Millennium Post

String a kite

This is a flight of fancy. And we are going to need more than a little bit of conjuring to weather out this storm. We are at a crossroads and can but hope that a divine force will somehow help us take the right turnoff

String a kite

We have always been a country of kites. Be it Bareilly, Amritsar, New Delhi or Patna, our birds still fly high in the sky, nearly as high as the aspirations of the hundreds and thousands of Indians who pull and tug at the strings. 'Boi kaate', 'dhol bhaaje', 'pello diyo'; thus the frenetic screams go. We are a simple people; at least, we were. But today, the draw-strings are being pulled and cut short by people who are seemingly clueless of which way the economic winds are blowing. For years now, we have been repeatedly told that things shall soon be right. No balanced write-up can be complete without a manifestation of guilt, for from there comes in transparency and insight. Today, my guilt comes from being and India, and what we have all allowed our country to become.

Why do I say that? Well, the honest answer comes from the ratings that our country now throws up, amongst the lowest on most international parameters, be it transparency, basic human and labor laws, economic presence and growth, honesty in business practices and bribery. If that doesn't worry you, what should is that the downward spiral is picking up speed year on year, with many reputed international publications now bluntly highlighting flailing Indian ethical standards on many counts. Why are we falling so badly and so rapidly?

Equally worrisome is the increasing instances of strife on so many fronts – we have the farmers' stir across regions, an economic crash across industry segments, religious divides that cut across classes and masses, decline in business prospects on an alarming scale, a failing law and order situation and a blistered political scenario. How long can we ignore the gloom and impending doom?

What's led the change?

To understand our falling standards across many fronts, let's go back to 2012, when the country witnessed a horrific and gruesome instance of rape and mutilation. What came to be known as the Nirbhaya case brought together Indians as one, with thousands upon thousands congregating at Delhi's India Gate and other landmark spots in the country, holding candle-light marches and demanding justice for the victim and punishment for the culprits. The heat was turned up on the authorities so strongly and the people's indignation was so scorching that, coupled with the so-called 2G Telecom Scam (which some years later turned out to be no scam at all), a Government ruling the country for 10 years was toppled in the next elections.

A decade later, things have changed dramatically. We have last year's case in Hathras, where a Dalit girl was brutally gang-raped and named four Thakur men as the culprits. Let's not talk about the authorities who refused to even acknowledge for weeks that any wrong had happened, let's instead mention how the girl succumbed to her injuries two weeks later and how she was allegedly forcefully cremated through the night by the authorities. Last week, a woman working in the SDM's office was stabbed and succumbed to her injuries, allegedly by her boyfriend (who claimed to be her husband). The family cried foul and the culprit has since been arrested. Two years back, a veterinary doctor was raped, killed and burnt on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

The list goes on and on and on. What has changed, and starkly so, is the lack of any public outrage. India has seemingly become immune to such incidents, turning a blind eye and moving on with life as usual. Have we grown numb as a people? Or are life's other challenges so compelling today that we don't have the time or emotions anymore to think of the other malaises stalking society?

Businesses in limbo

Just last week, Ford Motor Company of the United States made the startling announcement that it would be shutting down car manufacturing facilities in India and record $2 billion in restructuring charges, scaling back significantly in a country that past management saw becoming one of its three biggest markets globally. Vehicle manufacturing for sale in India will stop immediately, leading to around 4,000 direct employees being impacted, the carmaker said. Indirectly, through its dealer and ancillary network, many more thousands would be rendered jobless.

Ford will also wind down an assembly plant in Gujarat by the fourth quarter, as well as vehicle and engine manufacturing plants in Chennai by the second quarter of next year. We also have to recall the decision last year by iconic motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson to curtail its manufacturing operations in India and tie up with a local partner to continue with a token presence.

Other sectors are doing no better and this dark truth was driven home by the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) recent report, which stated that over 16 lakh educated Indians were rendered jobless in August 2021 alone. The unemployment rate in India touched 8.3 per cent in August, compared to 7 per cent in July with 1.9 million jobs lost in the country last month, mainly from the farm sector, CMIE said. This has led to a dip in the employment rate from 37.5 per cent in July to 37.2 per cent in August, with absolute employment down to 39.78 crore, compared to 39.97 crore in July, CMIE added. While the COVID-19 pandemic has obviously had an impact, the real culprit has been India's economy which has witnessed a recessionary phase for the last few years, beginning its slide long before the onslaught of the novel Coronavirus.

Media listlessness

The visible lack of any spine in most sections of the country's media is not helping matters any, as news that is in anyway negative is not just shared with the masses anymore – the fort of our Fourth Estate has been well and truly breached, especially that of the mainline television media. In fact, it has fallen to such embarrassing depths that some of yesterday's award-winning anchors today speak of COVID-19-led lockdowns by comparing it to the 14 years of Lord Rama's exile. "The Lord could do it, but you can't, just for a few days," we have been often scolded. Some others spend one hour of their personal Prime Time sharing 'Exclusives' with us on how yoga and bovine urine can rid us of the deadly Coronavirus. Others rant, rave and taunt their 'guests' from various political parties, leading to raucous debates that thresh out the culprits to blame any and every crisis that hits our nation.

The truth of the matter that is becoming increasingly visible is that a truck of some kind seems to have been arrived at between the authorities and much of the media. "Stay away from murky topics and you shall be gainfully rewarded" seems to be the diktat of the day, as ad-spends on television channels hits new highs, even as most print publications trim down both their pages and the number of employees. In the process, a large part of India remains unaware of the many real issues plaguing us today, with only some on social media platforms crying wolf and making a noise that is going largely unheard.

Bunch of social evils

Then we have the social and political devils that are making a mockery of our country around the world. We have frequent cases of mob lynching and gang-beatings, over issues such as consumption of certain meat items, inter-caste marriages, communal flare-ups and what not. And as elections become the sole focal point for most political parties, we have repeated instances of massive election rallies with both the leaders and their supporters making a mockery of all COVID-19 protocols and safety measures, many of which have been highlighted by international media houses.

And, of course, no write-up on India's state of affairs can be over without a mention of the farmers' protest in and around the National Capital Region of Delhi, which is now into its tenth month. There is now a spillover into adjoining states, with a massive 'Mahapanchayat' being recently held in Muzaffarnagar, followed by a massive stir in Karnal, with the 'annadaata' demanding immediate disciplinary action against an official who apparently instructed the police force to redesign the heads of any protestors. And finally, we come to today's favorite topic for discussion in India, oil, which powers both our kitchens and our vehicles. With prices at new highs every other day, we are defying the laws of free-market pricing by bringing excise duties into play whenever required, to ensure that a semblance of constancy is maintained in the final selling price.

Clearly, a lot is going wrong on a lot of fronts throughout the country and we are going to need more than a little bit of conjuring to weather out this storm. We are at a crossroads and can but hope that some divine force will somehow help us take the right turnoff and ensure a soft landing in these hard times.

The writer is a communications consultant and a clinical analyst. Views expressed are personal

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