Everybody Loves a Good Drought Stories from India's

Everybody Loves a Good Drought Stories from India's Poorest Districts The human face of povertyThe poor in India are too often reduced to statistics In the dry language of development reports and economic projections the true misery of the 312 million who live below the poverty line or the 26 million displaced by various projects or the 13 million who suffer from tuberculosis gets overlooked In this thoroughly researched study of the poorest of the poor we get to see how they manage what sustains them and the efforts often ludicrous to do something for them The people who figure in this book typify the lives and aspirations of a large section of Indian society and their stories present us with the true face of development

10 thoughts on “Everybody Loves a Good Drought Stories from India's Poorest Districts

  1. says:

    My friends I am devastated Shaken to the core by what happens in my beloved country Ashamed to eat three suare meals a day and call myself Indian when in parts of India children die like flies due to malnutrition and preventable diseasesThe fact that I am a cog in the machine which contributes to this disaster we call development rankles still furtherReview to come after I recover Well I think I have recovered sufficiently to do an objective reviewIn 1991 a new government came to power in India under P V Narasimha Rao Rao was not really a career politician he was catapulted into the chair following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi the PM elect of the Congress party during campaigning It was the first time that a non member of the Nehru dynasty was heading the Congress and India; and Rao made the even revolutionary step of appointing the internationally acclaimed economist Dr Manmohan Singh as his finance ministerDr Singh set about dis mantling the economic framework of India in a revolutionary manner The Nehruvian socialist framework modelled loosely on Soviet Russia's system Nehru was a leftist and a fan of Stalin was demolished and capitalism was ushered in on a red carpet India's ponderous bureaucracy withered away the country took to privatisation in a big way the foreign exchange started pouring in and India was off like a rocket The country has not looked back since thenBut there was a small minority who bemoaned the destruction of socialism and the rise of corpocracy They provided dire predictions of economic collapse and subseuent World Bank intervention which would turn India into a vassal state Manmohan Singh pooh poohed such fears saying famously that there is no way to stop an idea whose time has come He also said that capitalism would now be different this would be capitalism with a human faceWell it seemed that Dr Singh had been proven right the way India has surged ahead economically and politically Not a single government since then had gone back on the reforms; the left has slowly eroded in India so that now we are left with only two alternatives the centre right Congress or the far right BJP It seems that India is indeed shining and capitalism has finally overcome its traditional enemy socialismAt least that is what I thought until I read this book P Sainath as a reporter for The Times of India toured ten of India's poorest districts from May 1993 to June 1995 His aim was to cover poverty in terms of processes i e how it comes into being; as opposed to the coverage of poverty as events which is the usual style of the press as disasters make good copy He makes the point forcefully while covering drought in Nuapada OrissaBut at the best of times the press has viewed drought and scarcity as events And the belief that only events make news not processes distorts understanding Some of the best reports on poverty suffer from trying to dramatise it as an event The real drama is in the process In the causesDeforestation has much to do with drought But being a process it becomes a ‘feature’ And then disappears into the newspaper ghetto called ‘ecology’—presumed to be of interest only to rabid ‘Greens’The reality? The combined investment in all development projects in Orissa since independence is eclipsed by the commercial value of renewable timber and forests lost in making way for themSainath's study of the processes has left me seriously shaken India's tremendous surge of the recent years has been at the cost of the continued sometimes increased misery of the masses at the bottom of the social pyramid the multitude who have been deprived of even their base humanity since Vedic times every third human being in the world without safe and adeuate water supply is an Indian Every fourth child on the globe who dies of diarrhoea is an Indian Every third person in the world with leprosy is an Indian Every fourth being on the planet dying of water borne or water related diseases is an Indian Of the over sixteen million tuberculosis cases that exist at any time world wide 127 million are in India Tens of millions of Indians suffer from malnutrition It lays their systems open to an array of fatal ailments Yet official expenditure on nutrition is less than one per cent of GNPEmpty public health centres and tribals who still apply to the local witch doctor for curing their illsEmpty schools and colleges in one case inhabited by goatsPeople bonded for life to work for free for usurersGirls sold off to pay debtsDevelopment which displaces people on massive scales and permanently damages the environmentI could go on and on Sainath reports on such instances by the dozen with passion and sincerity and also with a certain sarcastic dry wit which would have made reading him a pleasure had not the subject been so disturbingAlways the affected people are one at the lowest rung of the social ladder the Dalits and the Adivasis These people are officially taken care of by the government they have reservation uotas in educational institutions and government jobs a multitude of rural welfare schemes are their for their benefit but unless old power structures change these benefits shall stay on paper The upper classes in India still use the ignorance and lack of education of those at the bottom to hold on to their privileged position in societyDenying the poor access to knowledge goes back a long way The ancient Smriti political and legal system drew up vicious punishments for sudras seeking learning In those days that meant learning the Vedas If a sudra listens to the Vedas said one of these laws ‘his ears are to be filled with molten tin or lac If he dares to recite the Vedic texts his body is to be split’ That was the fate of the ‘base born’ The ancients restricted learning on the basis of birthIn a modern polity where the base born have votes the elite act differently Say all the right things But deny access Sometimes mass pressures force concessions Bend a little After a while it’s back to business as usual As one writer has put it When the poor get literate and educated the rich lose their palanuin bearersYes indeedThe share of education in our five year plan outlays has been falling Those who led the country to freedom had a different vision They wanted that a free India spend no less than 10 per cent of plan outlay on education Free India honoured that vision only in its breachThe first five year plan gave education 786 per cent of its total outlay The second plan lowered it to 583 per cent By the fifth plan education was making do with 327 per cent of the outlay In the seventh plan the figure was 35 per cent As the problems of her children’s education grew India spent less and less on themAs India pushes and towards consumer oriented development corporates start to rule the roost The old feudal system where the landed gentry lorded it over the peasants is replaced by the corporate lackeys exploiting the workers Only the hats have changed the people underneath and their roles are the sameDevelopment is the strategy of evasion When you can’t give people land reform give them hybrid cows When you can’t send the children to school try non formal education When you can’t provide basic health to people talk of health insurance Can’t give them jobs? Not to worry Just redefine the words ‘employment opportunities’ Don’t want to do away with using children as a form of slave labour? Never mind Talk of ‘improving the conditions of child labour’ It sounds good You can even make money out of itThis has been true of development Indian style for over four decades nowCentral to its philosophy is the idea that we can somehow avoid the big moves the painful ones the reforms that Indian society really needs Is there some way we can improve people’s lives without getting into annoying things like land reform? There isn’t but there are powerful people who’d like to believe there isThe same illusion runs through what we call our ‘globalisation’ It has the Indian elite excited ‘We must globalise There is no choice Everybody else is doing it Look at Singapore Malaysia Indonesia Taiwan South Korea’Of course ‘everyone’ who is doing it did a lot of other things All those countries—if you must take authoritarian states as a model—went through land reform They gave their people literacy and education as also some standards of health shelter nutrition Point this out—and the Indian elite discover our ‘cultural uniueness’ The same is true of child labour Dozens of other societies got rid of it But ‘India is different’ So India’s uniueness does not stand in the way of globalisation It stands in the way of land reform education health It does not prevent external agencies making policies for India on a wide range of subjects It does stand in the way of doing away with child labourThe Indian development experience reeks of this sort of hypocrisy across its four and a half decades Ignore the big issues long enough and you can finally dismiss them as ‘outdated’ Nobody will really bother Why does everyone love a good drought?Well it brings in money from the government so the local authorities benefit The district gets its moment in the limelight; the locals get some goodies which is like manna from heaven for these piss poor people The corrupt officials get money to siphon away so they are happy With money in the hands of people the moneylenders get new victims And the press positively drools with the possibility of all those photographs of emaciated children which they can splash across their front pagesIn the event the reasons for the disaster often gets ignoredI will let Sainath speakDrought is beyond uestion among the serious problems this country faces Drought relief almost eually beyond uestion is rural India’s biggest growth industry Often there is little relation between the two Relief can go to regions that get lots of rainfall Even where it goes to scarcity areas those most in need seldom benefit from it The poor in such regions understand this That’s why some of them call drought relief teesra fasl the third crop Only they are not the ones who harvest itSimply put we have several districts in India that have an abundance of rainfall—but where one section the poor can suffer acute drought That happens when available water resources are colonised by the powerful Further the poor are never consulted or asked to participate in designing the ‘programmes’ the anti drought funds bringConflicts arising from man made drought are on the rise Deforestation does enormous damage Villagers are increasingly losing control over common water resources The destruction of traditional irrigation systems is gaining speed A process of privatisation of water resources is apparent in most of the real drought areas take the water lords of Ramnad for instance There are now two kinds of drought the real and the rigged Both can be underway at the same time in the same placeThings haven’t changed too much in some ways uite a few journals still freely interchange the words ‘drought’ and ‘famine’ Obviously these two mean very different things But the word ‘famine’ is alarmist and makes better copy In 1986 one editor argued that the difference between the two was merely ‘semantic’ Present day efforts at covering poverty still insist on the events approach Poverty gets covered in breathless tones of horror and shock that suggest something new has happened even when it hasn’tApparently crisis merits attention only when it results in catastrophe not earlier It takes years for a food surplus district like Kalahandi to arrive at where it has But that is a process It does not make news Maybe it is still worth writing about though?In fact in many places drought is called teesra fasl the third crop I could go on and onThis fantastic piece of journalism gives us a taste of the real India the India of the villages extolled by the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi This India has been forgotten in the loud celebrations of a capitalist India an India which is military power and a space research pioneer in South Asia But it is good for us to remember our brothers out in the wilds at least once in a whileWho constitutes the nation? Only the elite? Or do the hundreds of millions of poor in India also make up the nation? Are their interests never identified with national interest?Or is there than one nation?That is a uestion you often run up against in some of India’s poorest areas Areas where extremely poor people go into destitution making way for firing ranges jet fighter plants coal mines power projects dams sanctuaries prawn and shrimp farms even poultry farms If the costs they bear are the ‘price’ of development then the rest of the ‘nation’ is having one endless free lunchHowever the destitute are fighting back In the last part of the book Sainath recounts some stories where people have banded together to resist the might of the authorities and the machinations of the moneyed And they have scored small but significant victoriesOf the battles these stories record some might end in failure Mainly because of the lack of sustained and organised democratic politics in those areas Yet they also argue hope People are not uite so passive They revolt in many ways And as long as that is the case there is hopeYes there is always hope in a democracy Sainath has made a not insignificant contribution to this fight through this book And if I can persuade someone to read it through my review I believe I too would have contributed my mite

  2. says:

    In this countryTo read this book is a privilegeTo read this book written in English is a privilegeTo buy this book is a privilegeTo read this book at night under lights is a privilegeTo read this book in my home is a privilegeTo read this book in my own room is a privilegeTo discuss this book on an online forum is a privilegeTo express angry opinions regarding some articles in this book is a privilegeTo drink water after is a privilegeTo snack while reading is a privilegeAnd it goes onThe extent to which us urban dwellers are privileged is something those who lack basic resources and infrastructures cannot fathom

  3. says:

    This book encompasses a number of oxymorons At one moment you feel like laughing at the mindless policies of the government and various commissions whereas at the very next moment the pain of the helpless catch your imagination making you feel thoroughly depressed and heartbroken A very lucid description of the poor of India with a pretty detailed version of the problems faced by them This book proves that an official can change the lives of a huge number of people and the only factor hindering hisher path is the selfish motives involved at various levels of the machinery Incidents of heroic acts by some officials NGOs and the villagers themselves which have changed the lives of many many people who otherwise are faced by a structured system of oppressors lighten a ray of hope and motivates one to stand up for the causeThe very fact illustrated beautifully in this book is that even though some policies are meant to do good and are made with a good intention are completely ruined and have proved devastating for the poor merely because the actual people getting affected do not form a part of the planning stage Overall a must read for the urban elites who do not have any incite as to what may be going on about a few minutes drive from their homes

  4. says:

    Unspeakably brilliant

  5. says:

    Development is the strategy of evasion When you can't give people land reform give them hybrid cows When you can't send the children to school try non formal education When you can't provide basic health to people talk of health insurance Can't give them jobs? Not to worry Just redefine the words 'employment opportunities' Don't want to do away with using children as a form of slave labour? Never mind Talk of 'improving the conditions of child labour' It sounds good You can even make money out of it

  6. says:

    When you read these short accounts mostly newspaper reports of some of the poorest people of India about their lives and livelihood about their gullibility and superstitions about their victimization by the corrupt and mindless policy makers about their misery and public apathy towards their sufferings you will go through a series of emotions starting from a mix of anger amusement and pity slowly moving to frustration and sympathy and finally succumbing to hopeless depression Good Luck

  7. says:

    The first thing that struck me after finishing the book was that there was a time in India when a newspaper like Times of India could hire someone like Sainath and give him a free hand over his own reportage Although the book was compiled in the early 1990s and the wide ranging effects of the economic reforms of 1991 had not yet been understood fully Sainath brilliantly indicates the possibilities in case the reform is not handled with utmost care To a conscientious reader who belongs to the so called middle class of India a misplaced term in itself since it mostly denotes the top 10 percentile of the income band all chapters in the book will be hugely embarrassing In Sainath's writing rhetoric is conspicuous by its absence it is almost like he is covering an India where people have skeletons and no fat Sainath not only raises pertinent uestions but also shows how most times 'bureaucratic procedure' is the poor man's greatest enemy In my view this book is a must read for all aspiring journalists and public servants

  8. says:

    The book provides an account of the life of the other India one that's rarely portrayed in media an India which many of us grow up unaware of being raised in cities The narrative is chilling affects one at a deep level and is uite perspective altering It's a story about the sheer apathy India shows to these less fortunate citizens It uestions the very concepts we use when we think of progress GDP? What does that even mean for the millions of Indian citizens who're cut off from the larger economy? Then there's an account of the extent of corruption Stories of corruption aren't new to us But corruption of the kind that's shown here devoid of the slightest of humanity brings out a deep sense of disgust from within and is profoundly illuminatingAlthough these stories are 20 years old I'm willing to bet that they occur even in the present day to a lesser extent hopefully? And especially as corporate influences on govt only seems to increase with the present political regime in a sense the book is relevant than ever Perhaps the only silver lining is that better accounting of the population and digitization via schemes such as Aadhar should help weed out some of the corruption

  9. says:

    In this insightful and exceptional work of journalism Mr Sainath attempts to deconstruct poverty in India by covering the stories from some of the poorest of the poor districts Why are these people so poor even after all these years of poverty alleviation programmes relief work and financial aid?The author covers two districts each from Orissa Tamil Nadu Madhya Pradesh and Bihar The stories cover the inefficiency of relief programmes the prevention of funds trickling down to alleviate the most impoverished displacement of locals due to 'development' projects destruction of forest and agricultural land the vicious cycle of debt due to unethical moneylending arrack and lastly famine and drought It takes the reader through the stories of the tribals and locals mostly lower caste 50% of the people affected by displacement are SCST and shows the effect that the above issues have not just on their families but also on their following generationsDavid Foster Wallace while talking about watching video of the 911 attack says 'It seems grotesue to talk about being traumatized by a video when the people in the video were dying' Similarly I feel grotesue about talking or writing about being affected by reading an account of the suffering of the millions while they continue to suffer This is indeed a tragedy and one of epic proportions Also as one from an elite and privileged populace it's easy to be oblivious to the havoc that we wreak on the poor 'the elite act differently Say all the right things But deny access to the underprivileged'Poverty is not an event but a process And it reuires an empathy and understanding beyond what the statistics which are ghastly enough can evoke This is the essence of the book and it does this with its stories An eye opener

  10. says:

    This is going to be one of my all time favorites now that rural poverty and it's miserable cousin suburban sualor most vividly represented by Dalit India are seen by the power structures of the country as the cause of India's backwardness when they're in truth it's resultI chose this line because this broadly is the theme of this book Book is a collection of articles by the author in 90s about conditions of different villages in India We tend to think of contemporary issues in oversimplified view like haan agrarian crisis deforestation affects tribals This one shows the variants of those and how they're perpetuated by the ruling class pouring them on rural people making their constantly nurtured living hellFirst thing I liked about this books is that unlike most writers from highly privileged background who paint class caste religious linguistic etc oppression with ridiculously huge brush of poverty Sainath puts his fingers on each of them in every case and clearly points out which part of the misery is contributed by which oneSecond book gets darker as the pages turn At this point many authors tend to get into gruesome details to either romanticize the pain of the people or make poverty porn out of it This guy doesn't Reports make you bleed internally and after a point you become numb Exactly at this point he introduces bunch of stories to give you hope not a lot but just enough to let you know there's still scope for you to do somethingThis is a must read for everyone and in particular for people from MP Odisha TN Bihar and Jharkhand You might learn a lot about your own state that you were previously oblivious toPS A lot of people pointed out to me about Author's supposedly flawed ideologies But I don't think it matters this is damn good journalism

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