Once again last week, bulldozers rolled through Delhi, destroying the lives and dreams of ordinary people. Once again battles raged over which mosque was once a Hindu temple. In this rectification of historical wrongs have been dragged the Qutub Minar and the Taj Mahal. This is a news column, so both events require a comment. On the subject of bulldozers, may I say that I look forward to the day when bulldozers will destroy the homes of those corrupt officials who have allowed illegal construction on such a scale. On the triumphalist Hindutva movement which now claims that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu monument, I have a question: when do the bulldozers arrive to demolish the most famous mausoleum in the world?
For those of you who think I’m frivolous about serious things, I have an answer: enough is enough. For weeks, if not months, we seem to have talked only about issues like this, so I’ll spare you yet another article about bulldozers or majority madness. Little more can be said that has not already been said in endless, repetitive prime-time debates and endless, increasingly repetitive musings by political pundits.
So this week I plan to talk about what are considered things so insignificant that they never make the headlines. My reason for doing this is that on the inside pages of the newspapers appeared what was for me the most important news of all, and that is that 89% of Indian children are malnourished before they reach their second year. This information came in the recently released report of the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-5). The report concluded that there has been only marginal improvement since their findings five years ago. It is heartbreaking and shameful. Malnutrition during a child’s most formative months means they will grow up stunted and never reach their full potential, either physically or mentally.
When I wondered why Narendra Modi, who had paid so much attention to correcting neglect of all kinds during the reign of Congress, I noticed that Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh were the worst offenders when it came to malnutrition in infants. Obviously, this is something he never paid attention to. Can we expect that after this latest NFHS report from his own government, he will pay as much attention to malnutrition as he did to sanitation during his first term? Swachh Bharat has achieved levels of rural sanitation on an impressive scale because Modi has thrown his weight behind it. If he did the same to ensure that India’s children were no longer malnourished, then we could one day reap all the benefits of having the largest population of young people in the world.
There are other little things I would like to draw attention to this week. I use the word small deliberately because Modi has shown that what he really loves is big things. The tallest statue in the world appeared in its time. The largest immunization program has been successfully completed and these are things the Prime Minister likes to brag about. The day I sat down to write this article, I walked past the new Parliament building and, without being able to get close enough for a proper inspection, can point out that it already towers over all the other buildings nearby. The Old Parliament, repository of so much of India’s democratic history, looks like an anthill in its mighty shadow. But I digress.
The most ignored and horrifying news of the moment is that a mountain of rubbish estimated to be over seventeen storeys tall remains ablaze in Delhi. It spews toxic gases into the dangerously polluted city air and reminds us that while we dream of putting a man on the moon, we haven’t learned how to deal with waste. On the outskirts of every village we see ditches filled with rotting rubbish and almost all of our small towns have main bazaars which are really just dumps. Isn’t that shameful at a time when we so proudly celebrate the seventy-fifth year of India’s independence?
Those who shout Vande Mataram and Jai Shri Ram with every breath must read the Ramayana more carefully to find out the description of Ayodhya on the eve of Rams’ coronation. And, while they’re at it, they can also pay close attention to the road Bharat built to get to the forest where his brothers were forced into exile. The methods used to build the road were as modern as they are today and Ayodhya more beautiful than any modern Indian city. While Hindu revivalism is so fashionable, can we please revive some of these things? Isn’t it time we ensured that Bharat Mata is no longer covered in rotting garbage? And what better tribute in this year of our Amrit Mahotsav than to ensure that no Indian child lacks the basic nutrients they need to grow to their full potential?
Can I end with a question? What happens now that a court has said it will not start discussing whether Hindutva activists should be allowed to start meddling with these alleged twenty-two sealed rooms in the basement of the Taj Mahal? Will Hindutva troops be unleashed in Agra to start attacking Muslims for the sins of their ancestors? Seriously, what happens now?
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