Patriotism at its lowest ebb- Indians have forgotten their weaker sections

A short report written by a reporter, Kanchan Vasdev, for the Daily Tribune, Chandigarh and published on December 5 reveals the truth how India and the Indians have forgotten their weaker sections. No one seems to be fighting for them.

It is the sad tale of the people of a village named Sekhewal of Ludhiana district in Punjab. The authorities had to detonate scrap bombs at the Matterwara forests. 1500 residents of the Sekhewal village were ordered to vacate their village to give authorities the time to detonate some bomb scrap in a nearby forest.

These villagers vacate their homes and move to the banks of the Sutluj River, every morning, before six o’clock to enable the authorities to do their job. The children are pulled out of their bed very early morning. The reporter says that they are living under the open sky at a time when the temperature is dipping with cold and killing winds blowing harsh.

They cook their food on the earthen stoves and spend all their day loitering on the river bed. The cattle are falling sick. The children are developing bronchial symptoms. They look towards the sky and pray to God to protect then from rain.

I read the plight of 1500 residents of a village who are experiencing agony simply because an administration wanted to do a certain work and did not care how it will impact a community. I read the report and truthfully, I kept it aside. My only impression was that India has not developed a system where victims of natural, industrial or even imposed disasters like this are taken care of. Still, the story remained in my mind.

Could it be a coincidence? The same evening, I switched on to NY-1 to listen to the weather forecast. As the news reader began talking of an evacuation in the borough of Brooklyn, I got attentive. I sat down to know the details. I, immediately, opened their site www.ny1.com. There was a headline: “Safety Concerns Force Evacuation of Bronx Apartment Building.”

The news was about 1204 Shakespeare Avenue in Highbridge, Brooklyn. The building had defective fire escapes, with just one exit. The New York City Fire Department and Building Department discovered the fault and ordered its immediate evacuation.

This evacuation was similar to that of evacuation of the residents of a village in Punjab. The residents at both places were under threat. In Punjab, it was the rumor or discovery of bomb scrap in the adjoining forest. Here in New York, it was the fear of potential fire that could make the escape of residents difficult.

But there was hell of difference in the response to two similar situations in two different lands-one the super power in economic difficulties, and the other, a rising superpower with 9-10% GDP growth.

I called the Bronx Red Cross Office, which had managed the rehabilitation efforts. The reply was surprising and pleasant. It was surprising as the Red Cross people without being called to help reached the residents. It was pleasant as the Red Cross began “to transition them to hotels” without charging them any money. Immediately after that the City authorities took over the charge of the settling the displaced persons.

Then I emailed the City Office. Eric Bederman, Press Secretary,NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation & Development furnished me with the following information.

Of the 24 apartments that were quickly evacuated, 12 households applied to the city for HPD’s shelter services and were immediately obliged. He did not disclose their location saying “Because of privacy issues we can not disclose where the families in our shelter services system are staying.” But to make them comfortable “families with children stay at one of our family shelters and single adults stay at separate shelters.” The noblest element of the story was the City of New York’s philanthropy. “They City of New York pays for this service. There is no cost to the families.” Wrote Eric.

Many questions followed. Is there no Red Cross in India? Do we not have city governments, Panchayats or City Corporations? We have all these institutions in India but when it comes to public services, they show no enthusiasm and public spirit. There are hotels, Inns and shelters but when it comes to relocating people in difficulties, they tend to become commercial. It is not difficult to find the reasons.

Unfortunately, in India we are running short of those patriots who can stand in defense of the weaker sections. We are running short of those politicians who can stand on the floor of Parliament and demand a legislation to simultaneously compensate those whom you deprive of their meager sources. We are running short of those activists who can create movements to get fair treatment to those who, otherwise, have no one to voice their agony.

Our Patriotism, these days, revolves around a boast of ten world’s billionaires in India and a GDP growth touching 10%. Under this boast, we forget that India’s have-not don’t appreciate this boast.

Shall I hope that after reading this story, some NGO or an activist or legislator will approach the Tribune reporter, enquire about the whereabouts of this suffering community living in the open in cold wave of December and provide them with at least a humble shelte

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