Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Days of one sided Bihar coverge is over

This had to happen. I am so glad it has finally happened. The realization that there is more to the barrage of negative news emanating from Bihar than a desire to expose wrong doings. Or even a neutral desire to report the happenings. Such news, inevitably accompanied by commentary like "the most lawless state", "the state where civilization has ended", "where the state has withered away", are an attempt to sully our image. It is meant to take away our self confidence so that we dare not ask for what is rightfully ours.

If a rape took place in Delhi, a snide link was created with Bihar. If there was a bomb blast in Mumbai, there were allusions to Bihar. The one that I found the most hilarious in this ever growing and long list was one linking Bihar to Katara and his human trafficking business.

We Biharis, having been brought up in a culture nurtured by nationalists like Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sri Krishna Singh, Anugrah Babu and JP, had a misplaced faith in the impartiality of national institutions like the national press, the national planning commission and so on. This misplaced faith was so deeply ingrained that we always justified their sins of commissions and omissions. When Indian Express exposed the Bhagalpur blindings, we genuinely felt that it is an attempt to improve the Bihari society, not to denigrate it. When MV Kamath wrote in the Illustrated Weekly of India that Biharis are not fit to rule Bihar, we somehow convinced ourselves that it is genuine criticism. When hare brained schemes like freight equalization scheme were introduced, we bore its brunt for the national cause. When NHAI drew up the alignment of the Golden Quadrilateral or the East West corridor through Bihar (and Jharkhand) bypassing our population centers, we never complained. When the Central Water Commission gave us its misplaced embankments for flood control, we did not find anything amiss. And the flood prone area of Bihar increased from 2.5 M hectares to 7 M hectares. And this went on for sixty years!!

With increased exposure to the world, there is now a realization that there is no benign external agency that will look after our needs. WE have to fight our own battle. And this realization is now finding expression in various forms. Here are two samples. Mayank Rasu gives expression to his angst in Musings of a Bihari. And Sunny writes a satirical piece in a similar vein.

People are even questioning the alacrity with which the media highlighted the Nathnagar case. What were TV cameramen doing in this remote town? How could they film the sad incident and telecast it immediately? Did they try to intervene or were they also part of the mob? These are questions being asked by Mr Indra Sharma.

The new found confidence of Bihari has resulted in a sea change in attitude and he is not willing to take things lying down. He is in a mood to question Shivraj Patil why he is so slothful in giving security to the poor Bihari in Assam. He wants to know from Chidambaram what happened to his solemn promise in the parliament that Bihar would be given a special financial package? He wishes to question Saifuddin Soz what is Central Water Commission doing to reduce the flood menace. And if they fail, Bihari is in a mood to take them to task and ensure that his genuine interests are not compromised.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Conspicuous by its absence

Many many years ago, while being taught English at my school at Patna, I recall being taught the expression "conspicuous by its absence". The expression greatly appealed to my adolescent mind - the apparent contradiction of being absent and yet conspicuous. If one thing deserves to be described as such, it is the coverage of the recent floods in the Indian Mainstream media (MSM). Prof Madhukar Shukla of XLRI Jamshedpur brought this to my notice.

BBC ran a story for several weeks giving us details of the floods which has affected several states of India, besides Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The poignant “Aid Worker Dairy” is there on the web for all to read. The UN called it the worst floods in living memory. From NY Times to several other prestigious global newspapers and media, there has been fairly comprehensive coverage of this humungous human tragedy. The Japanese PM during his visit to Delhi delivered a speech in the Indian parliament. His speech started with a tribute to those who had lost their life in the floods in Bihar.

Contrast this with the almost total absence of the coverage in the Indian MSM. Take any national media - TV, newspaper or magazines, either of English or Hindi. You would hardly find any reference to it. The only exceptions were when Lalu criticized Nitish for being in Mauritius later followed by criticism of Lalu for his helicopter fiasco - in short when there was a stick to beat Bihar and Biharis.

There is hardly any reference to the repeated release of water from the dams of Nepal. There is no reporting of the misery of the poor stranded on the highways. There is no reporting of the Rs 1500 crore allotted by the state Government for the cause of flood relief. There is no recognition of the tireless effort of dedicated officers like Ratn Sanjay and Sudhanshu Kumar who have been working for the welfare of the flood victims without a break. Alas, there is no concern for the imminent outbreak of water borne disease once the water starts to recede.

Agencies like OXFAM and Aid India are doing commendable work on the ground. Multinationals like GE have contributed water treatment plants for the flood affected. Punjab Government is sending fodder for the cattle of flood affected Bihar. Experts like Dinesh Mishra and Eklayva Prasad are advocating their alternatives for water management. As Dinesh Mishra says, the flood prone area of Bihar has increased from 2 M hectares in 1955 when the embankments were started to be built to 7 M when we have several thousand kilometers of them in Bihar. But I have not yet heard of a debate on the abject failure of the Nehruvian temples of modern India in the “conscientious” and free Indian MSM.

A few months ago, some people were discussing the lack of developmental benefits reaching the poorer sections of the society. In this context, someone asked "Does Bihar Matter?" As a take on that, I was tempted to put the headline of this post as "Does India Matter?" After all, there is more international concern for the floods in Bihar than in the Indian MSM. But then I checked myself, for India does matter – may not be to the Indian MSM or the insular civil society in the metros, but to the mainstream Indian population. It does matter to Bihar, the Heart of India, appropriately placed a little to the left of centre in the upper part of its map.

In a documentary prepared by Mr Dinesh Mishra’s team on the floods of Bihar, there is a scene where India’s Independence Day is being celebrated in a village affected by the floods. The village headman unfurls the flag on a bamboo post to the singing of the national anthem followed by cries of Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Long Live Mother India) by semi clad children of the village. India might have given up on Bihar, but Bihar has not given up on India – it never will.

Bihar – the Heart of India, is also the name of a book by Sir John Houlton published in 1949). To be fair, sensitive Indians are very concerned about the floods

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Seeking Support for Flood Relief in Bihar

Bihar has seen one of the worst floods in recent times and we are working towards getting some medicines,funds,cloths and any other help for the flood relief work in Bihar. I am presently working with a team which is providing direct help to people who have been affected by the floods in Bihar and also coordinating with people from other organizations in getting whatever possible help we can. Some of the organizations have agreed to provide medicine, machine for clean water and even basic relief material like plastic sheets.

Unfortunately the magnitude of disaster and loss of life has not been widely covered by popular media so we are finding it difficult to drum support for this cause. Our effort intends to provide direct relief to people in need and we are soliciting help from all quarters, especially Biharis who can make some contribution for this cause.

Our team members from the One Bihar Team are diligently working 24*7 for this operation and we desperately need some help from every quarter.Do let me know if your organization or you as an individual would like to contribute for this humanitarian cause. Please let me know in case you are willing to support us in whatever way you can. We are also seeking contributions through Prayaas please come forward and lend your support.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Floods in Bihar - Relief is urgently needed

This year's floods in Bihar have been unprecedented. Press reports are calling it the worst floods in the last thirty years. Districts after districts in North Bihar are under deep flood water which are not yet showing signs of receding. Crops, villages, roads and railways have got washed away.

The governments: at the state and at the centre - appear barely affected by the human misery and tragedy. The people are unconcerned. The press, and I mean the national Indian Press, is not bothered. I saw not a column in HT, TOI or ET of Mumbai today. Funny I have to depend on BBC World Service to get an authentic account of the floods!

The simple fact is that close to one crore people (ten million people) have had to leave their homes and taken shelter in the open on comparatively higher structures - raised roads, railway line or roofs of houses.

Some of our friends got in touch with relief agencies and found that safe drinking water, clothes and temporary shelter are the most urgent need of the hour. Safe drinking water seems to be the most important and also perhaps the easier to tackle.

The best way to provide safe drinking water is through use of chlorine tablets. A good quality chlorine tablet can render 20 litres of water safe for drinking - enough for one family for a day. One lakh tablets of Chlorine from a good Indian manufacturer can be bought for thirty thousand rupees. Or one million tablets for three hundred thousand rupees. In other words, the cost of safe potable water for one family for one month is Rs 10 or 25 US cents.

Some of us are thinking of adopting a cluster of villages, what is called a block or prakhand in local parlance and try to ensure safe drinking to all the residents of that block for one month. At this stage, it is a just a thought. Let us see how this germinates.