Fears and Dreams
Why is life so cheap in India?
Whenever I hum the patriotic number which is also referred to as the Taranah-e-Hind, I do it to prove a point to myself. But sadly, the ‘Saare Jahaan Se Accha’ spiel, in spite of depicting all the features of my country in a single line, sometimes just doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. And the bitter truth remains that the only thing cheaper in India, than the Dandi salt and the Khadi cloth, is the life of a common man.
In some situations, the way people die and the way nobody even bats an eye is laughable, because the same thing in any other country would lead to massive backlash. I mean can you imagine people dying just standing in queues? Can you even believe that borewells are left uncovered so they can turn into death traps, luring innocent children to fall inside and choke?Have you heard the stories of manual scavengers getting stuck in the muck and suffocating? Or visualised the dark magic of the airy fairy tales of how buildings, bridges, flyovers, dams and tunnels suddenly crumble, leaving bystanders and workers to be buried, or if they are lucky, to somehow wriggle out of the rubble?
It’s easy for the middle and upper classes like us to sympathise. For that’s how it is. But for the classes of people directly above those in dire poverty, it's a question of staying where they are and trying to elbow their way up to one more ‘level’ of comfort and wealth. Else be dragged to the bottom.
So yes, human life is indeed cheap. But by not disclosing the data of disasters or by hiding the news of human tragedy, the media, the newspapers and everyone accountable become cheaper in every sense of the word. The problem is that we have a tendency to ignore small signs of danger and just wait for a situation to get really bad. And when it is too late the only way to cover the news is to use a convenient cover up.
Now for some dark truths.
1. It is estimated that there were hundreds of deaths due to demonetisation, but even now information around the death toll continues to be mysterious. There was little gain from the entire futile exercise but the loss of lives of people standing in line to get their notes exchanged is irreparable.
2. Across the entire nation, at an average almost 1.5 lakh people die in road accidents every year. As for construction related accidents, buildings, bridges, roads, flyovers and even dams have just crumbled like a pack of cards. All due to reckless construction, using faulty machinery or substandard materials. But how many are held responsible?
3. According to the National Disaster Response Force, since 2009, over 40 children have died after falling into borewells, with over 70% of rescue operations having failed. Which brings to the fore the lack of awareness on sealing unused borewells. And the public apathy towards safety measures.
4. Thousands of people have died while undertaking sewage cleaning and manual scavenging, which involves entering dry latrines full of toxic fumes to clean them. The cleaning of dry toilets and carrying human waste to the dump is generally done by women, while men are involved in dealing with the toxic gases inside the tanks and sewers. Not to mention the health hazards of respiratory disorders, typhoid, cholera or infections of the skin, blood or eyes due to exposure to the pollutants and chemicals. The casteist tradition was banned decades ago but governments don’t enforce the ban or rehabilitate the workers.
5. In a tunnel during the flash floods at a Hydel Project, 54 labourers had died. And more recently 41 people remain trapped while the rescue operations still continue. The good news is that this time we are very hopeful that the mission will be successful. If it is there will be an event of sorts. The media will be jumping all over, with people not involved taking credit and the heroes getting sidelined and movies being scripted to show the world how capable we are. If it isn’t, then it’ll be another chapter buried in the history of the dark caves of negligence.
Human resource is indeed a cheap commodity where human life has no respect. Even nations poorer than ours, have better infrastructure and public behaviour. You might argue that there is a loose correlation between quality of life in a country and its population. It may be true, because if we look at the list of the ‘happiest countries’ in the world, the top ten entries always seem to include the Scandinavian nations that usually have a low population. So it makes sense because in order for the life of every citizen to be addressed seriously and effectively, in order for a country to have fewer issues and conflicts between them, the population has to be under control. Then the value of life is automatically higher because any loss has an impact on some aspect of society.
But when there are a billion plus people, there are plenty others available to replace us. Thus the apathy towards any misery or misfortune of any man-made calamity is bound to happen. If a mindset is what separates the best from the rest, sadly, we are never led by the dreams in our heart but the fears in our mind. Instead of shifting our energies to what we can create, we are always worrying about what we can control. Therefore we live with a mental attitude which believes that someone else is always out there to help and therefore, ‘I need not get involved.’ But. Until a country views the worth of life of every citizen the same way, unless each one of us gets involved in some way, I am afraid we just cannot expect our nation to raise itself to the next level of improvement. Especially not if we dream of being a Vishwaguru!
The views expressed here are the writer’s own.