An account of queuing, politics and journalism from the Third World
Ever wonder what the Third World is like? It is magical. For some people, that is. For those towards the bottom, it is a little less so. An illustrative example is presented.
The federal government in India decided in a sudden move earlier this week to ban certain (500 and 1000 rupee) currency notes, in a move to render valueless the wealth obtained through illicit means.
For a cash-heavy economy like India, this inconvenienced many consumers, many of whom had to spend hours queueing outside banks to be able to secure their cash savings, and to acquire the new currency to be able to purchase food and the rest.
A citizen, Pooja, speaks of “feeling a sense of community in this common frustration and helplessness”.
Incidentally, to wait in a queue in India is one of the less pleasurable activities that life offers, with its fundamental uncertainty, arbitrariness, diminished privacy, rudeness and proclivity to violence and danger.
A political party (the AAP) from Delhi, firmly opposed to the political party (the BJP) controlling the federal government, hold this fiscal policy to be objectionable, quite like they decry almost every policy action of the federal government.
They (the AAP) highlighted on Facebook two instances of negative outcomes of the partial currency change.
The first concerned the rape of a five-year-old girl. The victim of this gruesome assault was dumped by the roadside. She was taken to a hospital, but her conditioned worsened, and she was referred by the medical staff to another hospital. However, the ambulance driver refused to take her, as one (a stranger helping the girl?) only had the now defunct 500 and 1000 rupee notes.
The political party in question (AAP) does not bemoan the incidence of rape, nor that the victim was a five-year-old child, nor that ambulance drivers need to be paid in advance to transport patients in an emergency. The point they choose to highlight from the crime is that certain currency notes were withdrawn from circulation.
As for the journalists: the child is unnamed, nor is it known whether she has been identified; the parents are unnamed, perhaps even unidentified; the reactions of the parents are not recorded; the current state of the child is unknown; the names of the ambulance drivers are unknown; the authority responsible for cash-before-life-saving-transportation have not been named and shamed; who helped the child, how often do minors get attacked in that part of the country, why was a child left alone — unasked questions.
The second case was of a patient in some intensive care unit. As his (her?) family was unable to put up cash (specifically because of the voided 500 and 1000 rupee notes?), he (she?) was removed from the ventilator, leading to his (her?) death. The family of the deceased protested, and was assaulted by hospital staff and then handed over to the police.
The party in question (AAP) does not bemoan the avoidable death, nor that emergency medical assistance is given only on prior payment, nor that people are beaten up (in a hospital corridor? by doctors?) for protesting against the death (culpable homicide?) of a family member in these shabby circumstances.
As for the journalists: the victim is unnamed; his or her reason for being in medical care is unknown; the hospital staff who beat up the family are unnamed; the doctor responsible for turning off the ventilator is unnamed; the current state of the family is unknown; the future safety of the assaulted and grieving family is unknown; the views of the hospital, the family and the police are unknown.
From these two examples, the level of political discourse in the world’s largest democracy appears to be rudimentary. Politicians appear to care only about scoring a hit against a rival politician, ignoring the graver issues involved.
From the same examples, journalism in India appears to be bereft of any purpose apart from sensationalist headlines.
Although these are only two examples, both related to the same policy change, the same political party, and the same news organization — the described state of affairs is not the absolute exception.
The good people of India accept this state wherein human beings treat each other in a deplorable fashion, and where quotidian experience denudes hope, empathy, tolerance, health, and the capacity to create and enjoy beauty.
The poet Tagore wrote, a century ago, this verse in Bengali:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where the mind is led forward into ever-widening thought and action,
Into that heaven of freedom, let my country awake.”
Some three decades later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, asserted:
“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,….”
Last resort? Rebellion must be the first response to tyranny and oppression, surely? At least in a people who still have some courage and dignity, and especially those who number in the hundreds of millions, heirs to millennia of thought and action.
Otherwise, the status quo persists. It is all truly magical.