such regressive forces, including religions and politicians playing the religious cards, the hide bound bureaucracy who waits to land plum post-retirement postings, the judiciary that is not the beacon for the progressive movements and on and on.
Let us wish ourselves the best of luck.
One last statement. I did not draw the parallels to say we in India should be contented.
Raghuram Ekambaram

1.    A night from hell
2.    Still restrictive
3.    A cloud over Rainer

No comments: