I recently watched the movie Manjhi and was filled with admiration for Dashrath Manjhi for the uphill task he completed single-handedly. We have had lot of good cinemas in recent years which highlight the real picture of society and this helps people in appreciating how lucky and privileged they are to have not been born in those parts of the country. However, often in the audience I sense this palpable feeling of harboring a grudge against the System. They feel that the System wronged the protagonist robbing him and his family a shot for a good future. Amidst the tip-tapping on their phones and tablets updating their friends via the social media with their opinion of the movie, often people forget how much times have changed since Independence.
I think as the generation of ’47 era gradually phases out, the struggles and societal condition of the time just after independence will become lost in public memory more or less. Very few in my age group and even less in the present generation know about what it was like to live in a society that was in the throes of casteism, poverty and in the absence of daily utilities we take it for granted now. Not that I had a first-hand experience of them but got to know a little by reading through accounts of those times in books and I have found it very rare to find people reading through such historical accounts. Sharing 1-2 minute videos on National Holidays are not sufficient to make people feel how lucky they are to be born in a time when many of the ills plaguing our country at the time of Independence – famine, ridiculous social practices, total absence of health-care and access to information – have almost now vanished.
People cook a snigger when told that some considerable progress has been made. In these times when sweeping judgements are the norm - no one bothers to check facts and is trigger-happy to paint you as any right/center/left sympathizer. But governance objectives seem to be an ever-evolving process. Some 50 years ago it was all about Roti, Kapda aur Makaan now it is about No corruption, access to better roads and free internet (check Delhi and Bihar election manifestos). And it will evolve further into probably an unthinkable dimension. Technological advances have led the society to instant gratification – people want instant results and so the pressure on the System has grown too. Demands of good governance have joined the chorus of election rally with political leaders falling over each other in promising the Best governance possible. However, the general public seemingly remains oblivious of the mammoth task this monolithic, rigid System has to perform. There are rising demands by the countless number of groups which want the System to first cater to their demands. Everyone expects a metaled road leading to his house, with street lights paving the way with 24 x 7 electricity and the best school and hospital in the vicinity. How will this be possible across the length and breadth is not what people bother about. Not that it is a wrong or unrealistic expectation but as they say the devil lies in the details. Finance, logistics and long term planning are aspects which our administrators and politicians are still new to.
The biggest achievement of democracy is that social inequality has come down to a larger extent. Poverty has also reduced but not to that degree and perhaps this is why still one-fourths to one-thirds of the population still lives under poverty depending on which measure you adopt. However, the rise of lower castes in politics, their assertion to reclaim their dignity and access to opportunities is a heartening result of 67 years of our democratic process. The British left us in 1947 assuming that this country had enough diversity to disintegrate into as many nations as in Europe and spiral downwards into chaos. To add to that, social malpractices, poor agricultural produce made matters worse. People of lower castes couldn’t enter temples while their cattle could (read about lower castes like Ezhavas in South India) and the females were subjected to unspoken humiliations.
But now if you look around lower castes rule the corridors of power from the North to the South – and barring a few aberrations we don’t hear the atrocities on them anymore. A person of any caste, any background has access to all opportunities. Social injustice has reduced to a larger degree – oppressed sections of the society have found their voice. Women – the oppressed gender have more opportunities than before and are waging a battle to have more doors open for them. For an unbiased, well-informed eye this is a very heartening sight.
Although, it pinches a bit when educated, well-to-do people (probably in the 80-95% percentile based on income) blatantly question the need of a System or even a democracy. In their fit of anger they even question the point of why we should pay taxes to the govt. The discontent is so deep-rooted that it’s hard to drive home the point to them over a cup of tea or snacks. The basic idea of us as a nation is to have each other’s’ back irrespective of your religion, caste, creed and gender – or in plain simple words Inclusive Growth. But sadly it has been reduced to a mere political slogan associated with a much derided political party. I’m not sure if that’s the reason why the significance of it has been lost on people or the education system failed to emphasize more the basic principles of our nationhood or perhaps somewhere down the line while growing up, joining the rat-race all these stopped making sense to us. Of course this is the pessimistic view of things which often make us think that the future is bleak.
But India has always defied the norms, the predictions of observers and probably will still continue to do so. Mark Twain and Sir John Trachey had famously predicted that after the British leave the country – there would be civil war and unrest owing to the abundant regional, linguistic and cultural diversities enough to fill the whole of Europe. What they failed to realize that the Indian freedom movement was very unique and its orchestrators had successfully laid a strong foundation for Billions of peoples tryst with destiny. Had they been alive they would have surprised to see how Indian democracy has gone from strength to strength. So it will not be wrong to expect India to shine brighter as a democracy, as a place where in the words of Tagore – the mind is without fear and the head is held high.