Badaun, Modi’s biggest challenge
An exasperated and completely out of clue Akhilesh Yadav, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, told journalists that if they were feeling secured why were they asking him uncomfortable questions on dastardly rape and hanging of two teenagers at Badaun. He had good reasons to feel frustrated. First look at the manner of the crime. How the perpetrators had been lounging in the dark to pick up the girls. Second is the fact, how sad is the state of the economy that people cannot even afford to have a toilet at home. They must go in the dark field to relieve themselves. Third see the police personnel who join the gang of rapists and are reluctant to take up the case of the two missing girls. Poor Akhilesh has no solution to any of these problems. He is merely warming the chair till he is ousted in the next elections.
But forget Akhilesh Yadav, who is just on a reverse counting phase of his tenure and ask the millions of commentators who are busy voicing views on the shameful incident, what is the solution to such a social evil. Does anybody have a solution on offer? Can we trust the law keepers who also are game for such adventures? The events at Badaun tell us that we cannot. So what would be the solution? Provide toilet at every home could be one answer. In fact lack of the same is a disgrace that India as a nation must face collectively – Akhilesh, his father Mulayam, Rahul Gandhi and even our new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But providing toilet is what an economist will call a necessary condition, the more important question is will it be sufficient.
If we look at the audacious behaviour of the perpetrators at Badaun, and also elsewhere, and the complicity of the policemen there, what is the guarantee that girls will be safe? The issue, therefore, boils down to creating a civilised society, civilised in their attitude towards the females. Is it a mere social problem where solutions lie in philosophy or is it an economic one as economists like Gary Becker would have viewed?
In an affluent household world over the girl child receives a more favourable treatment than a boy. In some cultures, like in the Hindi heartland of India, the behaviour pattern is different as could be seen from the female foeticide prevalent in many states. Females are still viewed as a burden on the men and a chattel of sorts. But when given fair opportunities, girls outperform boys as could be seen in the results of school leaving examinations year after year. Where girls receive parental support for their career advancements they excel. Since they normally have closer ties with family, parents do not hesitate to spend a part of their bequests for the girls knowing that in their old age they will be looked after. Parental behaviour towards girls in such societies are not only altruistic, they invest in education for their children and spend a part of bequests assuming that such investments will increase their old age security.
While girls are viewed as more reliable in providing the comfort at the old age, certain parents mostly in urban India, even end up shedding their traditional bias towards male child. But the conditions are different in case of a poor household. Here a male child can start working on the farm or in shops from a tender age. They can add to the family income. Girls are economic burdens and can help only at home.
The families gain nothing by educating girls. Since they are viewed as burdens, marrying them off needs dowry to be handed over. In poor and culturally backward families this is a common feeling that leads to ill treatment of girls. In a dalit home in a remote village the standard economic criterion is that a girl is a burden. When that is the general consensus, for village hoodlums girls are viewed as not merely chattels but commodities to be exploited. Girls are forgotten when they live and remembered when they are hanged from tree branches. Even attention of the media is for few days till the next excitement takes the cameras away. Think of these girls as providing old age security to the family, imagine them adding more to the family income than the male child, would the society still have viewed them as burden to be tortured mentally and physically? If the answer is no, which certainly is the answer, shouldn’t Akhilesh Yadav or Narendra Modi view the shameful incident of Badaun as a problem having ‘economic type’ solution? Akhilesh may be dumb but at least the new PM Narendra Modi is known for his out of the box thinking. Can we not expect some steps in the right direction from New Delhi?
The measure to provide special economic package for bringing up girl child, particularly in the non-metropolitan centres where the ‘demonstration effect’ of the advanced economies is weak, will go a long way in adding to the wealth of the nation as well. The negative reports on Badaun incident, splashed in the global media, will make any sensible investor think several times before investing money in the country. For them Badaun is next to Benaras and they may end up cancelling their visit to watch Gangaarati in Benaras. The negative impact of such societal maladies is enormous. It is not a problem for Akhilesh or for Narendra Modi but for anybody living in the country and aspiring to lead a better life. Dismiss Badaun to your own peril.
For Narendra Modi Badaun is a bigger challenge than the health of the economy. The NPAs may be written off, banks may get recapitalised, GDP growth rate may again reach eight per cent but if incidents like Badaun keep coming back to haunt the nation, the economy will continue to be vulnerable. More than the external shocks Modi must address these internal shocks forthwith. Our only hope is that perhaps Modi is not just another shrewd and dumb politician but will work for a solution. We live on hope.
The author is a communication consultant