Thursday, July 06, 2006

An area of darkness

Calcutta - a segregated society. Hence we have an area of darkness, where vermin breed, and forces of darkness dwell – in the sense of the culture that exists there, which preys on the hapless labouring poor. If the bastis of Calcutta are its sin and shame, then the Muslim bastis present the very worst conditions, with the situation in Howrah and the municipal areas being even worse still.

How to break the back of such chronic poverty and free our society from such ugliness and injustice – perhaps presents the greatest of challenges to human society today.

Who is responsible? We think of ‘govt’ first. I can mention here something that I fully understood only because of privileged access I had as a govt project functionary. If many of the citizens of Calcutta are alive, or healthy, then that is not as a result of anything that the public authorities do or, I must hasten to add, anything that the private market does. It is just providence. The most terrifying public health risks confronting us are not even known about as relevant issues by the principal authorities – where the buck is supposed to stop on such things - let alone something effective being done about it. The real agenda of institutions and authorities – is basically enhancement of their own power and privilege. The system is simply totally bankrupt and devoid of basic capability in terms of meeting public ends. This must be seen as a state of crisis in the society.

How can this be? Well, it must be seen in a context of mass poverty and ignorance, cultural silencing of the weaker sections, a middle class that is itself highly insecure, enfeebled, and also compromised, apathetic and bigoted. There is no civil society to speak of in the sense of its committed and sustained pursuit of the non-partisan, all-embracing public domain. The so-called civil society is fractured, self-centred.

Thanks to Roberto Rocco, I learnt something about the city of Sao Paulo. What struck me most was hearing about the use of helicopters by the super rich - of this city of massive disparities and social exclusion - to fly rapidly over the crime- and violence-ridden ground reality. That gave me an idea of the shape of things to come in India.

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