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Out of India

While we are busy discussing the Sensex and scams, India’s poorest are barely surviving thanks to an appalling governance deficit. Rahul Bose writes.

india Updated: Sep 01, 2011 10:36 IST
Rahul Bose

‘In 65 years, not a single politician has come here.’ It is 5 pm, the sun is softening as we sit amid a bunch of villagers at Rehatyakheda village in Amravati district, 250 kilometres from Nagpur. It has taken us seven hours to reach Rehatyakheda. The last 35 km is a dirt track. “I am 43 and in all these years, we have had no electricity and roads. Only two hand-pumps have been installed for water,” a villager tells me. I look around the village and clichés stare at me: 50% of India lives on less than $2 a day; 100 million children go to bed hungry every night; 62% lives without electricity. Rehatyakheda is a microcosm of all these clichés. It is just another heart of India’s darkness.

There are just two rows of thatched mud huts facing each other in Rehatyakheda. No shops, no dispensary. There’s an apology of an anganwadi; a school room so unsafe that the children study on its open verandah. There are little scrubs of farmland where tuar and chana plants precariously survive. Here, water is scarce and precious. Temperatures climb to 48 degrees in summer. If days are difficult, nights bring their own hardships: pigs, deer and monkeys rampage the standing crops, reducing the already pathetic yields by half.

The village lives in darkness; its children are taught to play in the dark. Food is cooked during the day, eaten by the light of a kerosene lamp, carefully set at its lowest flame, at night. To save kerosene, 10 minutes is all they get to finish dinner.

The nearest medical facility is 30 km away. Pregnant women prefer to give birth in their huts rather than travel two hours on the bumpy dirt track to the nearest public health centre. They know the journey can lead to a haemorrhage and death, like it happened to those women who insisted on travelling to the nearest health centre. This situation has been the same since 1947.

“A couple of years ago, my father fell ill and the few medicines I had did not work. I took him to the dispensary but they had nothing else,” says Narayan, a social worker at Apeksha Homoeo Society, an NGO working in this village and district. “That night my father died. The memory still haunts me and that is why I joined Apeksha.” In this region, Apeksha has distributed solar lamps donated by viewers of the NDTV’s Greenathon last year. I am here to do a ‘one year later’ story about the village that now use solar lamps that my friends and I donated.

When Teri (The Energy and Resources Institute), the partner and advisor to the Greenathon, asked me which region we would like the lamps to be donated to, I only said it should be in Maharashtra’s most backward areas. But I had not bargained for Rehatyakheda.

“You are the first person who is not from an NGO or a government official to visit us,” a villager tells me. “This is the first time we have been given something by someone willingly. For everything else, we have to fight.” They tell me the effect the lamps have had on the lives: 12 hours of light. All night! The men take these lamps to the fields and spend nights there without the fear of animals ravaging their crops. The women cook fresh food in the evenings and the children can now study at night.

But 60 solar lamps can’t make the land more fertile, provide more food or make water any cleaner. Only conscientious and dutybound governance can bring about changes. But where is it? Where did it go after the 1960s? What has made it acceptable to talk about the Sensex more than the infected sores on children who will never see a rural clinic? Why is India not on the streets every time grains meant for the only ration shop near Rehatyakheda is pilfered by hoarders? Why doesn’t Delhi burn when one of the two hand pumps in the village malfunctions and no one comes to fix it?

In the pell-mell of the post-1991 liberalisation push, the middle class is obsessed about wealth. The political class obsessed about pushing more Indians into this consumption-driven tier. Today both are in a conspiratorial dance, a dance of mutual benefit where the silent agreement is: we will make you rich. In return, you keep quiet as we engineer the disappearance of our bottom-most 100 million.

But even as our planners and strategists wait for the 100 million to die of thirst, infection, starvation and diseases, the fun part is they are not dying. It is one of the great ironies of this civilisation that while most Indians have been born into nothing and continue to survive on nothing, they are quite full of life. They live on little and yet retain the ability to comb their children’s hair, sing a folk song, put on their ancestral jewellery and pray on an auspicious day. And keep living. Else, Rehatyakheda would have been a ghost village, a place where adivasis once lived.

But it survives, long enough for me and other Indians to want to question our governors. But cruelly, when the prime minister holds a press conference, the questions are reflective of the deluded paradise we choose to aspire for. In this land, only telecom scams, satellite spectrum and black money are discussed. Not one question is asked about why no politician has ever visited Rehatyakheda. Why is there no electricity? Why do the schoolchildren here study in a room donated by the forest department? Singh was asked the wrong questions by the wrong people with wrong agendas.

One day, when the PM decides to meet the rest of us, I will take him to Rehatyakheda and make him meet the woman who while serving me a handful of watery tuar dal and a jowar roti for dinner said, “We are very poor, saheb. This is all we can give you. One day perhaps we will be able to afford more.” When, Dr Singh?

(Rahul Bose is a social activist and actor)

*The views expressed by the author are personal.

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