Every bit of news, every single day in these times brings home to me how badly India is regressing into the dark ages. The latest in this series is the report of girls at a college hostel in Bhuj in Gujarat who were made to remove their undergarments to prove they were not menstruating.
Now matters of hygiene are a major problem at every girls'; hostel but I do not think entering kitchens or touching other inmates has been an issue with any other management.
I recall one episode from the 1980s at a convent hostel run by nuns. I do not wish to use the word ‘uneducated', so I shall only say they were highly uninformed nuns, so the girls came up against the horrors of uncivilised, unrefined arbitrariness on the part of the sisters in charge of their welfare. The kind of embarrassment the girls were subjected to was excruciatingly agonising and unpardonable.
The sisters would not provide proper sanitation facilities and it was common for the girls to leave their used sanitary napkins on the window sills of the bathrooms or at times even in the wash basins, making it very difficult for anyone else to use that particular bathroom after that. Being stingy, they would not employ proper sanitation workers and it almost always fell to one of the orphans brought from villages to help as domestic workers to clean up after the girls.
Predictably, one day these maids rebelled and refused to clean up. Faced with an even major sanitation issue, the Mother Superior decided to catch the culprit by examining every girl personally to see who was menstruating and isolate those who were. One of them would have to own up and clean the bathroom herself.
As she began the exercise, she had a rebellion on her hands as the girls refused to subject themselves to the indignity. Not knowing better, the nuns could not comprehend the insensitivity of their actions, so matters escalated – food was denied to all residents until the guilty one opened up and cleaned the bathroom.
The convent had a major problem on their hands as word of it spread quickly among the church authorities and some of the top management- including a couple of male priests- came hotfooting it to the hostel to try and sort out the matter.
I can at least say that unlike some of the modern-day authorities at the college in Bhuj, those at this convent instantly understood the indignity of what the nuns had subjected the girls to and immediately took corrective action.
Not only did they sanction funds for sanitation workers, they also held some hygiene classes for girls who may have needed to learn to live in communities. But, more importantly, the nuns were given an earful by the trustees for almost causing a riot in the convent. To the girls who had resisted, there was a placatory pep talk, setting these graduates and post-graduates on a higher plane than the less educated nuns. They had no exposure, so they did not know any better, was the exhortation.
But at least the nuns had been concerned only about hygiene and cleanliness, unlike the Bhuj episode there were no social taboos involved.
In another day and age that incident would have made big headlines as did the story of the girls in the Bhuj hostel. If it didn’t, it was only because there were some people in the administration, who knew the difference between refined discourse and barbaric behaviour. But with the advancement of the decades, we seem to be falling back and becoming more unenlightened and crude by the day.
Now, close on the heels of the above nauseating incident, comes another regressive piece of information.
When I was at college, volunteering for the National Service Scheme meant visiting slums tor health check-ups or helping victims of cyclones, floods, earthquakes or riots rehabilitate themselves. Our oaths were all about national integration and maintaining India's unity in its diversity.
Now those students volunteering for the NSS at a college in Amravati in Maharashtra have been made to take an oath on Valentine’s Day, not about maintaining amity and harmony but never to fall in love and restrict themselves to arranged marriages!
In a country where hate is now at a premium, it is not surprising that love should be of little value. But seeking to outlaw love marriages is a sure way of regressing into the caste-based society that once was inviolable in this country. No parent is going to look out for a match for his or her daughter or son except among their own kind and this would inevitably lead to caste conflagrations in society once again as youngsters resist parental diktats.
Coupled with the Supreme Court’s judgment last week that reservations are not a fundamental right, I see in this the danger of pushing back Indian society into tightly compartmentalised divisions wherein even social mixing or studying at the same schools or colleges might became taboo again, as it once was before the British universalised education in the country.
However, the most ridiculous form of regression has come on the political-foreign policy front. India has gone from buying nuclear power from the United States to buying - hold your breath - chicken legs from that country! As President Donald Trump visits India, the Modi government has offered to ease trade restrictions in the dairy sector and open up the market for the consumption of chicken legs in India.
Quite apart from the fact that the move is highly likely to devastate Indian dairy and poultry farmers - these are the two areas that sustain our farmers in drought years – and drive them to more suicides, I am saddened to see how low not just our society but also polity and economy have sunk in the past few years. Selling nuclear power technology and reactors to India was a great feat even for the US. But selling chicken legs? Well, that is little more than chicken feed, ain't it?
I am beginning to be convinced India was truly born in 2014 and by 2024, it will truly be a “five ton" economy as our esteemed home minister has promised.
Long live India. Bharat Mata ki Jai!