By B.G. Verghese
Amidst the shrill voices of hate, bigotry, pettiness, greed and trivia we hear all around us, there was a poignant moment on July 12 when a 16-year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, addressed the world through the UN General Assembly for Youth in New York. A victim of a murderous Taliban assault on her in Swat 2011 in order to extinguish women’s education, she spoke with a rare conviction and grace that went straight to the heart.
“I am not against anyone”, she said.“Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists, especially the Taliban…..
So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world”.
What a powerful messageof tolerance, forgiveness and fraternity! Malala represents Pakistan more than the many of those who strut the stage and claim attention. The Talibanwants to go back to a medieval barbarism that caricatures Islam in the same manner as Hindutva denigrates Hinduism to which it bears no true relationship. Yet this is the bankrupt and divisive credo which the RSS and sections of the BJP once again want to nail to their mast under the leadership of Narendra Modi. More disturbing than his figures of speech, and the double meaning inherent in the use of words like “puppy”, “Hindu nationalist” and “burqa”, was his lieutenant, Amit Shah’s announcement of the BJP’s determination to build a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya. This issue is sub judice and of little interest to people in and around Ayodhya who have failed to endorse this idea in successive polls. Yet it serves to arouse divisive passions.
Not to be outdone, the Madhya Pradesh government, apropos of nothing, has introduced a Bill to enhance the existing punishment it legislated for conversion of a Hindu to any other faith by force, allurement or fraud to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to Rs 50,000 or both, or four years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh in the case of a woman, dalit or tribal. This has been done on the ground that the current punishment has not deterred forcible conversion of which the Governor found little evidence. The amendment also makes is incumbent on the priest to take prior permission from the district magistrate instead of merely informing the official after the event. The amendment is based on the model of a Gujarat law and shows scant respect for freedom of religion. Force and fraud in any matter is reprehensible and an offence. Likewise, seeking official sanction to convert makes a mockery of fundamental rights and validates the State government’s role as a moral policeman.
As for schools and children, Malala’s focal concern, the series of food poisoning cases in relation to mid-day meals across states is deeply saddening and speaks of incompetence, lack of supervision, poor storage and corruption. The Food Security Ordinance has been attacked at another level as an election gimmick, but the constant resort to heads-I-win, tails-you-lose tactics betray intellectual dishonestly. Those who tireless ask for more and yet more in the name of the poor should not simultaneously castigate the government for financial profligacy and yet oppose any measure to raise additional resources. This double-talk is plain dishonest. Yet, the central and state government’s failure to store grain in clean and safe conditions is utterly deplorable.
Similarly, when the government, constantly taunted for doing nothing, boldly even ifbelatedly moves decisively on widening and deepening FDI, it is strange that the BJP should label this an election gimmick and a panic reaction to the falling value of the Indian rupee. The Left, not surprisingly, sees the American wolf at the door. How long are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot while the world moves on. In just this last week POSCO and Acelor-Mittal have announced withdrawal of their $ 30 billion mega-steel projects in Karnataka and Orissabecause of inordinate delays in land acquisition and in obtaining raw material linkages. The fate of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh alumina refinery (to be expanded from one to six million tpa) hangs in the balance.
Now, following the Uttarakhand natural disaster, with two glacier-lake outbursts above Kedarnath doing the main damage following unprecedented rainfall from two simultaneous extreme storm events, many people seem to have been affected by the “Fukushima syndrome”: do not “over-develop” and curb hydro projects in large tracts declared are in “eco-sensitive zones”. Learn from the Uttarakhand disaster but do not be paralysed by what was by any yardstick a freak event. There is a difference between rash and prudent development. Subjective fears should not be allowed to overwhelm objective reality, making non-development a far greater disaster than balanced development.
The Government has, meanwhile, determined to limit the investigative autonomy it is willing to grant the CBI. The plea that honest officials will be blackmailed and harassed is grossly exaggerated; safeguards can be provided against any such eventuality. In Maharashtra the Home Minister, R.R. Patil wants to retain power to change transfer postings of police officers as recommended by the State’s police establishment board. Why? Why this persistent denial of police autonomy despite countless police reform recommendations and Supreme Court directives. Likewise, the Centre has baulked at a Supreme Court order disqualifying legislators if convicted by the trial court, instead of waiting, as at present, until any appeal is disposed of. Currently 30 per cent of all MPs and 31 percent of all MLAs have serious self-declared criminalcases against them. Instant disqualification does pose some problems but is the purity of our legislatures not a supreme democratic value. Why condone thuggery; why tolerate gross violations of electoral expenditure; why draw a curtain over political party funding; why pander to corruption?
The rise Maoist attacks, the recent Bodhgaya blasts, the Naxal infiltration into the Northeast and a rising curve of cross border and militant violence in J&K are warning signals that must be heeded. And for the NSCN (IM), with whom the Government has been engaged in peace talks during 14 years of ceasefire,to assertits legitimate right as a “de facto government” to collect taxes (extortion money) in so-called Nagalim is a piece of effrontery that should not be tolerated. The NSCN (IM) has been guilty of many ceasefire violations but there is a limit to what might be winked at.
Malala’s forgiveness and tolerance is based on principle and not surrender to crude pressure and threats of violence.