Seeding the thought
“Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way, into the dreary desert sand of dead habit, where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action, into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake” Rabindranath Tagore
If one were to draw blind-folded, an image of an Indian, from what is heard and seen about India and its people by others outside its borders, perhaps it should not be surprising to see anyone drawing a dark, skinny and dusty person with a grim face and a turban wrapped several times around the head, standing amidst dark, gloomy clouds of lust and violence, corruption and scams, pollution and population hovering in the backdrop, holding a deep-pitted begging bowl raised towards any leaking place from which foreign funds have the slightest hint of dripping… no matter how demeaning the picture might be.
A few decades back, this is how we too, as global citizens, played a part in painting the whole of Africa as a continent with sick, poor, bony, dusty, dark children; undeniable that we expected every child, woman and man coming out of Africa to fit into boxes and images of our forced imagination seeded by the exploitative colonial powers. To a certain extent, seeding this dark thought of an entire continent into our minds that so stubbornly refuses to leave has been achieved; so much so that we cannot stop seeing Africa and its citizens without sympathy; even if they don’t ask for it. Thus remains Africa, a continent with absolute poverty and misery, violence and barbarism, with resent for advancement and justice requiring the saviours from the fair West to be present there all the time for establishing control of biblical proportions over otherwise tagged “barbaric” tendencies-confirmed and affirmed within the limitations of our mind if not anywhere else. With that idea established, is sealed the fate of Africa as an ever-impoverished nation in need of never-ending support in global perspective. Eventually, crossing borders and treading seas, India, seems to have become the new destiny, the new Africa, for the West to muse in the pretext of development. Historically, the colonial powers enter a particular territory only when there is a promise of economic prosperity and would not leave until the last drop of anything left is drained. Africa, I believe, has still some more fuel, diamond and un-questioning people left for the colonies to optimize and the West would go any length to skew the African identity to make space for them to remain until Africa’s resources are completely exploited. Amidst faith-based, pseudo-justice-based, exploitative colonial powers born out of intentions conceived through the marriage of hypocrisy and greed, it would be interestingly revealing if the following questions are reflected upon: How is this image drawn so conveniently? Who frames these images? What benefit is derived by giving and taking up such an identity?
From the Moral Eye of Democracy
Despite glamour and its commercial side taking on the best centers and corners of the mass media, some remnant gaps do bring highlights of contemporary social issues by chance or by choice and at times articles with NEWS-value do make it through media gate-keepers, that expose racist ideologies and stereotyping of the subaltern collective that indicate the cause of the selective-perception. It is then that the media finds its rightful place as the fourth pillar or rather the moral eye of the democracy that opens to reveal hidden agendas. Instances may be seen as run below.
The Problem of Plenty
For a country which till recently had a weak civil society movement, India is now witnessing a boom in the NGO sector. With a population of 1.2 billion, the country could well be the land of opportunities for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the Central Bureau of Investigation conservatively estimating 20 lakh of them already operating in states and union territories.
The mind-boggling figures boil down to one NGO for every 600 people. Compare this to the latest government data on police. According to the latest figures from the Union home ministry, India has just one policeman for every 943 people.
But there is an accountability deficit among the NGOs. And that’s how CBI got into the picture as the Supreme Court responded to a PIL. Many don’t submit details of receipt of grant and spending to income tax authorities, the CBI told the apex court.
The Funding Inquisition
Based upon the receipt of previously received, documented and established figures, NGOs operating in the country had received a staggering Rs 11,070 crore during 2013-14, with the US topping the list of donors by providing over Rs 4,491 crore, followed by the UK which contributed Rs 1,347 crore, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Interestingly, the NGOs received donations even from secretive countries like North Korea.
The Emerging Thought
Over six decades of freedom later and after millions of dollars raised outside our borders in promised lands by the so called “compassionate” and those living off that money raised in the name of the poor, with a stage set for provider-receiver drama to happen with lakhs of organizations to act as actors, traitors and betrayers (from within and out), nothing much has changed in the socio-economic-political diaspora of our country; we remain still burdened and still plundered and those we claim need help, upon whose needs the welfare-oriented development sector fuels itself, remain deprived, marginalized, excluded and vulnerable till date. Let us take the following statistics available from the past five years for some revelation:
GO and NGO Lock Horns
Most funding organizations function nothing more than as the neo-capitalists of the contemporary scenario who see the poor and the vulnerable as nothing more than a Return on Investment (RoI); and their lives, their communities and the problems they deal with in everyday life as their Unique Selling Point (USP) to be optimized and highlighted outside the borders to nurture profits and dividends back in their homes out of which a portion found fitting is thrown at us for which we are busy fighting among ourselves to take a grab.
And up the political front and in government quarters, leave alone finding it difficult to strategically tackle poverty over the years, our topied-babus seem to find it hard enough even to define it. Shifting from per-capita income to kilo-calorie food consumption, we have indeed shifted focus defining poverty rather than focusing on the welfare of the poor. Of late, we have brilliantly figured out that the fastest and immediate way to bring down the poverty level of a country is to just adjust the way we define it. The once Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, submitted new price data that pegged the urban poverty line as consumption of Rs. 32/day per person in urban areas and Rs. 26/day in rural areas, a revision that would immediately lower India’s own measure of its poor from 37% to 32% of its population. Behold! Sixty million people, suddenly are no more poor by definition.
Optimizing on the poor who the government manages to define and the remaining that are left out undefined, at the end of the day, the NGOs from within and out, hover to notice and peck and fill themselves with benefits sought in their names.
Big Fish Eats Smaller Fry
Cracking down on erring NGOs, government has cancelled licenses of 1,142 NGOs belonging to undivided Andhra Pradesh, under which they get foreign funds, for not filing their annual returns for three consecutive years. Earlier, government has said that 69 NGOs have been blacklisted from receiving foreign funds after finding fault in different aspects. Among those NGOs which were prohibited from receiving the foreign funds include 14 from Andhra Pradesh, 12 from Tamil Nadu, five each from Gujarat and Odisha, four each from Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala and three from Delhi. Government had also initiated action against 26 NGOs in current fiscal after finding “irregularities” in receiving foreign contribution while 14 foreign donors have been placed under prior approval category.
On February 25, government told Parliament that more than 31,000 NGOs were served notices for not filing annual returns on their foreign contribution. In 2011-12, notices were sent to 21,493 associations which were found to have not submitted annual returns under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 for 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 and in 2014, and notices were issued to 10,343 associations which had not filed annual returns for 2009-10 to 2011-12 (The New Indian Express, 17th March, 2015)
In October, the Home Ministry announced that the non-governmental organizations can’t do transactions of over ‘20,000 in cash—a clause which is applicable to only business enterprises under the Income Tax Act. In December, a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) circular was released, listing NGOs whose funds it said should be monitored by banks. In January, a new circular was released with a list of 10 donor organizations, including Danish International Development Agency (Danida), Mercy Corps, US; Hivos International of the Netherlands; Climate Work Foundation, US; and Greenpeace International.
Any NGO receiving funds from them will now need prior permission of the MHA before they bring in the funds. In fact, starting 1 April, 2015, all organizations registered under the FCRA have to reapply for licence within a year. While licences issued by the MHA in the ongoing year will be applicable for five, those issued before 1 April 2015 will be deemed cancelled from April 2016. Anil Choudhary, senior member with Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), said, “If you are independent and critical of the market and the government, you face the music in the form of regulatory restrictions.” Those working in the development sector are hopeful of alternative funding models emerging, though not necessarily through CSR. Once community-centred funding comes into the picture, the voices of dissent and people’s movements will be harder to stamp out; it is believed.
At the end of the sudden screening and lowering of shutters of NGOs by suddenly vigilant government bodies and the ironical subsequent screaming of “foul-play” by representatives from the civil society who claim this to be a direct attack on democracy to shut voices of dissent and disapproval of activists and nationalists, I wonder why voices of dissent and disapproval over a government’s unjust manifestation of oppressive tendencies to cover-up hideous corporate crimes suddenly stop when financial ties are cut(?!) Do voices of such heightened passion earlier heard require financial assistance to ensure volume?! Is this the junction of hypocrisy?
The painting of M.F. Hussain, titled ‘the Rape of Mother India, portrays the image of a woman caught in a struggle to escape from the strangling force of two wild bulls; this painting was heavily criticized for the imagery as well as the titling. Revisit the painting and you get to see the Indian identity suffer a similar accord; torn apart by the betrayer from outside and the traitor from within and it is then that you realize that the painting would find no more contempt yet just absolute relevance in the present context to understand the fate of the poor caught between these two sectors that promise development.
The Mining of Poverty
“The identity of an individual is essentially a function of his/her choices, rather than the discovery of an immutable attribute.” Amartya Sen
India has always been seen as a land of harvest if not by us, at least by the West. As we try to think that gone are those days, when the great whites packed up after reaching our shores and mining us off our riches that they controlled, reaped and shipped to their land to be preserved, wrapped and sold, it is equally pertinent to be a little watchful and realize that today those we believed to be gone, are back in our shores and this time, to mine us off our poverty instead. Their first stop often as they reach our land are the slums, pavements and areas of claimed-underdevelopment, poverty and hunger-their choicest destinations (often with good connectivity through air), where they pull out their point and shoot cameras, to do exactly what it is meant to do-point and shoot-megapixel after megapixel of great whites amidst the poor, vulnerable and unprotected lot in an impoverished nation that will soon get captioned, tagged, uploaded, downloaded and blown up to unimaginable proportions to be presented in slides, posters, brochures, coffee-table stand-alone and anything creative and unimaginable during hair-raising, fund-raising campaigns to a bunch of mesmerized audiences who fill the high-raised bowls of those that seek on behalf of those who are not even aware (nor ever will be.) Thus emerges a breeding ground for forced-need-based communities and strategic-greed-based organizations and the marriage of these two groups have become subsequently complementary for each other’s survival.
In this rights-based-era we live in, with globalization in vogue, it is not just commodities that are traded yet often tags that come with an unstoppable influx of infused culture-new, foreign and distant to us; and as we stand in awe at the conqueror, we despise our own within the boundaries and step across even if it is in the risk of giving up our culture, traditions and freedom. There is a wide difference between these cross-cultural ideas; like the idea of feeling self actualized and satisfied that according to Western philosophy is possible when facilitated through the accumulation of materialistic resources to maximize satisfaction that is directly contradictory to the Indian philosophy that speaks about the idea of giving up materialism to attain nirvana. The solution to many problems in the Indian context cannot lie in plausible formulae that seems to have worked in the West or elsewhere; owing to the fact that there is a serious discrepancy in the way hypothetical assumptions have been made of Indians and India on the basis of flawed conclusions drawn from misrepresentation and ideas drawn from an equally plausible imagination.
Concluding Idea of Justice
India has become a country where a plethora of projects are drafted for the money collected; when ethically it should be the other way around; this is when and where the Indian soil and its people have become testing grounds for launching medical and other researches banned in other sensible parts of the world, where pesticides, bio-modified seeds and pilot projects considered harmful gets conceived, incubated and hatched on our open grounds thus condensing our land to blocks of wasted and barren exploited pieces and our people to mere guinea pigs and lab rats capitalizing on the illiteracy and ignorance of the exploited masses.
Eventually, it is the poor, blanketed under the darkness of poverty, who are being silently and systematically plundered, ruined and tagged and we, as a majority carry these imprints in our represented, presented and misrepresented identity; yet it is not such a rarity that these isolation chambers are what many walk into these days willfully and voluntarily; giving up pride, respect and dignity which some of our earlier Indians refused to exchange. Much of the damage has been partly due to an identity thrust upon us and much more attributed to us for accepting the identity thrust without defending our own.
In The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen, hints on the need for the concept of ‘open impartiality’ in a global context that cannot be abstracted without the existence of ‘global democracy’. This is one of the weirdest situations where a global dialogue that is imperative for ensuring global justice under the organization of commonalities of identities and institutions in the contemporary world gets dismissed for evoking ‘distracting details’ that shun the purity for exercising fairness while delivering justice. Often, this is the same detailing that is available to understand the global presentations of vulnerable people and communities and their identities that are un-spared and brutalized, very often on global grounds of injustice.
The images of the beggar tapping at car window at a traffic signal, a working child carrying a sack-load of waste in a gunny bag, a pavement dweller living in a pipeline discarded from an unsuccessful project, a pathway seller rushing to hide his commodities when the cops come in, a push-cart monger who yells at the top of his voice right outside the house and everyone else we drive past or possibly just pause to pick a decent bargain or take a moment to pity have been raised to be identified as the symbols of poverty and objectified.
The life that drives these people into who they are, where they are and where they come from and why they do what they do, are interestingly heart-warming stories of endurance and courage if rightly captured and truthfully represented. The stories from the everyday life of these people, true and alive, have a greater significance for living the great Indian philosophy that teaches of artha, kama, dharma and moksha that will help us to understand the essence of breaking barriers of conceived perception by observing their very simple way of life amidst struggles like anyone else’s. The idea to capture their lives, courage and dream amidst their struggle may change our perspective of them and provide a spectrum of understanding of the immense resilience of an ordinary, regular Indian to the rest of the world.
The irony behind these stories of struggles and endurance amidst suffering, tragedies and difficulties is that these issues need not be faced in the first place if policies that run the government, non-government and community systems were functioning as promised and as truthful as told in the first place. Diamonds are rare, beautiful and valuable, but their beginnings were always as humble in form as the common carbon-dark, dirty, and combustible. Through years of withstanding intense heat and high pressure, they become pure, beautiful and strong; this makes the gem a good metaphor for the patient Indian endurance that has historically withstood abuse, chaos and catastrophe. This can be understood through the lives of a few contemporary and lesser known Indians when presented and represented from an un-hideous and positive angle and their misrepresentations get subsequently erased.
Ajith Fredjeev Dinakarlal
Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Marian College, Kutikanam
Dr. Lokesha MU
Assistant Professor, Department of Studies and Research in Social Work, Tumkur University, Tumkur
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