I Don’t Need Anna Hazare.
by Susmita Dasgupta on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 10:51am ·
I don’t need Anna Hazare. I never needed him. I never felt the need to blackmail anyone even if it is the Government. I can command the Government to do what I want it to do. The demands that I make on the State are justified and legitimized by the Constitution and I know my texts. I have an idea of the offices, the respective duties of officials and know where to find them. I am educated and articulate and not lazy in writing. I was only twenty three when I knew my first victory against corruption. Since then I have got policemen suspended, workmen transferred, officers investigated as and when I have felt offended by them.
I was only twenty two when I was helping an elderly relative in Delhi for some work in the post office and the man behind the counter was pugnacious. I wrote a complaint to the post master against this chap with a copy to the Post Master General and Minister of P&T. After three weeks a letter came to me, and after a month, yet another and after three months a third; while the earlier two were from the local post office and Sarojini Nagar respectively, the third was from the Ministry and all confirmed that the offending employee had been transferred with a warning. My subsequent visit to the post office was only greeted by salaams.
My next “victory” was a rude conductor in the DTC Bus no 507; then a bank clerk in JNU’s State Bank of India, followed by yet another post office personnel in the IIT Post Office Speed Post counter. I have had refunds from MTNL and BSNL and from the DESU, the electric supply corporation of Delhi before it was privatized as the BSES. Once I was travelling to Kolkata by the Rajdhani and encountered an eve teaser on one of the berths. I had him detrained at midnight in Mughal Sarai. I had a parking attended picked up by a police patrol 100.
But my most sterling victory was against the Delhi police only three years ago when some of them came into Haryana in the wee hours of a chilly winter morning and picked up my cook, Malati on the charges that she was a Bangladeshi !! My cook who hails from Canning is nowhere even remotely connected to East Bengal, ranted, raged, stomped and stamped at the impunity of being sharved into the police jeep. Though the Delhi police have no clue on how to identify Bangladeshi’s from their accent, yet felt intuitively that Malati spoke, dressed and behaved rather differently from what a typical illegal migrant did. They let her go almost immediately and she returned fuming at the insult that was meted out to her, a free citizen of the country. In the evening she poured out her woes and I did a literal translation of her agonies in English and sent them, with a covering note to the Home Minister. The next morning, Madhusree and Vinod made 345 photocopies of the letter and sent them to each and every member of the Parliament. In the letter Malati asked whether the rounding up of Bangladeshi migrants was not a surreptitious way of ethnically cleansing of Delhi of Bengalis. This astounded Mr Chidambaram and the few days that followed saw the press and Deputy Commissioner of Delhi and Inspector General of Haryana swoop down to Malati to seek her forgiveness. I was personally made to witness the order by which seven policemen that included a woman were suspended. The suspended policemen called me up several times for forgiveness but I advised them to go through the punishment for a better after life.
In the same combing of Bangladeshis, a Bengali Muslim man was also picked up. He was an auto driver who had come to India as an infant from East Pakistan as a refugee. He had since then lost his parents and lived with relatives who had opted to stay back in India after 1947. This man had married a woman, who like him also was a refugee in a Delhi slum; the only problem was that her parents went back to Bangladesh sometime in the 1990’s, after the Babri Masjid riots. The Indian State decided that she was a Bangladeshi and deported her, leaving her husband behind. The couple had two infant children and the police decided that one of the children was an Indian citizen and hence was to remain behind with the father. The man, Khalil came howling to me with his bawling baby son. I took them along, went to the confinement area of the FRRO, requested the Deputy Police Commissioner to at least take in the son, who should not be separated from the mother so that the mother could have both her children together. This having been done, I again made rounds of the FRRO to help Khalil hand them over warm clothes, because it being winter they would be suffering. Then the problem came of deportation because women thus deported can also be trafficked. It was out of this fear that I met the civil society organizations. It was here that I encountered the civil society.
I first spoke to Prof Zoya Hassan of the Minorities Commission trying to explain that the deported woman, Salma was not a Bangladeshi because her parents migrated to Bangladesh much later. She was very dismissive of me, almost said that it did not really matter to her if some Bengali poor Muslim was picked up. She taunted me with my pronunciation of “kh” of Khalil, because mine was not from the epiglottis, so I knew the politics of the epiglottis as soon as I watched the film My Name Is Khan. Next I went to Shabnam Hashmi, who again refused to extend any assistance whatsoever. Then I visited Apne Aap, a NGO that was won international accolades; alas, no help. I appealed to everyone so that Salma had someone to receive her in Bangladesh when she would land up there so that she would be safe in an alien land. The civil society was high flying, it was supposed to step in when the State behaved badly with its citizens; but I saw them in their true colours. Anyway, I went to the Seelampur mosque, got the clerics to make some contacts in Bangladesh, persisted till they made some phonecalls to Salma’s father who came as far as India’s border to pick her up with her children. Khalil eventually got his passport and a job in Kuwait. He will be visiting Bangladesh and carry his family away beyond the Arabian Sea into the shores of safety. All through this ordeal, Shabnam Hashmi, Zoya Hassan, Ruchira Gupta remained silent, indifferent and aloof.
Some years ago, I carried a child into the CRY office and asked them to take his custody. CRY refused saying that I could not directly recommend a child and had to sponsor via a cheque. I have since then stopped my donations because I have charity to do all by myself.
Recently I requested Vandana Shiva to provide me with details on POSCO and we will take it up in the Ministry of Steel, where I work as an economist. I gave her a CD into which her office was to copy a documentary film showing the outrage that the State has committed. I explained to Ms Shiva how the Ministry must take action whenever graft gets reported in a file to them and becomes a file noting. She refused to use this space to negotiate a better deal for the people; instead she maintained the people’s victim status because she insisted on maintaining her own power as their champion. I repeatedly try to convince Navadanya to place Posco’s issue with the Ministry and to enter it as a discussed matter in the Steel Room; after which no affair may be disposed off without a concrete action, Ms Shiva steadfastly chose never to try out this path of a possible solution because were the Ministry of Steel to take a positive view of displacement, Ms Shiva’s “power” as an activist would have been compromised.
I have a very poor opinion of the civil society; I have realized that they intend no solution to problems; all that they need is the problem so that they can emerge as champions. The civil society has slowly conspired to keep status quos and perhaps never made an honest attempt at empowerment of any kind. This is why, the so-called moral leaders of our country were so rude to me when I was trying to find some solution for a helpless woman with her infant children!! I find it impossible to deal with a set of supercilious self righteous humans who have only a deep contempt for the people whose causes they supposedly champion. They use people’s distress not to help them out but to “shame the State”. Beneath the mask of philanthropy, the civil society is a will and a desire for power. This is why, I wish to have nothing to do with them. The State, I can handle; I know my rights and I know the limits to my rights. The civil society is a devious space in which the elite of the society wish to wield power against the State and against the political class. Sometimes, this may turn into an anti-people zone where the elites position themselves as intermediaries through whom the people must themselves be represented. When this happens, the civil society becomes worse than a despotic State, for the latter is constrained by elections, whereas the civil society is free of this encumbrance. I find the State to be far more responsive to me than the civil society.
Anna Hazare’s movement is strange because there was hardly any build up to the fast. It seemed to emerge suddenly out of nowhere with big image supporters like Kiran Bedi, Kiran Majumdar Shaw, Kabir Bedi, Ramdev, Ravi Shankar and with these names came an avalanche of support. Getting such celebrities could not have been out of nowhere; it is possible that elaborate whispers had already got the groundswell going before surfacing as the hunger strike.
The huge support in favour of the Lokpal Bill shows that beneath the seemingly indifferent middle class of India, there is a spark waiting to be ignited; India’s win in the World Cup Cricket also put the middle class into such a participation mode. The middle class finds a far greater affinity with Anna than it finds with Binayak Sen, or a displacement over Vedanta or even the firing at Nandigram or Kalinganagar. Anna fights big capital and political power, both of which the middle class aspires to enter but gets classed out. The middle class loves the rich and the powerful and often its moral tirade against big capital and big power is a concealed envy of them. Apropos to this psychology is also its hatred for those who are behind them, the poor, the Muslims, the tribals fall under this category. Hence Hazare hails Narender Modi, a man who exemplifies this sentiment of the middle class. The huge support of the middle class for Anna is the class’s desire for power; will to rule, albeit not through the process of democratic politics but by denouncing it via the authoritarian assertion of morality.
I do not need such a middle class, hence I do not need a Anna Hazare. I am far more concerned about the everyday corruption that disrupts my everyday life, distracts me from pursuing my excellence and sabotages my access to opportunities presented in the public space. For me, the RTI, the sexual harassment bill, the woman police, the operation of the PDS, the containment of the corrupt police who disturb my service providers, the officers who do not perform their duties, the tea drinking man at the post office counter who does not attend to customers, the bank manager who staves off poor people from opening savings bank accounts are worse offenders; it is on their immorality and dishonesty that the huge edifice of corruption is built upon. No Mayawati could be she if her staff were dead honest. No Raja could be he were his electorate was immune to bribes. The Lokpal Bill tries to catch the more visible faces while wholly ignoring the sources where corruption begins, namely the people taking as well as paying bribes. We need vigilance below the surface of media beams, governance down under, perhaps vigilantism in a manner.
I understand that corruption can be without the exchange of money. The surreptitious elimination of names from the voters’ list of certain people, landlords who refuse to rent out apartments to some other kind of persons, the subtle discrimination that happens when the social affiliations of a candidate overrides her merit in selection for jobs, the biases and prejudices of the judiciary against some kinds of persons are also corruption, because these, like money also distort signals of a “free market”. To address these I will file an RTI, or PIL and for these I know what is there to be done; I don’t really need Anna Hazare.