Indians and privacy
Culturally, we Indians have never valued privacy.
What is going on in households has traditionally been the concern of the entire village. Nasty daughters-in-law, shrewish mothers-in-law, impotent husbands and disputes between brothers have been the staple of village gossip. This trend is also evident while travelling when complete strangers, meeting each other for the first time, have no difficulty in sharing the most intimate details and ask for salary, number of children, the number of rooms they have in the house and so on.
It therefore should not have come as a surprise when even educated, middle class Indians brushed aside privacy concerns over the contact tracing app Arogya Setu.
Privacy in the digital age, they said, is a myth. Others have questioned why Indians should be squeamish about sharing personal details when they do so all the time while applying for Visa or registering themselves on social media or while getting a credit card. But the real issue is whether these Indians would like the entire neighbourhood to know that someone in the household is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or when that someone gets tested and if that someone tests positive. Informing a competent authority is one thing. But sharing your medical history with the entire neighbourhood is quite another.
Reliance or self-reliance?
It was ironical to hear the Prime Minister call for ‘atmanirbharta’ or self-reliance and need to support local products and industry. Perhaps he should walk the talk, and while giving up his expensive coats tailored abroad, foreign-made cars, Movado watches and Bvlgari glasses, switch to khadi and a simpler lifestyle. The editorial “Modi came and spoke for 40 minutes, not a word on migrant and the poor “ (May17) aptly described the promise of a Rs 20 lakh crore package as a lot of hot air. It’s more likely to help suppliers, contractors and crony industrialists. The announcement is clearly aimed at diverting attention from its gross mishandling of the migrants issue. Unless the Government mitigates their suffering, it will be disastrous for both our society as well as economy.
Employment in panchayats
Many Indians and the Government continue to behave as if it is going to be business as usual.
Unfortunately, fighting the virus and laying a roadmap for grand visions are the easier challenges. The real challenge will be to find immediate employment for Gulf returnees and migrant workers from the cities. They cannot all start pulling rickshaws or driving auto rickshaws. Nor can they all start selling tea and pakodas.
Self sufficiency of the villages, smart and self-reliant villages alone can bail us out. This is the time to empower panchayats, give money directly to them and help them generate employment. It is the time for each panchayat to set up community kitchens and for the Government to revive healthcare systems at the panchayat level.
This is the time when panchayats must take the lead in promoting horticulture, dairy, poultry and small agro-based units. Finally, this cannot be done from Delhi. But while districts and state governments should be free to develop, design and implement plans, the Planning Commission needs to be revived at the national level to monitor and hand-hold the states. NITI Ayog has been a disaster. It is time to bid goodbye to it.
1971 vs 2020
Banks were nationalized in 1969 in the country. Coalmines were still in the hands of private owners. The fruits of the Green Revolution were yet to be reaped and the country was still dependent on food imports and American charity.
And yet the country gave shelter to 10 million Bangladeshi refugees who fled to escape repression by the Pak army. For 10 months and more, India put them up in camps, fed them, gave them all other support. And in 2020, almost 50 years later the Vishwa Guru, the two trillion dollar economy, among the fastest growing— is unable to feed and transport our own citizens. What has gone wrong in 50 years?