In 2022, a prayer for a better year for India
From politics to economy, from religious intolerance to health imbalances, every arm of the nation needs reform
As a difficult and turbulent year draws to a close, here is a prayer for a “better” India in 2022.
An India where our political leadership will walk the talk on issues of critical public importance; where you can’t ask people to mask up and maintain strict discipline, and yet, choose to be personally reckless in not observing Covid-19 protocols during election campaigns; where the oxygen of winning elections must surely matter less than the number of oxygen plants you actually set up; where good governance matters more than crafty political propaganda; where leaders learn to respect science and not superstition in combating a pandemic.
An India where there is no point in hailing hospital staff as “Covid warriors”, organising “taali-thali bajao” events, and then denying our health workers better working conditions; where junior doctors are not forced to launch a street agitation because post-graduate medical admissions have been delayed by almost a year; where those who die of Covid are assured dignity in death; where Covid death numbers are accurately reported; where we don’t revere the Ganga as the ultimate holy river and then allow dozens of decomposed bodies to float in the waters only because there is no place left to cremate the dead and then target the media when it exposes the grim reality.
An India where Parliament is not reduced to a notice board for bulldozing far-reaching legislation without discussion; where ministers can’t get away with claiming in Parliament that they have no knowledge of migrant deaths caused by lockdowns or job losses because of economic dislocation; where it is our right to know how public monies have been spent in purchasing vaccines, ventilators and oxygen cylinders, else the opacity threatens citizen trust.
An India where no religious or political leader from any community is allowed to get away with hate speech or incitement to violence; where the atrocities of Aurangzeb in the 17th century should not determine the fate of the Indian Muslim in the 21st; where scars of past animosities can’t become the template for an India of the future; where the electoral battle shouldn’t be over who rebuilds how many places of worship, but who builds how many quality schools and hospitals; where mobs who break into church halls are seen as criminals who must be prosecuted; where the real battle is not between Hindu and Hindutvavadi but between constitutionalism and anti-constitutionalism; where the State stops intervening in personal freedoms; where what we eat and drink, who we marry, how we pray must remain a matter of fierce individual choice.
An India where our borders are secured; where China and Pakistan can’t tie us down into a “two-front” war; where national security isn’t entangled with competitive domestic politics; where an agitating Sikh farmer isn’t labelled a “Khalistani terrorist” or a Kashmiri student isn’t branded “anti-national”; where terrorism doesn’t resurface in Punjab or we get caught in a bloodied cycle of oppression, alienation, and violence in the Valley; where innocent labourers are not shot dead in Nagaland in botched operations; where civil society isn’t seen as a new frontier of “war” and dissent isn’t criminalised.
An India where the health of the economy is not determined by the buoyant mood on Dalal Street as much as the deepening concerns over shrinking employment and falling incomes; where no “V-shaped” economic recovery is possible until there is a revival in the struggling micro and small enterprises sector; where rising inflation is reined in and fuel prices don’t consistently challenge Sir Don Bradman’s batting average because of profiteering through unacceptably high taxes.
An India where there is a serious effort made to redress stark inequalities in a country where the wealth of the top 10% accounts for 57% of the national income; where governments urgently address the widening digital divide in education in Covid-19 times: A recent survey shows that only 25% of children enrolled in Class 3 were able to read a simple sentence in 15 states across rural India, and 17% of children have dropped out of secondary school. An India where, with 3.3 million children reportedly malnourished, an emergency intervention is called for to meet the nutrition challenge; where environmental consciousness is not just hot air in seminar chat rooms, but translates into concrete action in ensuring clean air and protecting dwindling forest cover.
An India where the executive doesn’t misuse enforcement agencies for political score-settling; where the process doesn’t become the punishment; where it cannot be that Opposition leaders are raided just before an election but then given a clean chit if they switch sides; where a top actor’s son isn’t imprisoned on spurious drug charges; where outdated sedition laws are not enforced to intimidate a young climate activist; where the police realise that their true allegiance is to the rule of law and not the regime; where it cannot be that the Supreme Court protects the life and liberty of some, but habeas corpus petitions of scores of anonymous detenus are kept pending for years; where inconvenient truths aren’t kept hidden in sealed envelopes.
An India where journalists realise that their professional duty is to ask questions, and their primary task is to hold accountable those in power.
An India where we must all remember the golden words of South African anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, who passed away this week: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Happy New Year!
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author
The views expressed are personal