Who am I?

My photo
I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Brink of Oblivion

     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.


  1. very nicely written.I like the subtle(and at times not so subtle sarcasm) in ur writings.Waise, you sound like a die-hard socialist.

  2. I agree To all This...But for ME commonwealth Games success lies in the 101 Medals that we got..
    SUccess is for those sportsmen for whom CWG is a dream......FOr those students who participated in the games opening and closing.....Its upto us that we see half glass full or half glass empty
    REports are meant to be read or meant to draw implications and work thereafter...Thats what we have to decide....Cribbing over wt happend should not be the point...our concern should be that whn India Hosts 2020 olympics,IF IT DOES,Then no Kalmadi shoud be thr...No corruption and no Poverty.....I m not disagreeing with your opinion...I ma trying to figure out that can we do something about it..or
    say....we need to do somthing and just not crib about it......

  3. @ Simran -
    Actually, I am a die hard capitalist :) But this is not the way a democracy is supposed to function, is it? If it does, then some major overhaul in this system of "mixed economy" is required.

  4. @ nano -
    I agree that for those 101, it was a dream come true. May be it was all they ever wished for. But my concern here is for the many hundred thousand more who pay a price instead, and are sidelined thereafter. Are their lives any more expendable than that of the athletes? Are they not the ones who actually toiled 16 hour-days in abject conditions? All I'm asking for is to give everyone their due - this is the true nature of a balanced democracy. But, sadly, we seem to be going further away from it with every tenure of a government at the centre.

  5. your glass is always half empty..... you crib, rant and rave but offer no solution...... so you are one of well fed, arm chair socialist living in a metro with ample time and money to blog but no real experience, inclination, experience to offer solutions........ bravo

  6. See.. this thing is very common in any developing country... it's just that we never come to know all this in other countries.. just the way none of the athletes who came here came to know...
    as we all know, even after more than 60 years of independence, India is still a developing country... India wants to show the world, that what India is and what it's power is....
    Though the labourers wren't treated well, but that doesnt mean we shoudlnt host the olympics... but, we need to learn from here... everyone learns through experiences.. while learning to ride a bi-cycle.. u fall a lot of times.. but we keep on trying...
    what i feel is.. india should go ahead for bidding for the olympics.. keeping in mind to learn from this experience... though i appreciate your post.. which is necessary.. but it shouldnt go on the negative side... i am sure every single indian would be proud to host the olympics without the back-drops that were faced in CWG2010.. I just wanna say.. this is all necessary.. all developing countries face this... what india did was necessary.. delhi got something, which otherwise would have come 7-10 years after....
    India should bid for the olympics, keeping in mind to remove the glitches that were in 2010!


  7. @ Vishal -
    I must say, you are correct about most of the things you've said. I'll add to it.
    I blog. In my capacity I do whatever I can to call myself a worthy citizen of this great country. True, I do not have any field experience. Yes, I have ample time to blog. But I call it activism through media. You may have heard of it. It's what many journalists do. May be they all are also "well fed arm chair socialists". Atleast, according to your definition they are.
    One difference between you and me is that I try and make sense of this world by penning down my thoughts. While you, on the other hand, go about personally thrashing people like me on their blogs instead of trying to refute their thoughts. How I would have loved a healthy discussion here!
    p.s. - I'm a die hard capitalist. But I cannot help but be a critic of a system which creates many billionaires but treates it's so called "lower" citizenry like sh*t.

  8. Pranay,

    Your writing style is very good and you sound like a seasoned journalist at times. This blog reflects your dissatisfaction with the Indian system, the Constitution of which ironically proclaims it to be a socialist state. The so called reforms have turned it into a typical capitalist system.

    We proudly count our billionaires every year, recount our success stories, hopefully eye to become the biggest economic power of the world and talk of sustained double digit growth rate in the decades to come. The millions of poor who were in the forefront of our policy till the eighties, seem to have moved at the rock bottom of our priority list. From the policy of directly attacking the poverty through numerous poverty alleviation programmes, we are back to the 'trickle down' theory of development, which aims at making the wealthy richer and believes that the benefits of development would eventually trickle down to the poor in due course of time!

    It is good that you decided to write about this aspect of the games, which was missed by the most in the din of the CWG.

    Thought provoking indeed.

  9. I think this is a classic case of, let us say, 'The Crowd Effect' - A crowd is capable of almost anything,but unfortunately it has no ability whatsoever,to act rationally. Pragmatism goes out of the window & in comes truck loads of undying bravado & hysteria.Hence, Bidding for the Olympics 2020 not only sounds obnoxious, it would be highly preposterous to even think on such lines.Although,a single mail in a day`s work showing pictures of those impoverished,jerry-built slums & countless hovels would be enough to appall each one of them & bring them back to the doors of reality. Moreover, in a crowd people not only lose sight, but they inadvertently surrender their powers of moral judgement & critical reasoning, which is exactly why those 82% people must urgently get their brains checked..anyways,if we are looking for a solution we must rightly take that money & bring it back to the heart of India - Villages...
    Democracy will only survive if larger number of Indians are able to make their own choices.

    I see the signs of a flourishing writer in you.
    But I`m sure you can do much better..

    Also,I think planting Bamboo clusters to hide slums from the eyes of the world was more of a necessity. Necessity was also to NEVER lose sight of the objective - Somehow,i think they did a marvelous job at that!

    p.s - Apart from the fallacies & the charades I thoroughly enjoyed the games..Weightlifting was AWESOME!!!

  10. @ Ritvik -
    I know you, like so many of us Indians, are desperate to spot even a teeny-tiny silver lining in this hazy cloud of obfuscation and corruption. But I will shine some light on the track record of this government, as far back as memory serves. 2G-spectrum scam, spanning between May 2007 and November 2008, was a much larger (Rs 1,00,000 crore) event. Who is nailed as yet? None! Only one agency was implicated, i.e. Department of Telecom (DoT), and all the seven-eight files handled by five-six officers of DoT are already in CBI's possession. This begets the obvious question - why has not even a single person been nailed in this much larger scam? Isn't there a link there - though I may be wrong. I may not be wise enough to question the probity of the mighty UPA leaders, but to even a dud, it's pretty clear that it implicated A Raja, a UPA minister. An eerie similarity could be noticed in the current CWG scam, where not one, but multiple Congress bigwigs like Sheila Dikshit, M S Gill, Lieutenant Governor Tejendra Khanna and Suresh Kalmadi (who is actually an MP in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on a Congress Ticket since 1982) might be implicated. Do you really think Congress can risk giving the members of the opposition - who do not have any work other than baying for the blood of the Congressmen - an opportunity to tear them apart? Open your eyes! Here, instead of one as in the 2G scam, there are multiple agencies involved like the PWD, CPWD, NDMC, DDA, the Delhi administration, the lieutenant governor's office and the OC. Even the paper trail might lead to who knows where.
    Congress has a disappointing track record when it comes to nailing the people who are a part of it (it's worthwhile to remember Fodder Scam where the Congress saved Lalu's neck!). The Congress seems bent on keeping it's image spick n span. And as long as we witness this intransigence, this inability of our "leaders" to say - mea culpa, sadly I don't see this CWG investigation going anywhere.

  11. @ Dad -
    The economist in you mentions a very pertinent point. In the name of "trickle-down" apporach, the people in power are indulging in self-gratifying mindless pursuits, many of which stop short of extravagance. I guess the fruits of economic surge dry up before seeping down to the bottom of the pyramid. And horrendously, seems like no one cares anymore.