Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Indian Christians and Idolatry

An acquaintance from the West, knowing that I am in India, but not knowing how completely anti-Christian I am, sends me a sort of newsletter with news of how some poor preacher has been harassed, how another has been killed, how a third has disappeared....

Terrible stuff.

I am moved by the dedication of these people. They must be heroes. Or they must be desperate. Either way they deserve some attention.

Then I notice that the Newsletter has, on its banner, an idolatrous picture of someone's completely false view of what Jesus the Lord looked like!

The Bible is clear: no images!

Let alone a "false image"!

So I move my naturally indolent frame sufficiently to write a short and probably more than usually ungracious note commenting on the matter.

Later, I ask myself: is it more important to comment on an idolatrous picture or to do something to support heroes and desperadoes?

Well, perhaps I should do something for them too. But how many of them are there? How does one get to them? Is it fair to support those whose stories reach me via their lifelines to the West - what about those I bump into here who have, for whatever reason, no such lifeline? And do I not give enough already? How much should/ can I give?... Difficult questions....

Then I start analysing why I am so upset at the false idol. I reflect that we Hindus, though most clearly with Swami Dayanand Saraswati and the Arya Samaj, had starting rejecting idolatry under Muslim influence long before that, and that rejection of idolatry had the makings of a mass movement from the nineteenth century. Sadly, this was aborted in the 1970s but, for something like a century, idolatry declined in our country.

After that, it was guruist influence, recycled to us from the West, allied with the elite seeing in the resurgence of idolatry an avenue for consolidating their power, that resulted in large-scale patronisation of new and increasingly more monstrous size idols.

I am sure that any historical analysis will clearly indicate two things.

First, that there is a parallel between increased idolatry and increased corruption.
Second, that the use of idolatry by the elite to consolidate their power in the period from roughly the 2nd to 9th centuries AD is matched by their use of the same technique in the period from the 1970s to today - the main difference is that what took centuries then has taken only decades now.

And suddenly I understand why I am upset: these new preachers/ heroes/ desperadoes (whether Christian or Buddhist or Marxist) represent a revolt against the classes/ castes that have oppressed them for thousands of years. Their liberation lies in freeing themselves from lies of all sorts. In particular, the lie of idolatry, by which the entire consciousness of whole peoples can be manipulated.

If these new movements too slip into idolatry, they will much more easily sell out to the classes/ castes/ cliques who are already tempting and terrorising them.

Giving in to idolatry amounts to subversion and betrayal of their own movement - and every other movement like theirs.

No wonder I am upset. I should be even more upset than I am.

Bollywood, Cricket and the Issues Facing India

For the last 4 decades, I have visited India preoccupied with an agenda of some sort - usually, visits to relatives! That always means less time to simply look around. What little time was left, was spent at least partly on the tourist sites - one can't come to India and avoid seeing the Taj or visiting Kovalam Beach!

So, visiting India after retirement, and that for nearly six weeks, I have had a chance to re-connect with old friends and to explore and ask questions.

One interesting thing I notice is: how completely stupified the country is by the game of cricket. One cannot go anywhere without news of the score being thrust in your eye or ear. One can't even have a decent meal in the house of someone you haven't seen in 40 years without the TV being turned on simply to see what happened during the daytime!

Cricket too is a type of Bollywood.

Encouraging an obsession with cricket seems to me one of multiple ways in which the country's elite distracts the people of the country from engaging with the real issues of the country.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Report on an inspection visit to an Indian NGO

Report on visit to an NGO in a state capital, a district HQ and a village - which was sent to the NGO concerned following my visit for the purpose but (presumably as it was less flattering than expected) has not even been acknowledged, and the NGO refuses to communicate further with me.

I will not name this NGO and will mention only that it operates in the broad field of education and culture, and is being run by a sort of Gandhian group of Hindus. The following are EXTRACTS from the comments that I sent them, partly modified in order to maintain anonymity for the NGO.

1. In the village:
Here an existing primary school has recently been taken over by the NGO after the school was run unsuccessfully by two previous parties - first it was run by a matth (that is a monastery belonging to a Hindu religious order), and then it was run by a couple of private individuals. In the first case, the local community asked the matth to leave because the matth was apparently less interested in teaching the children and more interested in getting the 30 additional acres of land which are contiguous with the school's land; in the second case, the individual(s) simply absconded with as much money as they could put in their commodious pockets!

In the grounds is a good borewell, apparently proviidng very pure water.

The existing facility consists of a few solidly-built classrooms that are in a poor state of repair - damp seems to be creeping up the walls and extensive work needs to be done to ensure the continuing health of the structure. Two classrooms were spick and span, and are being used, while the rest have been cleaned but do not seem to be in use as there are not enough kids coming to the school yet. Children are being ferried in by bus from neighbouring areas - but not many seem to have taken up the offer of free transportation for the first year. This makes one wonder if there is sufficient demand for the school though I acknowledge that it is not easy to re-start a rural school after two such false starts.

However, the potential demand for the school does, in my opinion, need to be checked in order to establish whether earlier demand has now been largely satisfied by other suppliers. The extent and quality of the competition also needs to be assessed in any case. If the quality and quantity of other suppliers is sufficiently high, there may not be a case for trying to re-open the school.

There is also a concern about whether re-opening a "failed" school in this remote rural area is the best use of the NGO's financial and human resources - the nearest electricity supply, for example, is two miles away - though the leading politician has promised to extend the supply wiring to the school entrance for no cost, in India there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Two young female teachers were present, one male teacher and a motherly old lady whose exact function was unclear but who was no doubt a good addition in terms of the psychological health of the children.

I am not sure whether the NGO will be able to attract sufficient teachers of the right calibre to this remote location and sustain them there.

The proposed Outbound Training Centre to be built on the contiguous land will require massive investment, not only in the buildings but also in the infrastructure and in marketing. There seems to have been no integrated planning so far of such a facility, and the danger is that there will be ad hoc developments based on individual fancies and whims and enthusiasms. What is needed is than a study of the size of the market, and of what exactly the market needs, of the amount of money needed for infrastructure development, for the capital spend on buildings and facities, staff and other running expenses, for operating expenses/cashflow and related matters, so that the time-horizon for making the facility profitable can be clear as well as the potential Return On Investment could be worked out in order to enable a comparison with other possible projects or investments.

There also seems to be a misunderstanding re whether the costs of the transport wd be subsidised by the state government or perhaps by the national organisation of the NGO.

I notice, in this context, a mismatch between the communication style of the local NGO leader and what is needed to be effective in this setting (he doesn't ask any questions, doesn't listen, interrupts...).

And there is a mismatch between expectations and reality - he apparently first told them "to just do it; all I am interested in are results", but when the locals just did it they are now being told in front of me that they should not have done it - that their understanding of the agreement was inaccurate and that the money for transporting the children may not be forthcoming. One of the locals mentioned to me that where they wait for agreements to be clear in writing, they are told that they are not being efficient and not producing fast results.

Though the NGO is supposed to be secular, it has a particular idol prominently displayed, which may discourage even those Hindus who do not owe allegiance to this particular idol from being involved.

2. In the district HQ
The NGO has a building in which it has a bookshop as well as a facility for events. As far as I can discover, not many books are sold, and there is not enough participation in the events. So some questions arise: Is the propeerty being used optimally? Is it being well managed? Shoukd it be sold and the money devoted to something else? The answers to such questions are not clear to me, because the purpose of the existence of the building is not clear. As the NGO does not seem to believe in clear objectives, let alone quantifiable ones, no proper review is possible.

3. In the State capital:
I get the overall imprssion of sleepy, overcrowded, and cramped operation which exists not because it is top quality but because a sufficient number of people are willing to part with their money while tolerating mediocre quality (either because they don't know any better or because don't want to be bothered to find out what is happening to their money - after all, their religious merit has already been earned by simply donating money).

Further, there are some new and incompeletely thought-though initiatives being grafted on to poorly-maintained older facilities.

The institution seems to have more money than it knows how to use to best advantage. It is paying over the odds for part-time teachers, who seem to be motivated more by the money than by the desire to teach.

In theory, the organisation also includes research among its objectives but little of that seems to be done - at least none of which I can find any evidence.

However, even in the face of poor management and direction, I find evidence of several well-motivated and experienced who are trying very hard to make a difference to the lives of poor and disadvantaged people.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The current situation of Dalits in India

Following my speech at the Dalit Freedom Network in Germany a few days ago, a gentleman approached me with the following request: "If you find the time to send me a few of your thoughts on business and human rights regarding the Dalits for that upcomig hearing at the Bundestag in Berlin I would very much appreciate that."

My response:

As you know, the Dalits (formerly correctly known as "Untouchables") with the "Other Backward Castes" are the majority of the Indian population.

The word "Dalit" means "crushed" or "Crushed into a mass".

As untouchability was outlawed under the Constitution of the Republic of India, when that Constitution was adopted in 1951, and as a policy was put in place of reserving a few seats for Dalits in government schools, hospitals, bureaucratic jobs, and so on, the fortunes of some Dalits improved - to the point that there is now a so-caled "creamy layer" among Dalits. The existence of this "creamy layer" along with the existence of what one may call a "dry layer" among other castes, makes many Indians think that the problem of untouchability and caste-discrimination has been resolved and that nothing further needs to be done - in fact, many are seeking even to abolish the reservations that exist for Dalits. There is also the complication that non-Untouchables have got them classified as "Dalits" in order to benefit from the reservations! However, the "creamy layer" among the Dalits is extremely thin, and the vast majority of Dalits continue to face discrimination against them in social life as well as in employment opportunities. In fact, the reservations offer, in many cases, only a theoretical benefit, as many government schools exist even today only on paper!

The Census now being carried out in India is the first one since the 1930s because, for various reasons, no one wanted to find out the current number of Dalits and people belonging to various religious and economic backgrounds.

When the current Census is completed later this year, we will be in a position to know something like the facts about the current situation.

However, what is clear is that the policy of abolishing untouchability and offering reservations based on caste has been a mixed success - and that, so far, the majority of Dalits continue to be the majority of those who have benefited least from India's development since the country became independent.

Much more needs to be done to ensure that the Dalits progress. Fully one-third of India lives on less than US Dollars 1.25 a day. Another one-third of India's population lives on more than US Dollars 1.25 but less than US Dollars 2.50 a day. The majority of Dalits fall into these two categories.

Some time ago, the Government of India commented to private companies that, in a liberalising economy, private companies needed to do much more than they were doing to employ Dalits, and that if private companies did not improve their record, then the government would consider requiring private companies by law to reserve a proportion of positions for Dalits. Companies have done something but, like the government itself, too little so far - and it is not clear whether the current administration has the ability or the determination to do more on that front.

Meanwhile,as I said, the picture is complicated because for example there are now many poor families from other castes - of course, they should also be helped to stand again on their own feet.

On the other hand, SOME Dalits have made significant or even substantial economic progress. That progress is used as an excuse by the educated classes not to exert oneself greatly in relation to these problems (with a handful of exceptions, of course).

My conclusion is that the problems that Dalits face have become invisible to educated Indians - but are glaringly obvious to any interested observer of the country.