Sunday, August 19, 2007

Death , Delay and Despair

Girija Soni finally received a cheque of Rs 1,40,000 from the Madhya Pradesh government for the treatment of her heart disease. A poor woman, she sought government help and was rewarded significantly. This should have been a cause for jubilation… but this was not the same in this case. By the time the cheque reached Girija Soni, she was no more. The cheque has reached her after 33 years. This is not a single instance; another person named Rakesh was admitted in Bhopal’s cancer hospital for treatment, and Ramrati, the mother of the patient had too approached the authorities for financial help. She received the money well after six months. By that time Rakesh was dead.

Then there is the story of Kawalzia, who came to the small town of Bispohar Bazar in the eastern district of Siddharthnagar, some 250 km from Lucknow, with her mother last month on a visitor’s visa but decided to get married to her cousin Shamshad Ahmad. However, with lethargic bureaucratic ways coming in the way of a visa extension, Kawalzia has been told by the Indian authorities to leave Bispohar Bazar latest by Monday, failing which she would be deported. The Times of India reports blithely that Siddharthnagar police chief P K Srivastava said the proper procedures would have to be followed. "We cannot help it. We must follow the entire drill and carefully verify the marriage before submitting a report. All that is bound to take time," Srivastava said.

These are the stories that we can identify with and which is why every encounter with the government is a moment of dread because delays of smaller or bigger magnitudes are almost inevitable. But what about the other delays that we read of and which affect not only one or two families (though in a welfare state set up, even that is unforgivable)? Reflecting rules of business inherited from colonial times that are wrapped up in opacity, the government trusts no one and suspects every one. The government like Caesar’s wife is meant to be above suspicion but is not as skeleton after skelton keeps tumbling from the cupboard.

But since Caesar’s wife cannot be probed, Caesar is taking shelter under systems and rules of procedure rather than the public good. The efficacy of a government, the measure of its governance ought to be measured (and usually is) by its impact on the public welfare. But in India, governance is not about welfare of the people—it is all about the (“i”) being dotted the right way and the “(t) being crossed the right way and by the right people in the right sequence. And as indefatigable keeper of the law, the bureaucracy tells us in the words of P.K. Srivastava, the Police Superintendent of Siddharthnagar “All these things take time.” Srivastava may be heading a district named after Gautam Buddha but compassion apparently hasn’t yet penetrated the police dictionary.

The Bible teaches about the necessity of law in a society to regulate society and to device norms that are beneficial to all and the common good can be pursued. But while describing God, he is described as the God of all grace whose mercy and compassion if need be overrides every law that might have been made. Law in our society we see plenty of. But in a society where the government rules as mai baap, democracy not withstanding, people like Kawalzia and Shamshad Ahmed and every common man and woman would yearn to taste a bit of grace.

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