By Bharat Dogra
As I spent the last days of 2015 travelling extensively in several drought-affected villages, I have some sense of what people I met recently would be thinking in the new year. Manjula in Materi village (Mau block) would be hoping that her husband and his brother who went away as migrant workers can somehow get their long-denied wages and return. She would also be praying for their recovery from serious undiagnosed illnesses.
In Kalchiha village, Ramjiyai would be looking at her five grand children sleeping half-hungry and wondering how long will be able to feed and clothe them on the small amount she earns as a mid-day meal cook. Their father toils in distant places that keep changing, while their mother died recently at a young age.
Kamlesh would be remembering his small, sick child he carried in his lap as he left his village in Banda district with his wife in search for work in distant areas. The child died half way into the bus journey.
In Oram village Shyama would try not to look at the tree in her courtyard from which her father (farmer turned migrant worker Munna Lal) hanged himself. She would be hoping that at least one of the several officials who promised help at the time of the tragedy would keep his word.
Munni Devi of the same village would be thinking why she allowed her son Anshu to work in the village’s fire cracker factory. She knew this to be very hazardous yet when hunger in the family became unbearable she had to agree to Anshu’s working there. There was an explosion and her son, the symbol of her hopes, was burnt to death. For her it is hard to find any hope in the new year so it is all the more important to try and bring at least a single ray of light into her dark world.
It is in places like these that our country has something to take pride in as despite all adversities, there are numerous examples also of dedicated work with the weakest sections and with distressed people. To give just a few examples, in remote villages of Chattisgarh doctors of the Jan Swasthya Sahyog travel regularly to very remote villages overcoming many hardships so that victims of TB, leprosy and cancer can get badly needed treatment.
Activists of Aman Biradari reach out to victims of communal violence to share and reduce their problems and isolation. Neglected children of schools in remote villages of Rajasthan find that their problems are now being heeded due to a campaign for improving government schools. Even in distant America, non-resident Indians get together to pool resources for reaching out to activists working with the genuinely needy sections of society.
Such efforts, in India and other parts of the world, have helped to keep alive our hopes, yet we have to also face the bitter truth that human folly has led to accentuation of serious problems. In many countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, international interventions made in the name of democracy and other highly desirable objectives have actually worsened the situation, leading to more violence and death and displacement of several hundred thousand people.
Entirely avoidable conflicts are increasing at a time when there is greater need for peace and stability so that the most pressing survival issues like climate change and mass extinction of species can be resolved before it is too late. Time is running out fast, but instead of mobilizing the truly great efforts needed for the most important tasks, the 21st century world is still embroiled in conflicts relating to religion and race. While the most cruel manifestation of this is in the form of activities of ISIS and its affiliates, many other conflicts based on social discrimination and hatred also exist in many parts of the world.
At the root of the many conflicts is a strong urge for dominance and greed, which is all-too-evident even in international conferences and negotiations where it becomes increasingly clear that the richest and the most dominant have no intention of giving up their privileges and luxuries for a larger cause. For them, only those solutions for the earth’s most pressing problems are acceptable which do not challenge their privileged position. But such narrow solutions cannot bring real change, and so cannot obtain the much needed people’s participation. So while rhetoric rules, the most serious problems continue to pile up.
Where then is hope for 2016? It may not be very visible, but it nevertheless has a very significant presence in the millions of every day actions of ordinary people that rise above self-interest to help others in many small ways. Hope exists also in the thousands of sane voices that are raised almost every day for workable solutions to world’s problems.
How do we ensure that these millions of selfless small actions of people become the components of a well thought out and comprehensive effort to solve the world’s most pressing problems? How do we ensure that these thousands of sane voices can be brought together to create the framework of such a comprehensive plan?
It can be done. It is difficult but possible. And in such efforts lives the hope of the new year.
The writer is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.
The Statesman, January 1, 2016