Jat stir reveals a sad reality of India

Neena Haridas
Neena HaridasFeb 22, 2016 | 18:35

Jat stir reveals a sad reality of India

Here is what my week has been like: I live in Gurgaon, so each day when I wake up I wonder if it is safe to go out. For days now, we have been told that the Jat reservation stir, which has rocked Haryana will spread to the sleepy corner of Gurgaon where I live. So far, we have been lucky. But the tension never quite goes away.

When I come to Delhi and meet my colleagues, they seem as worried. No, they are not in imminent danger of physical attack. But they have avoided bathing or washing clothes for the last two days because the city has run out of water. (Another consequence of the Jat stir.)

Their conversation is peppered with tales of unexpected hardship. Somebody has an aunt who is stuck in Chandigarh and can’t make it back to Delhi because the highway is not safe. You would think that she might splash out on an air ticket. But even that option has been closed. Greedy private airlines are now charging upto Rs 40,000 for a one-way ticket and my friend’s aunt cannot afford the fare.

Demonstrators from the Jat community sit on a road as they block the Delhi-Haryana national highway.

Lest you think that this is only about Delhi/Gurgaon and the Jat stir, let me give you a few more instances.

What about the colleague in Gujarat who dreads the revival of the Patel agitiation? Of the times when she could not reach her husband in Ahmedabad because the Gujarat government had banned text messages and mobile internet? Or the friend in Mumbai who was thrilled to go to the Grand Bollywood night in Chowpatty to see Amitabh Bachchan perform and to watch Hema Malini dance? She is still shaken by the fire that suddenly broke out and the hasty evacuation of the audience.

And that’s just examples from the last week or so.

So here is my point: We live in uncertain times. We live in times when none of the basic necessities of urban living can be taken for granted. You never know when the water supply to India’s capital will suddenly be turned off.

Residents with their empty containers crowd around a municipal tanker to fetch water in New Delhi.

You cannot be guaranteed that you will be able to leave your house safely each morning: a mob may just burn cars on the road outside your house and storm a metro station.

Even high-profile, prestigious events offer no guarantee of safety. You never know when careless planning and preparation will lead to an unforeseen fire. It is events like this that make us wonder about living in modern India.

At one level we talk about ourselves as an emerging super power. We brag that we are the nation to watch in the 21st century. We compare ourselves to China. We say that Europe is in decline while India is on the rise.

Well, I have got news for you.

A country where citizens wake up in the morning not knowing whether there will be water in their taps or mob violence on the road outside their homes, is not a country that is set to dominate the 21st century.

It is a country where even the basics of safe and comfortable living are thrown into question every single day.

None of this would happen in China, let alone Europe. Those countries may have their problems. But their citizens do not live in a permanent state of uncertainty.

Why do we get it so wrong?

It is quite simple really. Those who are supposed to govern us have no interest in doing so.

Take the Jat agitation. First of all, it should never have been allowed to get to this stage. A sensible government would have negotiated its way out of the dispute long before it turned violent. But assume that this was not possible. Then it should have used its forces to guarantee safety and law and order.

Jat protesters vandalize and damage vehicles during quota protests in Rohtak, Haryana.

In fact, the Haryana government was able to do nothing. Long after the agitation had turned violent and the army had been sent for, the protestors were able to damage the Munak canal that supplies water to Delhi. It had not occurred to the government to secure that canal.

And now, as markets go up in flame and citizens cower, the government has declared that it will give in to the demands of the agitators.

Wonderful. Such a great precendent. The next time anybody wants something from the government, they know what to do. Just torch a few Metro stations and let civilians die.

And the examples go on and on. How could a fire break out at a prestigious event like Make in India? Well, because nobody bothered to enforce fire safety rules. How can private airlines arbitrarily raise their fares to such exorbitant levels to exploit the distress of stranded passengers? Well, because they know they can get away with it. The government will let them.

I am sorry if this sounds too depressing or too pessimistic. But it is the sad reality of today’s India.

The people of India have the capability to be among the best in the world. We work harder than anyone in the West does. And we are as smart as – if not smarter than – anyone on the planet.

And yet, we cannot get the government India deserves.

Call it the central tragedy of modern India. And blame ourselves because it is we who elect these people.

Last updated: February 22, 2016 | 18:35
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