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Something to cheer about in India


Chandini Chowk,Old Delhi Sreeram Nambiar under a Creative Commons Licence

There are few rays of hope amidst the doom and gloom, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

Most decent Indians are plunged into depression at the, horrific cycle of bad news hurled at us every morning with our daily newspaper. Or more probably, most people get the full blast from TV anchors. In quick succession we heard about a Muslim man lynched and then killed, for the crime of allegedly eating beef. Followed by the sickening rape of two infants on the same night in Delhi. As though this was not enough, it was compounded by the murder, the setting alight of a Dalit home leaving two little children burnt alive. All this in the middle of the festive season when most of India was celebrating Dussehra, ironically, the triumph of good over evil.

Yet, in the midst of all the doom and gloom, I found nuggets of good news. Something, be it ever so little, to cheer about. New Delhi, much maligned and on many fronts, deservedly so, announced a car-free day. Our Delhi middle classes, who rarely descend into the depths of public transport, were not amused. But the following day, reports emerged in all newspapers announcing that 'no cars', had resulted in the city's pollution levels being considerably lessened.

Every single Delhi resident must have breathed a sigh of relief. And though there are bets being taken on whether better sense will prevail in pushing for more regular no-car days, the fact that everyone wants their children to be asthma and allergy free, an increasingly unlikely probability, in dreadfully polluted Delhi, gives us scope for optimism.

A lesson taught in advocacy training is that, ultimately, self interest is the most effective factor that will get people to change. So while climate change seems a far off calamity, children and old people being rushed to hospital because of acute pollution, is a nasty reality happening before everyone's eyes. Since we sometimes need to hit rock bottom before we pick ourselves up and start all over again, perhaps this will change peoples' perceptions toward cars and pollution in Delhi as nothing else will.

Of course, the key to this, is good public transportation.

Another bright spot on our current, rather bleak, horizon is that while there have been a plethora of politicians peddling messages of hate, suddenly, we've had a spate of brave individuals condemning the poison peddlers. First, there were our most eminent writers who dared to stand up and be counted. They announced they were returning national awards because they were dismayed at the way the present government has allowed the atmosphere in the country to be soaked with messages of hate, spreading inter-religious tension and disharmony. The writers were followed by a number of film makers, academics, eminent historians and more recently scientists, protesting the road being charted for India by the Hindutva brigade.

Prominent writer Nayantara Sahgal says, ‘It’s not just writers and artists. We are in a situation where a retired Admiral in the Navy has written with concern to the President. These are developments where people are individually responding to the intolerance and hatred spreading in the country.’ Much decorated, retired police chief Julio Ribeiro sent 31 years ago to quell a separatist movement in Punjab wrote an open letter saying, 'Today, in my 86th year, I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country.' Considered a fearless patriot who put his life on the line to go into the seething cauldron that was 1984 Punjab, to successfully bring peace back to the state, Ribeiro's words had a powerful impact on India's reading public.

Equally admired are the 50 eminent historians who urged the state to ‘ensure an atmosphere that is conducive to free and fearless expression, security for all sections of society and safeguarding of the values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past.’

So there's something to cheer about after a rather dreadful few weeks.

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