On February 22nd, 2009, Slumdog Millionaire won the Best Picture Award at the 81st Academy Awards Ceremony. Known as the best recognition for any film, the Oscar, as the statuette is fondly called has been a goal that every filmmaker has wanted to reach. What surprised me the most was the reaction the entire world gave to the movie. Especially Indians.
A lot of people I know were shocked that such kind of poverty actually exists in India. All of them were, I mean, are Indians.In fact, I remember a few of them telling me that they didn’t like the movie because it brings out the bad side of India, the side that “we” don’t belong to. Some people even reason that this is why a lot of foreigners loved the movie. Of course, they only know the brighter side, the “shining” side. The part which is portrayed to the entire world as the India that every investor must set his sights upon. No one talks about the farmers killing themselves everyday or the fact that nearly 60-70% of the country scrapes for one square meal a day. Oh come on! These are negative things right. Let’s talk about postitive things, like the development of the IT sector or the Indian cricket team doing so well that our “leaders” can actually make time to congratulate (or curse, if they’re not doing so well) in spite of all the social issues that they have to deal with everyday. And of course who can forget our beloved Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mr. Sharad Pawar who had all the time in the world for BCCI but not for the thousands of farmers who killed themselves because of debt. And now he’s running for Prime Minister.
Of the 2 lakh Indian farmers who took their own lives between 1997 and 2008, nearly two-thirds did so in just the States of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh (including Chhattisgarh). The number of farmers taking their own lives each year shot up dramatically. From under 14,000 in 1997 to over 17,000 in 2005. While the rise in farm suicides has been on for over a decade, there have been sharp spurts in some years. For instance, 2004 saw well over 18,200 farm suicides across India. Almost two-thirds of these were in the Big Four or ‘Suicide SEZ’ States. Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure, it was reported today. The agricultural state of Chattisgarh was hit by falling water levels. Nearby forest depletion and poorly planned government dam projects contributed to the falling water level. Combined with the vicious money-lending schemes that are prevalent in the region, many farmers felt that death was the only option in the face of insurmountable debt. This was in 2009, for those who might feel that the earlier facts happened years ago! And this is just one part of the entire poverty story. On a general note, 260 million Indians are BPL (Below Poverty Line).
But no, we don’t want to talk about it. We’ll celebrate a movie like Slumdog Millionaire but yet remain happily unaware of the fact that a large section of the world has woken up to a certain truth that we ourselves are unwilling to accept.
Let’s face it! We’re nowhere close to developing if our primary sector does not develop. And that refers to agriculture and its allied activities. Why is it that we as Indians are not willing to do anything to save our countrymen? Is it a lack of humanitarianism? Or just a general sense of apathy? Usually events like this get national attention for a few days (or nowadays, a few sensational hours), a commission is set up to investigate into this, a few days later, everyone forgets about this and carry on with their normal lives. Some years later, usually 8 to 15 years, the commission finally comes up with a report, by which time even more people have killed themselves or are on the verge of death.
We are all willing to sit at home and comment about something like this, in our plush sofas, in our well-lit, air-conditioned drawing rooms, with a glass of tea (coffee). Oh and yes, we’ll have to change the channel when it’s time to watch a reality show or our daily soap. Obviously, that kind pathetic melodrama is more important to us than some men hanging themselves to death, because the government that we elected into power did not bother to help them at the right time.
Oh but why do we care? We’ve all got to go to work, help our children get the first rank, hang out with our friends, poke fun at someone else, and watch sensational news on 24-hour news channels from time to time. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?