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Class war: Rich versus poor

India, which is counted among the poorest of the poor nations of the world, should also produce the richest of the rich, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Nov 16, 2007 22:29 IST

The day India’s sensex crossed the 20,000 mark and Mukesh Ambani was declared the richest man in the world, 20,000 men and women from central India arrived on foot from Gwalior to Delhi to protest that they had not enough to eat once a day.

It was as ironical a coincidence as could be, what in American slang is known as a double whammy— two slaps on the face. India, which is counted among the poorest of the poor nations of the world, should also produce the richest of the rich. The 20,000 who brought life in the capital to a stand-still wanted to tell all those willing to hear that they had been deprived of their lands in order to build dams, factories or for mining. They were disciplined and orderly; if their voices are not heard in good time, they will come again and make their protest louder and less disciplined.

We have to wake up to the grim reality that disparities between the well-to-do minority and the poor masses is far too wide, to be acceptable in any democratic society. They exist in monarchies and dictatorships because people are too scared of the powers-that-be to question the inequitable state of affairs. We are a democracy and if we don’t do something to bridge the gap that divides the rich and the abysmally poor, we will be inviting serious trouble on our heads — more crime, more corruption and more violence. Take a look at any of the prosperous democracies — South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, United States — in none of them is there as much poverty or so much concentration of wealth. It is rare to find homes of even the well-to-do which have servants. They cook their own food and clean their own toilets. Most working class people enjoy creature comforts, many drive their own cars. That is why there is less resentment based on class differences, less unrest, less corruption, less violence.

Bridging the gap between the likes of Ambanis, Birlas, Tatas, Azim Premjis and poverty-stricken multitudes must obviously be our top priority. How it is to be done, I do not know, besides the fact that we don’t have enough land to provide to the landless. But we can, and must, create jobs which can earn them enough to live in dignity.

Black Days

Three days I don’t like my countrymen to ever forget are 31st October, 1st and 2nd November 1984. However, I want to rub them out of my own memory. They still hurt because the people in power who could easily have nipped mischief in the bud let down the country. For a crime committed by two Sikhs, dastardly as it was, they allowed over 3,000 innocent Sikhs to be lynched and burnt alive. I have my own views: why President Giani Zail Singh, instead of asserting himself, shut himself off in Rashtrapati Bhawan; Why Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi remained pre-occupied with his mother’s funeral arrangements and could not find time to go to the streets and stop the carnage, the villain who spread the word “teach the Sikhs a lesson;” why Home Minister Narasimha Rao remained silent; why the Delhi administration and the police deliberately failed to discharge their duties; why the Congress Party never suspended the likes of H.K.L Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler from its membership even after they had been named by witnesses, but instead fobbed people off by appointing one inquiry commission after another to play with time in the hope that people will forget those fateful days.

But one thing I recall with gratitude is the number of Hindus who risked their lives to save Sikhs, the Hindu business house which rebuilt 72 gurdwaras that were damaged; the Commission of Inquiry under retired Chief Justice S.M.Sikri, which castigated the killers and Soli Sorabji, who led the team of lawyers, pleaded the cause of the victims. Above all, I remember Harvinder Singh Phoolka, advocate, who from the first day took charge of co-ordinating activities on behalf of the community and continues to do so till this day. He has put together his records in a book When a Tree Shook Delhi: the 1984 Carnage and its Aftermath by Manoj Mitta and H.S.Phoolka (Roli):The book puts the record straight. It has a few gory pictures of Sikhs being beaten to death. But it is more a record of proceedings before different commissions rather than a sustained story from the beginning to the end — if there is one. It could have done with some streamlining and editing.

Spinster Sister

A man suffered a serious heart attack and had an open-heart bypass surgery. He awakened from the surgery to find himself in the care of nuns at a Catholic hospital. As he was recovering, a nun asked him how he would like to pay for his treatment. She asked if he had health insurance. He replied, in a raspy voice: “No health insurance”. The nun further asked if he had money in the bank? He replied, “No money in the bank.”

“Do you have a relative who could help you ?” She questioned. He said, “I only have a spinster sister, who is a nun.” The nun became agitated and announced loudly, “Nuns are not spinsters: Nuns are married to God.” “In that case,” the patient replied, “send the bill to my brother-in-law.”

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)