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India Hurting

By Lakshmi Palecanda Email By Lakshmi Palecanda
June 2010
India Hurting

When I immigrated to the United States in 1991, India was a developing country poised on the brink of globalization. When I moved back to Mysore in 2009, it was to a promise of a dynamic country with double-digit growth, a vibrant young population, and one of the world’s largest consumer bases in the form of a mushrooming middle class to the tune of close to 300 million people. A cell-phone-connected populace, fancy malls, and urban chic were the carrots dangled around.

Incredible India, here I come, I thought.

Was I in for a shock of the rudest kind! Having now lived in India for over a year, and having dealt with all kinds of ground realities, I can say it has been incredible indeed…only not in a good way.

I am no professor of economics, but what I can see is that the fabled double-digit growth of the country is helping a rare few. As before, nothing except trash is trickling down to the poor. Sure, now there are innumerable welfare schemes by the government and NGOs to combat poverty. But funds are being siphoned straight into the bank accounts of government officials and politicians. In the old days, these people used to skim funds; now they straightaway drain them.

Fleece or be fleeced, seems to be today’s motto. Every state in the country has at least one horror story of corruption, be it Uttar Pradesh, with Mayawati’s money garlands and statues, or Karnataka, with its Reddy brothers, cabinet ministers who are allegedly mining iron ore illegally. The extent of corruption is unbelievable.

Next, the power shortage here is stunning. How can a country develop if the citizens are facing power cuts every single day all year long? Small industries are buckling because of power cuts of three and four hours a day. Farmers are the worst off—they have 10- and 12-hour-long power cuts, and have to irrigate in the night. Meanwhile, power theft is rampant, and goes unchecked. There is a store in our neighborhood where the owner switches on his power…by connecting wires at the lamp post beside the road.

Infrastructure that is laid half-heartedly breaks down repeatedly; there is less civic sense now than there was a decade ago; and the common man is being shafted.

In their turn, inflated incomes of the few have resulted in a culture that is leached of all values and respects nothing but money. Last week I was talking to a local newspaper editor. I mentioned the great Indian culture, and he said “What culture?” It appears like Indians have lost their sense of decency, their dignity and their way of life. Nothing matters but money, publicity and glamour. There is no sense of community at all, and no sense of wanting to preserve anything for the future.

Present-day adults are totally self-centered and put pressure on their children, trying to live through them. This pressure has skewed the education system till what you learn and know is totally irrelevant when compared to how you perform. This stresses out children unbelievably, and suicide rates in children are going through the roof. At the same time as they are pressuring their children to perform, parents are also overloading them with material goods, totally bypassing discipline. As a result, the children of today’s Indian middle class are the most spoiled brats I’ve ever seen. I shudder to think of the future.

Meanwhile, prices are so high on essential commodities that the poor can hardly buy anything. Imagine, tur dal, the basic source of cheap protein, costs Rs. 80 a kilo, and fresh green beans cost Rs. 60 a kilo. I have no idea what daily-wage earners do, and am frankly ashamed to ask.

India is liable to face a serious food shortage sometime soon. This conclusion is not from reading any great treatise on the subject, but pure common sense: cultivable land is being converted to residential and commercial property at an unreal rate, and the groundwater situation is totally messed up because of runaway exploitation, especially by urban settlements.

However, what upsets me the most is the hopelessness and pessimism of the people, the depth of which is mind-boggling. There is a deep-rooted cynicism that status quo will always prevail, and the people don’t deserve better, which is totally not true. If India cleaned up its act, I truly believe no other country could touch it. It has so much going for it. If the judiciary started enforcing its laws stringently, if people imbibe the community spirit and start cleaning up after themselves, and so on, India has the capacity to be a true role model for the world.

If you choose to live in an air-conditioned villa in a gated community that is made to look like California, your India will be pretty incredible. If you can afford to throw around enough cash, you can get every need attended to, and your India will be shining. But if you choose to live the life of the average Indian, you will realize how unfair it is, and how sad his lot. To him, India is not shining…it’s simply hurting.

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