The dreadful massacre on April 6 of 76 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), engaged in an anti-terrorist combing operation in the jungles of Dantewada (Chhattisgarh), has jolted the nation into awareness of the severity of the Maoist/Naxalite insurgency against which editorials on this page have been warning for the past decade. Suddenly, devising ways and means to combat the Naxal insurrection which is active in varying degrees of intensity in 220 of the country’s 630 administrative districts, has moved to the top of the national agenda.
Disturbingly, the Maoist-Naxal uprising in rural India is coalescing with Islamic and Hindu fundamentalist terrorism spreading in urban India. Quite obviously within large swathes of the population there is deep disenchantment with post-independence India’s over-hyped bourgeois democracy.
Yet a beneficial outcome of the nationwide flood of debates on the whys and wherefores of the Naxal insurgency, is the emergence of a belated consensus that over the past six decades India’s marginalised tribal and adivasi people, who continue to eke out a stone-age existence in the deep forests and outer peripheries of the Indian state, have suffered grave atrocities of commission and omission. Not only have they been severely deprived of the basic benefits of reportedly shining India — food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare — they have had to endure mass displacement and chronic unemployment consequent upon their land and forests being usurped by aggressive timber contractors and mineral excavators complicit with venal government officials.
However current debates tend to pussyfoot around the prime cause: the irredeemable corruption and venality of the country’s 18 million (Centre plus states)-strong bureaucracy. Over the past half century post-independence India’s omnipotent bureaucracy has emerged as a power centre in its own right, determined to convert to its own use every welfare or development scheme devised for the uneducated and poverty-stricken masses struggling for a foothold in the bottom half of India’s iniquitous socio-economic pyramid.
Therefore taming the rampaging bureaucracy which has tightly sewn up the system to assure its own immunity is a necessary precondition of dousing the Maoist/Naxal insurgency sweeping the nation. Corrupt and amoral beyond description, the bureaucracy has morphed into a voracious frankenstein which has manipulated the Constitution (Article 311) and emasculated the police and judiciary to insulate itself from investigation and prosecution. Consequently it is able to run a rigorous nationwide parallel taxation system with impunity, levying illegal imposts for every service delivered to the public. According to a study of Transparency International India, in 2008 the bureaucracy extracted bribes estimated at Rs.800 crore from the desperately poor living below the poverty line. Unless this greedy monster is brought to heel by legislating police autonomy and reinvigorating the judiciary, the process of the secession of the proletariat from the Indian state — of which the Maoist/Naxal insurgency is a dramatic manifestation — will continue, and indeed, gather momentum.
Sanitation disaster: teachers culpable
A new study of the United Nations university, Canada, which recently highlighted that over half the people of this country — 545 million — own mobile telephones while only 366 million have access to toilets and safe sanitation, is a telling indicator of the warped priorities of post-independence India’s Soviet-style centrally planned economy. Translated, these comparative statistics denote that 660 million citizens across the country lead undignified and unhealthy lives without access to even the most rudimentary closed-in toilets and sanitation.
The popular and politically convenient rationalisation of this shameful statistic is that agrarian cultural traditions and widespread illiteracy combine to make the citizenry unmindful of health, hygiene and sanitation basics. Even if this glib argument is accepted at face value, it’s a stinging indictment of the country’s government-dominated education system which doesn’t stress the critical linkage between modern sanitation and health, well-being and workplace productivity. How can it, given that an estimated 333,000 government primary and upper primary schools are without common toilets, and 460,000 don’t offer separate toilets for girl children?
The blame for this intolerable situation must be squarely laid at the collective door of the politicians’ fraternity and teachers’ community. Shockingly, the country’s predomi-nantly middle class political leadership has failed and neglected to make the connection between the massive nationwide shortage of modern sanitation and rock-bottom productivity of citizens often laid low and weakened by water borne diseases. The teachers’ community is perhaps more culpable for its failure to insist upon drinking water and toilet facilities for all children in the country’s 1.8 million primary and secondary schools. This should be a non-negotiable issue for the powerfully unionised 5.5 million teachers. Yet shamefully, this community has let down the nation by remaining conspicuously silent on this life-and-death issue, as if ignoring it will make it go away.
Even though prolonged neglect of hygiene and sanitation by Indian society has transformed the country into an area of darkness plagued by filth and pestilence, the situation is not irredeemable. Following presentation of the Union budgets of 2009 and 2010, EducationWorld presented a detailed lib-lab-lav (library, laboratory, lavatory) schema devised by economist-educationist Dr. A.S. Seetharamu calculating the cost of equipping all 1.03 million government primary and upper primary schools with these facilities. Within this schema, the projected cost component of lavatories is a mere Rs.5,375 crore. Yet it is a telling indicator of official, teacher and middle class indifference and apathy, the lib-lab-lav proposal — which requires a one-time capex outlay equivalent to just 1 percent of GDP — hasn’t provoked any reaction. These supposedly educated communities seem unaware that their own health and well-being is endangered by the insanitary state of the nation. A classic example of oriental inertia.