The Sensex soars.
Statues of monstrous dimensions are commissioned.
Villages are being electrified, we say.
Everyone has a mobile phone.
Enormous funds have been set aside to link roads, to link rivers, to ply a bullet train along a route which has regular flight and train connections.
The face of the Prime Minister grins from a digital advertising board on Times Square in New York, to the delight of his fans.
And yet, a family of four commits suicide in broad daylight, outside the office of the district collector, even as a meeting to redress public grievances is being held inside.
Farmers in Maharashtra are cutting down crops they have nursed for a decade; others are committing suicide in the hope of their families being able to live off their life insurance.
A man and a child in Jharkhand have died of starvation because they have not been receiving ration.
For decades, and never more so in the last ten years, we have been deluding ourselves that India is on the verge of world domination; that we will soon be a developed nation, that some of the richest people in the world live here; that our indices are growing in the right direction, and we’ve emerged as the leader of the subcontinent.
But what does leading development in the subcontinent really mean? Are we leaders because we are truly making progress, or because we are the best off among a series of impoverished countries?
When there is enough money in the exchequer to fund skyscraper-size statues of historical figures, why are we not able to feed everyone in the country a single meal a day?
In Tamil Nadu, the week began with horrifying images of a family on fire, circulated on social media. Subbulakshmi, 25, her two children, aged 2 and 5, and her husband Esakimuthu, 28, had staged their suicidal protest in front of the Tirunelveli district collectorate, because neither the police nor the administration were able to help them escape harassment from a usurer, Muthulakshmi.
Though usury is illegal, the police allegedly wouldn’t take the family’s complaint. They submitted no less than six petitions to the collector’s office. As the police and the administration give contradictory reports to the media, Esakimuthu is in a critical condition, and his wife and daughters are dead.
While some newspapers said the family had borrowed Rs. 1.45 lakh eight months ago, and others said the sum was borrowed several years ago, it appears they repaid Rs. 2.34 lakh, including interest. But the moneylender filed a case against the family, accusing them of cheating her of Rs. 1.45 lakh and Rs. 60,000 worth of jewellery.
How can we claim to be an emerging superpower when usury continues despite its having been prohibited a century ago?
Head to Maharashtra, another region crippled by loans and riddled with farmer suicides. On October 25, it was found that more than a hundred farmers who had applied for loan waivers had the same Aadhaar number – the unique identification which records biometric details in the interest of avoiding duplication. The authorities have now said the waivers can only be approved after weeks of painstaking checks. How many lives will these weeks claim?
Move across the country to Jharkhand, where on September 28, 11-year-old Santosh Kumari passed away in Simdega, after her family was denied food rations.
While the child’s family says she died from starvation, after they were removed from the ration list because they did not have an Aadhaar-linked smart card, the district administration claimed she had succumbed to malaria. It took twenty days for the state’s chief minister Raghubar Das to ask for a report. On October 18, the state’s minister for food and public distribution, Saryu Roy, put the denial of the family’s ration card down to “confusion” created the chief secretary’s directive earlier this year. Santoshi Kumar is reported to have died crying for a mouthful of rice – with her school closed for the festival season, she had not been able to get her mid-day meal.
But even Aadhaar could not save 40-year-old Vaidnath Ravidas, a rickshaw puller from Dhanbad who was not issued a ration card despite having the unique identification number. The district administration says he died from illness, but his family said they had starved for two days. They had been struck off the Below Poverty Line list several years ago, his wife said, without being offered an explanation. The government has given the family a compensation of Rs. 20,000. Is that the price of a 40-year-old man’s life, money which will perhaps allow the family to eat for a couple of months?
How does a country which calls itself agrarian allow its people to starve to death?
How does a country which claims to be marching towards development not even have a provision for soup kitchens, if not welfare money?
How does a democracy with laws against usury allow a family to immolate itself after having complained to the authorities about harassment from a usurer?
How can India be shining, when so much of India is barely eating?