Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Everyone Loves A Good Drought- Book review

The book Everyone Loves A Good Drought by P Sainath was first published in 1996 and was reprinted several times later. I bought the book only a few weeks back. As I began to read, I was numbed to the point of depression. The book is a compilation of articles Sainath penned during 1992 , when on a Times of India fellowship he has toured some of the poorest districts in the country to know how the poorest of the poor citizens of free India eke out a living in rural areas. While each article focuses on an individual or a small group, it becomes clear to the reader that there are millions and millions of people in villages under similar conditions. Sainath takes head on the myth being spread by the government and the media that poverty is at least receding in India. Sainath dispels the myth in this compelling account of the realities of rural poverty. In a style that avoids sensationalism and sticking to the facts through well-researched accounts of the living conditions of the majority of Indians, Sainath brings out the apathy, idiocy and gross injustice of the government machinery to the open. And the incredible courage with which the poor battle to lead a life with dignity.

Everybody Loves a Good Drought is full of insights into what is wrong with existing development processes in highly inequitable poor societies. The book also has occasional sprinklings of “what went right” experiences. The book is divided into sections and each article is a story. There is a story of a super hi- tech coal mining project in one of the most backward regions- Godda in Bihar, which creates jobs for not more than 1300 people- many of them from outside the region. Meanwhile, the foreign consultant, a Canadian MNC, has been involved in transactions worth Rs. 645 crores, out of the total outlay of Rs. 966 crores. The mine destroys the lives of people living in 12 villages. Another article brings out how in a loan mela cows were given to a tribe not realizing that the tribe does not consume milk products at all but consumes beef. The cows ended up as dinner and the members of the tribe in a life long debt trap.

Then there is the case of the residents of a village called Chikpaar. The village was first acquired in 1968 for the MiG jet fighter project for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The 500 families were evicted and they moved to another location (on the land they owned themselves) and resettled there, nostalgically naming the new village as Chikpaar. In 1987, the families were evicted again for the Kolab multi- purpose project. The villagers again resettled at another place. However, they received eviction notices for the third time for another development project. Needless to say, the displaced persons were paid a pittance as compensation that too after several years.

Then there is this incredible story of villagers being evicted every time the army conducts a firing exercise and paid one rupee fifty paise a day, that is less than 5 cents a day for the pains. A government official himself demands from the author: “What if residents of Malabar Hill in Bombay have to evacuate each time the navy has an exercise ? And are paid Rs. 1.50 a day for their pains ? This is happening here because the people are tribals. Since this is a backward, cut- off region.”
Sainath also exposes the politics in declaring an area as drought hit and the political-bureaucratic-contractor nexus in cornering the drought relief funds.
There are stories upon stories like these- Sainath has captured an entire landscape of people. Through story after story , the book attempts to correct the `event' approach which the majority of the media, government and society at large take to view India's problems simplistically as singular aberrations, rather than taking a broader `process' approach, which looks less at immediate causes.

Finally the book is a scathing indictment of the educated elite in this country. The Indian elite, specially the middle class, which has climbed the ladder of opportunities and prosperity that come with this very ‘development’, has kicked the ladder. In other words, the middle class has climbed on the heads and shoulders of the poor in India, and has forgotten them.
A must read book.

Palagummi Sainath is the son of India's former President V V Giri’s daughter and has dedicated his time to reporting on rural issues.


Anonymous said...

Remember "India Shining"?

What a sham!!!

I completely echo your sentiments and concern here. My parents have adopted a few unfortunate street urchins and provide for their education and basic necessities. Through their accounts, I have a vivid picture of the state of pathetic and abject poverty in the rural areas, coupled with the torture and humiliation meted out on them. Some of them have even stopped believing that they are human beings...their confidence and self esteem.

And it is not in one is across India.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ramana,

It is indeed a pity that the so-called flat world, globalization etc etc has not reached so many people...