Times I Felt Like a Helpless Citizen

There are times when we all feel helpless in our personal and public roles in life. I felt acutely helpless when I came across these three recent phenomena.

The first incident that I am going to talk about is perhaps one that evoked nationwide fury and helplessness. Yes, you guessed it right—the increased OBC reservations quota that HRD Minister Arjun Singh proudly imposed on the reputed institutions of higher learning. Students from institutions like AIIMS and DU made huge protests and government did its best to rein in the protesters.

The media images of the protest, forwarded through various chain mails, seemed to be coming straight out of a current popular youth movie, Rang De Basanti. Remember the minister in Rang De Basanti who ordered beating of the protesters who were having a peaceful candle vigil at India Gate.

Reservation protests

 Reservation protests 2
 Media Images of Reservation Protests

27% reservations for OBC in higher institutions! Why do they not try to get OBCs in primary schools, there are millions of them who do not ever get to see the inside of a school. Why not start from the beginning such as primary education if the idea is to make education available to poorer and backward sections of the society? Why do they have to compromise on merit by denying opportunity to meritorious by offering coveted admissions in institutes like IIT or AIIMS based on caste? Why do reservations need to be caste based and not for economically backward and below poverty line (BPL) classes? Are not poor people from so-called upper castes like Brahmins, Baniyas, and Kshtriyas entitled to education? Questions that government refused to consider.

No PIL or RTI could work, as we silently we watched a democratic government dictatorially politicize education in the name of caste, there was nothing I, like other protesters, could do or say to stop it.

The second time I felt helpless was when sex education was banned in Mahrashtra on grounds that it corrupted young minds. I remember a dialogue from Subhash Ghai’s movie Pardes, where actor Apoorva Agnihotri concludes that Indians are biggest hypocrites. Everywhere there are separate queues for men and women. Too much segregation of sexes, stifling rhetoric about culture, yet this is country with a billion population, second highest in the world. Quite correct, Mr. Ghai! Young are experimenting with sex every day, the more you repress, and more inquisitive they get.

Look at the rate adolescent pregnancies and abortions are rising. AIDS and other STD menace are always looming over unsafe sex. But our government can not see this. Perhaps those sex education teacher manuals were bit explicit for sixth graders. But they were teacher’s manual, for heaven’s sake! If book was the problem, then government could have taken pains to hire instruction designers to create educational yet discreet textbooks/training programs for the young yet impressionable minds. Rather the state governments chose to adopt a regressive policy on sex education on the pretext of preventing young minds from corruption.

A look at MSNBC news headline made me cringe—“6 states in India ban sex ed to preserve culture.” Google your way and you can find more such headlines in the international media.

The third occasion when I cringed yet again was when the Jagnanath temple priests made a hue and cry about the entry of Paul Rodgier, a 55-year-old American Christian. The act seemed to defile the temple premises as the priest threw out the food they had prepared as offering to the goddess and temple “shudhikaran” was ordered. Think of the number of stomachs that such quantity of food could have filled. When it is religion that is being talked about, who would then think of minor things like hunger? Certainly not those pot-bellied priests who were enjoying their reign in illustrious temples of the country.

Poor American fellow was made to pay a fine of Rs. 209/- when he said he was unaware of such rules. I felt that I should personally go and apologize to Paul Rodgier. But it was not the first time this had happened. Thailand’s Crown Princess Sirindhorn, another American who had converted to Hinduism, and our own Indira Gandhi have been denied entry in the past. Shame on a religion that prevents mankind to connect with Gods.

There was another personal occasion when I was again helpless and enraged. It was when orkut was blocked in my organization. To be fair, my organization has flexible policies that have never infringed on an employee’s rights. Considering that we spent so much of our time working in our office, it made sense to take care of my banking, shopping, and traveling needs online. Because most of the banks, shops, or travel agents were gone by the time I reached home. I wonder how it would have been possible if I worked in organizations where all personal mails, calls, and other web sites were restricted or frowned upon.

As a responsible employee, I have never let my personal needs come in way of my work. Then why should work come in way of my personal needs. I think my organization understood this. Which is why I was more hurt and baffled to find that orkut was blocked because they believed some employees wasted their time orkuting! Scrapping sure didn’t stop me finishing my work on time, then why block it! Of course, several resourceful employees used alternate proxies or URLs to access orkut and the systems guys dutifully tracked and blocked those.

I was saddened at this cat and mouse game between the employees and systems guys. I thought as if my commitment to work was questioned. I was hurt. Not to mention that fact I never had time to browse through orkut to reunite with those school buddies whom orkut had discovered for me.

I worked helplessly till the hurt was forgotten. Yet it is milder hurt in contrast to my helplessness as an Indian citizen.

11 Responses to “Times I Felt Like a Helpless Citizen”

  1. 1 amithimani July 15, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    This is nicely written blog, I am totally agree with you, but we need to find out solution of that too, just running away to USA, UK will not help our country.

  2. 2 Poonam Sharma July 15, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Yeah, we need to consistently be aware and brainstorm solutions on our own. Reservation seems to be an India specific problem. Watch this blog for more on reservations.

    Religion and caste are other two home-grown monsters that we need to tackle ourselves, first at individual level then at state level.

    Hey, Amit glad that you could add your voice.

  3. 3 Rajib July 23, 2007 at 9:55 am

    For a common person, it is indeed very difficult to see any rationality in imposing reservations at this level. Many research works have been carried out recently to prove that applicants with null scores in the Entrance Tests have got an entry into Medical Colleges, due to their caste ! Same may be the case with Engg Colleges. All of us agree that, doing that is nothing less than a crime. At the same breath I want to say that we, the common person, have not even thought of uplifting the backward class, far from taking any action !! We love to live in fool’s paradise and think that we can prosper by spurning these so called backward class. We can boast of providing laptops to village girls selling cowdung to teach the rural children ( HT-23.7)but we should also remember that the internet usage of India is the least (3%) in the whole of Asia Pacific region, despite the conglomeration of all these MNCs. What is it, if not a mockery ?

  4. 4 kunalmajumder July 23, 2007 at 10:30 am

    I feel reservation issue has two sides to the story.
    1) The purpose and the intention of implementing the quota system.
    2) The practicality and the end result of such policy.

    There is a third dimension… the protesters. Are these camera-friendly, Bollywood-inspired young Indian souls really interested in bringing the eco-socio change in the country? Or are they just worried about sacrifising their seats on the alter of Pseudo-socialism?

    The scenes in AIIMS and other Engineering colleges clearly reveals the real attitude among these students…

    Sometimes, I wonder why does the government pays high subsidies for these centres of learning. At the end of the course most of the graduates… either move to America or Europe! They are bloody selfish blood-suckers whose loyalty is only limited to their own needs.

  5. 5 Poonam Sharma August 12, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    Rajib, you echo most of my thoughts.

    But I wanted to add a note about the news that you have pointed out about providing laptops to the village women. I liked that news, saw that as an inspiration. So much that I actually emailed the writer of that news to find out about the NGO that was working at grassroot level to impart primary education to rural children.

    I was reading a book by uman rights commission in India that said as much as 35 million of rural children were deprived of rural education. Any one venturing to take steps to educate such children was inspirational to me.

    The steps to uplift backward classes should start at individual level. If I could change the life of one such child with education, I would say I hav paid back to the society in a small way.

  6. 6 Poonam Sharma August 12, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    Kunal, the first two points made by you are precisely ones against the implementation of reservation policy.

    It is a grave yet different matter that students from these institutes of higher learning gladly turn to west instead of serving the country that imparted them education. However, we can not dismiss them as simpy Bollywood inspired youths, and this certainly is not justification for any caste- or religion-based reservation. Brain drain is a separate problem and should be dealt separately.

  7. 7 ananymous November 19, 2007 at 2:01 am

    juz buy a gun n kill all those ppl who do such sort of things… when u feel that life is gettin boring…. n u wanna end it.. juz don waste your life…. if u goin down, take some of the corrupted politicians wid u…..

  8. 8 arvind December 10, 2007 at 7:34 am

    that was good a good post and i am quite surprise by so less comments for this post..
    anyway.. i too feel reservations should be based for economically backward people. but in coulntry like india where politics itself is relegion baed with almost every caste and releigion having its own party it quite difficult to unite the country…
    i guess what we youth understand and percieve things for the betterment of society is too far fetched for the people who run the country .. our country may be having second fastest economy in the world but the internal state of our country is not good lets accept the fact..
    now that SC ST certificates are easily available.. that makes some people take undue advantage of the education system and the reservation….
    the whole idea of reservation must have started after independence when there was real need of upliftment of the backward classes but now that the society has each type of people mixed up its time to change the laws but again our countries politics and government runs more on bloody sentiments …
    well SEX EDUCATION has been another topic of controversy and as i said earlier our country runs on a sentimental note ..SEX word is still an alean thing to our country…they dont understand that including sex education would not harm our cultural heritage…hope it changes soon
    well, about that incident where that foreigner was asked to pay fine for entering is another annoying thing that happens even near my house..
    they have clearly mentioned “sanctum not allowed for foreigners..now what mark does that leave on them about our country .its really absurd but people in our country (most of them elders) are still living in 18th century..
    i hate to say for some things even my parents go over the board when it comes to religion and gods..

  9. 9 Poonam Sharma December 11, 2007 at 4:56 am

    @Actually I was a newbie blogger when I wrote about it. Hence, less comments!

    My granny can also be sometimes partial to other religion. But that is sad.

    By deny sex education at school, we are simply denying the real fact that more teens indulge into unprotected sex.

  10. 10 arvind December 11, 2007 at 7:16 am

    yeah … its all because oldies will be oldies..they still are in 18th century..
    politics needs a revolution…youth shoud replace the old nuts if we want to see any change

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