Roll back myriad activities of government

ontemptibly dismissed for several decades as a nation
perpetually at the take-off stage, according to all available indicators 21st century India seems to have belatedly fulfilled its early promise. Currently after averaging 8.5 percent plus GDP growth for the past three years, the Indian economy is widely acknowledged as the world’s second (after China) fastest growing and a preferred investment hotspot for foreign capital. With the Indian stock market enjoying an unprecedented bull run which has vaulted the Sensex from 18,000 to 19,000 plus within a duration of four weeks, more foreign investment (over $10 billion) has flowed into the Indian economy during the past three months than in any previous year. Moreover according to a recent Economic Times survey, the Indian nouveau riche spend $2.9 billion (Rs.11,600 crore) annually on luxury products and services, while Luxury Trends, a report published by KSA Technopak, forecasts that the number of Indian dollar millionaires is set to increase by 12.8 percent per year.

Yet paradoxically, at a time in the nation’s history when gleaming new shopping malls and supermarkets are brimming with consumer goods from around the world and reservations in five-star hotels and deluxe restaurants need to be made weeks in advance, beneath the glitz and glitter, the Indian economy remains a society of chronic shortages. In all essential goods and services the supply-demand gap is obstinately wide with the great majority of citizens having been by-passed by the statistical economic boom. For instance in the housing sector, the demand-supply gap estimated at 25 million homes is widening as real estate prices across the country rise exponentially because archaic laws governing the sale of land have not been reformed, creating artificial real estate supply constraints.

Against this backdrop of islands of affluence and success in a wide sea of poverty and mass distress, it is pertinent to note that the persistent shortages of essential goods and services which define the Indian economy are in the government sector — electricity, water, road networks, public education and health services. On the other hand the supply of goods and services produced by the private sector — consumer goods, telecom, computer hardware and software, motor cars and bikes and even privately provided education and health services — has experienced spectacular productivity gains since the liberalisation and deregulation initiative of July 1991.

The colossal failure of government to bridge demand-supply imbalances in every activity it has initiated indicates it’s high time the issue of its incompetence is squarely confronted. The plain truth is that government "dominance of the commanding heights of the Indian economy" has been a pathetic failure which has cost hundreds of millions of Indians heavily and wiped out the modest aspirations of an entire generation. The time has come to roll back the myriad activities of the Indian State and restrict government to its core functions of maintaining law and order and providing quick and efficient justice. Anything beyond this is quite clearly beyond its capability.

Denial of the right to pursuit of happiness

he tragic death of Rizwanur Rehman (23) in Kolkata which has received nationwide publicity, highlights the extent to which the fundamental human rights of India’s youth — who constitute the majority of the population — continue to be denied and violated on a daily basis by an oppressive patriarchy which has the covert support of the law and order establishment. The dead body of Rehman, a computer graphics lecturer in a private sector college, was discovered on a stretch of railway track in Kolkata on September 21. Although the post-mortem didn’t show any signs of his having been hit by a train, the city’s police commissioner was quick to label it a track suicide.

The alacrity with which the police commissioner attempted to close the case has aroused widespread indignation within the youth and student population of Kolkata, in light of the fact that a month earlier on August 18, Rehman had contracted a consensual marriage with one Priyanka Todi under the Special Marriages Act, 1954 (legislation specifically enacted to permit and sanctify inter-religious marriages under civil law). Unfortunately for Rehman (a Muslim), his Hindu bride — also an adult fully qualified to enter into a contract of marriage under the Act — is the daughter of a wealthy hosiery merchant and reported betting kingpin Ashok Todi who violently opposed the marriage. Prior to Rehman’s alleged suicide, at Todi’s behest several police personnel threatened the young groom with dire consequences if he didn’t agree to an annulment of the marriage and return of Priyanka to her parental home. Fearing for his life, Rehman wrote a letter dated September 19 to West Bengal’s Association for Protection of Human Rights, complaining of police interference and harassment. Two days later he was found dead in the mysterious circumstances described above.

Yet even as a CBI investigation into the mysterious death of the young lecturer is being conducted, the public interest demands that the issue of blatant interference by law and order authorities into consensual marriages of youth, which the police commissioner claims usually evokes "similar response", is squarely addressed. It is symptomatic of a national malaise which sanctions routine violation of young adults’ right to marry according to their choice in the pursuit of happiness.

The plain truth is this constitutionally endowed fundamental right is denied to millions of youth across the country by criminal threats, menaces and blackmail to uphold the traditional right of the patriarchy to ‘arrange’ the marriages of young Indians. In reality the overwhelming majority of ‘arranged marriages’ sanctified by regressive tradition are contracted for the benefit and greater glory of the patriarchy rather than to protect the interests and happiness of the country’s youth. In most cases they are the outcome of criminal acts of coercion, intimidation and emotional and economic blackmail.

The contemporary Romeo and Juliet tragedy of Rizwan and Priyanka will serve a useful purpose if it compels Indian society and the oppressive patriarchy in particular, to hold a mirror to its face and introspect.