According to a recent Times of India poll carried out in 4 metro cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, 85% of those who responded felt that the Commonwealth Games were a “success”. The same percentage felt that the Games have enhanced India’s image globally! Let us start to understand this claim by delving into the minds of the thousands living in the “metros” who responded in majority to the poll.
How do we define “success”? Any even-minded individual would answer that it can be defined by measuring the enhanced quality of life something has provided to people influenced by it. It could also, according to people far removed from the ground realities and feeding off of popular media, be measured by the “prestige” it has brought to the nation. Agreed, it has provided New Delhi with a facelift in some parts of the City. But it’s like trying to conceal your true age by applying anti-wrinkle cream and hoping that it works.
In February, a Monitoring Committee was formed in accordance with a Delhi High Court directive, to probe allegations of labour laws violations at the Games sites. The findings of the Monitoring Committee were shocking, to put it mildly. According to the 115-page report, in most of the sites that the Committee visited, the labourers were paid a wage of Rs 100 a day, when their statutory minimum wage is Rs 203. According to unofficial reports, around 2 lakh labourers were employed in the CWG preparation. A People’s Union of Democratic Rights study shows that by denying CWG workers their rightful wages, contractors saved Rs 360 crore a year. No employment card or ID card for workers were provided, which means that most of the workers, being unregistered, could not register grievances, could not claim the benefits of laws like Payment of Wages Act, the Minimum Wages Act, the Contract Labour Act, the Equal Remuneration Act, the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act and the Building and Other Construction Workers Act. The report also says that most workers were charged between Rs 300 and Rs 800 for boots on the site, when the “law” makes helmets, boots and gloves and safety accessories mandatory and free! Why are these “laws” in place, one wonders, when they are easily defied by some of the biggest construction companies in India, employing the majority of labourers in India for “grand” events like these? At one site, the report found 10 mobile toilets for 150 inmates. The toilets were never cleaned or maintained. No evidence of medical examination of workers from time to time was found. “The camps are totally unacceptable from the point of view of decent human living. Tiny rooms represent hovels where human beings have literally to crawl like animals”, noted the Committee. And then we say that the Games have been a success! Success for whom? Disgust is a word which does not even remotely come close to the emotion one should feel, when one thinks of the Rs 40 crore spent on just the imported balloon used during the opening ceremony!
Before the CWG, authorities “moved” – a euphemism for “kicked out” – over one lakh homeless – more than a third of the city’s homeless – from night shelters, and demolished hundreds of homes. Bamboo clusters were planted to hide slums from tourists. And most of the apathetic Delhi populace were ignorant of it, or rather chose to look the other way, because admitting connivance in the oppression – to use a mild word – was uncomfortable, but rejoicing in the online communities touting CWG and thrashing naysayers was a sudden fad, easy to defend in the name of “national pride”. The shanties built for the workers out of iron sheets and tarpaulin burned like an oven in the Delhi summer, when the preparations were well under way. Bricks were used, not to build the migrant labour camps, but to hide the camps from the city life behind high walls. The message sent out by the authorities – it’s OK for the labourers – who built the very Commonwealth Games which the people are so proud of – to burn in the shanties and die of Dengue but it’s NOT OKAY for their abhorrent condition to be visible to the city people and the foreign tourists and athletes that the Games would bring along. And then 85% of the people living comfortably in the metros say that the Games have enhanced the status of India in the global community! Bah!
In this light, when one looks at the past that was the Commonwealth Games and looks to the future where unabashedly 82% of the people want India to make a claim for hosting 2020 Olympics, I, for one, feel ashamed for inadvertently being a part of a system where the rich grow richer, the poor are left behind and the middle class latches its wagon onto that of the rich, and hopes to be one them someday, not giving a fig as to what happens to the destitute and the misfortunate – that form more than half of this country. Since liberalisation, India has leapfrogged many a nations to reach the forefront of this inane race to be the first, to appear to best China, to have an even greater “growth-rate” (I cannot think of a better oxymoron!). Admitted, the reforms might have given some impetus to infrastructure and industrialisation. But, as countless examples in history have served, a nation cannot be called “great” if it ceases to care about its voiceless and marginalised. India’s standing in the world community cannot be measured by the “success” of major events like CWG or even Olympics, but by providing basic livelihood to the 450 million, surviving on the brink of oblivion.