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    Posted on 05 Dec 2012
    OPINION  
    Manjula Lal

    The distancing effect of cash transfers

    Manjula Lal says money subsidies will heighten the disconnect between India and Bharat

    A UNICEF weighing scale hangs on the doorway of an anganwadi in Khandwa, used periodically to monitor the weight of children below six. A child stares with an empty bowl, waiting for food to be served. The scales are often fudged here to make children seem fatter

    Photo: Tehelka Photo Archives


    DON’T TALK to your friends directly, just post on the Facebook wall. Don’t wrack your brain for adjectives, just press ‘like’. Don’t meet, stay in touch on phone. Don’t cook, order. Stay out of my life, Dad, just send money.

    Like many other ways of showing other human beings you care, the Aadharenabled direct money transfer by way of subsidy raises a lot of questions, not just about the scope for corruption and the motives of a central government heading for elections, but about the whole vision of a democratic government supposed to work for the greater good of all. A push-button psychology is at work, which will undoubtedly distance government from the ‘mango people’, just like colonial masters kept to a policy of non-fraternisation with their subjects, just as air-conditioned comfort distanced elected representatives from those who live and die under the blazing sun. Instead of trying to change the feudal mindset that keeps a country backward, politicians and bureaucrats are now bringing India back to Square One — of avoiding getting one’s feet wet while purportedly saving someone who is drowning.

    The picture isn’t all gloomy. The way our public hospitals look after our destitute and ill still gives a glimpse of what a welfare state should be like — and hats off to the doctors, nurses and other staff who keep humanity alive. Example? Two months ago, a driver and his family spent weeks looking after a burnt couple at Delhi’s LNJP Hospital. The young couple, after a quarrel over the man’s drinking, poured kerosene on each other and burnt themselves. Their baby of six months was also partially burnt, but not badly. After being turned away from a few hospitals, they found refuge in LNJP. They were there for weeks, till the woman died. Doctors requested the family to take away the baby before he caught an infection. After a couple of weeks, the man too was discharged. It’s true that the welfare state can do more, much more, for the dying man and his child. And perhaps it will, if the driver is able to negotiate the ‘system’.

    Similarly, the mid-day meal for kids in government schools and a cash deposit for girls who go to school (termed Laadli by the Delhi government) are giving the lucky beneficiaries a chance to be grateful to the state. If the parents of such kids don’t have ration cards, never went to school and can’t bear the humiliation usually meted out at government hospitals, such schemes give them hope that there are a bunch of people sitting in some capital city who are concerned about their well-being. They feel grateful if a teacher or a doctor or a bank clerk speaks kindly to them and acknowledges their right to certain entitlements. But they know their position is precarious and the future uncertain.

    So there are always new schemes being innovated. The mid-day meal scheme was first introduced in Tamil Nadu. MNREGA was there in Maharashtra under another name. Direct cash transfer was tried out successfully in Bihar. Decentralisation of power through Panchayati Raj (a World Bank initiative) has been done nationally. A Department of Women and Child Welfare has been created at the behest of the United Nations. While it’s a good idea to tune into global practices or find new ways of serving the people’s interests, the vision of our founding fathers must be honoured — or the sacrifices of our freedom fighters are in vain. The value system which the nation inherited from Mahatma Gandhi, to which lip service is still being paid, is slowly being buried. How many politicians adhere to the principle of simple living, high thinking?

    Since it is a human trait for the less fortunate to aspire for whatever the ruling dispensation sets forth as a desirable goal, it is no longer possible for a hardworking farmer to feel content chatting with his family under a tree in the evening.

    THAT’S NOT what they do in the residential towers of Gurgaon or the posh flats of south Mumbai. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every man, woman and child in this country is dissatisfied with his lot, thanks to the dazzling lifestyles of the ruling class and the ultra-rich. There is a direct link between extravagant marriages by politicians for their progeny and the despair at the lower end of the economic spectrum at the birth of the girl child, for how many can match that level of expenditure? That is why core Indian values need to be asserted. Most people give alms to the poor man who appears at their car windows but refuse to donate for worthy causes. Their natural compassion is alive and their suspicion of institutions that claim to do charity (the way the government claims) is strong. But the government, that strange monster, has chosen to distribute largesse electronically rather than send somebody down to the urban slums and rural settlements that need personalised attention. Don’t call us, we’ll call you, the government seems to be saying. And the disconnect is complete.

    Manjula Lal is Deputy Editor, FW.
    fwletters@gmail.com


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    Posted on 05 Dec 2012
 

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