People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 33

August 16, 200

Conversation between the two Worlds


 G Mamatha

THE other day, I took my child to a nearby park in the evening. I was sitting on a bench watching the children play and beside me sat another person, looking gloomily, though in my estimate he was quite well off.

“Things are looking pretty hard”, I commented hoping to strike a conversation.

“Yes, they are”, he replied.

“The government should do something” I added. I had the rising prices in my mind.

“Yes it should”, he concurred.

Enthused with his reply, I started narrating all my woes - how the price of rice, dal, sugar, tamarind, oil, etc., have shot up and how that is affecting my family budget, what we have been doing to cut down on some expenses, like cutting down on the quantity of dal, replacing the arhar dal with some other varieties that relatively do not cost as much, cutting down both the quality and quantity of rice and using other cost saving alternatives to the oil we use generally. Suddenly remembering the recent increase in the price of milk, I talked about my plans to cut on the consumption of milk. Yes, we have to eat within our limits. Of course, the US can go on consuming, living on other people’s money, but we cannot do it. Lest we be christened as sub-prime borrowers and blamed for the economic crisis.

“We need to do something”, I continued startling him from his deep thought.

“That is the reason why we have called for the strike”, he replied, with a slight annoyance that I did not know about it.

“Strike!” I cried out aloud and followed it up with “when and by whom”?

“On August 18” he answered and with disappointment coupled with anger clearly visible on his face continued, “but the government did not allow us and moreover is trying to divide our ranks”.

“The should have gone ahead with the strike, we would have all joined you...after all when did a government allow a strike and not try to break its ranks...” I went on excitedly, vaguely remembering the many strike calls given by trade unions, employee associations, student organisations and the reaction of the government.

Startled, he said, “but we are called for talks”.

Then it struck me that he did not answer the 'whom' in my question and I repeated it.

“Of course, by the airlines operators!”

Ah! there lies the answer for his startled expression. The airline operators strike and the invitation for talks! How fast does this government act!

Working hard on my memory, I tried to remember when did the government act with such haste earlier-during the anganwadi workers, during the strike of coal, during textile workers, mill workers, contract labour...or for that matter bank employees, insurance employees, teachers, students...or even airport employees or anybody of their ilk?  No. But airport operators, it has to. Threaten them on paper, but call them to talks and heed to their demands. That is the government of the aam admi and for the aam admi!

Now the rising prices. Whom is the government talking to? Did it talk with the political parties? Did it come out with something concrete in the parliament when it was in session recently? Is it talking with the farmers of the country or their organisations? No.

The farmers, they have to come out to the streets, travelling long distances, losing work, sleep and a day of their own with the fond hope that they would be heard and their problems resolved. And what is the government's reaction? Greet them with their police, deny them audience or if possible even entry in the vicinity where it sits. And there is the media - friends of the people, straining their all for the 'real empowerment' and one of the pillars of our democracy. They are so concerned and they do report...about the traffic jams, the inconvenience the protesters have caused to the city and the loss to the nation for staying out of work. Alas! the farmers and workers of our country do not contribute for our 'nation-building'. It is the airline operators, and yes they do take the country on a flight!

Airline operators are in distress. You and I are not. The peasants and the workers are not! The airline operators need bail outs, but we? We can cope for ourselves.

A recent newspaper report states that one of the top airline operator in our country and who has money to buy top class cricketers, failed to pay money for the fuel purchased to run his craft. Of course, it also states that he also did not pay the bills for mobile phones used for operations and also to the internet providers who suspended the service. The service providers for both the mobile phones and internet who are also fellow private players promptly suspended their services forcing him to pay the money.

What does the government do as the manager of the PSU to which he owes the fuel bill? Writes letters, talks with him, reduces the surcharge on aviation fuel (mind you not on petrol or diesel that you and I use) and even if this does not satisfy him and he threatens to go on strike, coaxes him with a bailout package. All in the interests of the industry, economy and of course 'nation-building'.

Nation building, how sweet and what a patriotic duty! With these thoughts flowing in my mind, I glance around the park.

The park...what a great leveller...where all our 'nation-builders', our children are playing...and of course I am sitting on the same bench as he. Children, they are all alike. Innocent and uncorrupted by this cruel world. Is it true? See at the far end of the park-little children, shabby clothes, running noses, unkept hair, stinky skins with reed like bodies. Their parents are working at a construction site not far away. Now look in this direction, towards the centre of the park-children again, dressed in their sports wear, clean, healthy, beaming with joy and radiating energy.

Some come to the park, to reduce their weight. Some come here as they have no other place to go. Some throw away food as it is not 'tasty' while many do not even have food to taste. Some come here for fresh air and some sunshine. Many stay here rain, shine or gail. It mirrors the dichotomy in our society.

Reports state that together with the number of billionaires that has increased in our country, the number of obese too has gone up. The number of obese shot up by 70 million people it seems. This does not mean hunger has died. Together with this the number of malnourished too has gone up. 47 per cent of our children are malnourished and this is nearly half of the entire malnourished children in the world. Three-quarters of our population lives on less than Rs 20 per day. No wonder, more than 200 million live in hunger in our country. To make it more clear consider this, if you ate breakfast this morning, you're probably not among the 1,000,000,000 who don't have enough to eat. This is the crisis of hunger in the country. Remember, Madhya Pradesh is placed beneath Ethiopia in the hunger index according to the latest family health survey and even the top ranked state,Punjab, stands behind Honduras, the country where there was a coup recently and regarded as the poorest country in Latin America.

Locate the price rise in the country in this scenario and you can easily figure out what that means to a majority of the population. The rise in the prices of food items in the months of June and July this year has been up to 32 per cent and the prime minister states that the situation would become even more difficult due to the vagaries of the monsoon. Drought is looming large in the country and now consider what could we feed our children-our nation-builders. Forget about building muscles, for many it is now a question of survival. Due to economic crisis, you do not have work, due to food crisis, you do not have enough money to buy. Should we not live? Does not our constitution guarantee us right to live? If as the courts have rightly stated that right to live includes right to education also, why should not it include right to food? So, is it not the responsibility of the government to provide us with food to sustain?

“Yes it is! It is the responsibility of the government to control the prices. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that all the people of the country get enough to eat to sustain their lives. To ensure this we have to fight”. This I had stated loudly. The one who was sitting by my side was shaken on hearing the word 'fight'. Then I understood that ours is the conversation between two worlds. Yes, we need neither be ashamed nor afraid to fight. After all even the crorepathis who are shining at our cost, are stating that they too would strike work. Why not we? We, whose life is at stake, not even a morsel to eat and nothing to lose!