Saturday, June 30, 2012

'Nuns on the Bus' taking America by storm - Share link via

'Nuns on the Bus' taking America by storm

Signing autographs along the way, a group of Catholic nuns is taking a road trip across America to stand up for the poor. The media-savvy "Nuns on the Bus" tour kicked off in the midwestern state of Iowa on June 17 and is making a slew of stops around the country to convey concern about social injustice.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Gujarat:Myth and Reality by Bhalchandra Mungekar (Times of India June12th 2012)

                                                                                                    Gujarat: Myth and reality

                                                                                                                                                                                            -Bhalchandra Mungekar,Jun 12, 2012, 


                                                                                              A war of words has erupted between the chief ministers of Bihar and Gujarat. Bihar's chief minister Nitish Kumar has slammed Narendra Modi for taking potshots at the state's slow socio-economic growth. The altercation began with Modi saying that caste politics has ruined states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Hitting back, Nitish has said that Modi should look at the conditions in his own state before criticising others.

For the last several years, Modi has been successful in projecting his "vibrant Gujarat" as a role model of economic growth and himself as ''Vikas Purush". Though one must give due credit to Modi for his effective skills in making projections, one must also critically analyse this "growth story of Gujarat" based on facts and figures. Regretfully, as one examines the facts since Modi came to power in Gujarat in 2001, the story appears to be hollow and, at times, contrary to what is being projected.

First, about the rate of economic growth. During 1995-2000 and 2001-10, Gujarat increased its annual rate of growth from 8.01% to 8.68%. But so is the case with other major states such as Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Gujarat was ranked second after Rajasthan (8.34%) in the first period and third after Uttarakhand (11.81%) and Haryana (8.95%) in the second period. What is remarkable, Bihar and Orissa, the two most backward and poverty-stricken states, have also shown growth pick up from 4.70% and 4.42% in the first period to 8.02% and 8.13% in the second period. Even smaller states like Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh have registered growth of 11.01% and 8.96%, respectively.

During 2001-04, the rate of industrial growth for Gujarat was 3.95%, and during 2005-09, it was 12.65%. In isolation, this appears to be a phenomenal jump, but not so when compared to some other states. During these sub-periods, industrial growth for Orissa was 6.4% and 17.53%; for Chhattisgarh 8.10% and 13.3%; and for Uttarakhand 18.84% and 11.63%. Thus, the hitherto industrially backward states have far surpassed Gujarat

.In FDI, too, Gujarat has not been a leading state. During 2006-10, Gujarat signed MoUs worth Rs 5.35 lakh crore with potential of 6.47 lakh jobs. But Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu with Rs 4.20 lakh crore and Rs 1.63 lakh crore worth MoUs, expect about 8.63 lakh and 13.09 lakh jobs. To top it all, Chhattisgarh and Orissa have signed MoUs worth Rs 3.61 lakh crore and Rs 2.99 lakh crore more than Gujarat without much fanfare and Modi's much-hyped industrial summits.

In the area of credit-deposit ratio, Gujarat is far behind other major states. In 2010, Gujarat's share in total deposits of the scheduled commercial banks was 4.70%, as against 5.42%, 6.20%, 6.34% and 26.60% for Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra, respectively. The share of Gujarat in total credit disbursed by these commercial banks was 4.22%; while the same for Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tami Nadu was 29.75%, 6.71% and 9.61% respectively.

The amount of per capita deposit and per capita credit for Gujarat was Rs 37,174 and Rs 24,268; while for Tamil Nadu, it was Rs 42,580 and Rs 47,964; Karnataka Rs 49,598 and Rs 38,154; and Maharashtra Rs 1,10,183 and Rs 89,575. Even Kerala did better than Gujarat with Rs 43,890 and Rs 27,912.

In terms of per capita income (PCI), in 2011, Gujarat ranked sixth among major states with PCI of Rs 63,996, after Haryana (Rs 92,327), Maharashtra, (Rs 83,471), Punjab (Rs 67,473), Tamil Nadu (Rs 72,993) and Uttara-khand (Rs 68,292).What about inclusive growth in Gujarat? Though Gujarat, with 31.8% people below the poverty line did better than Maharashtra and Karnataka, it still lagged behind Kerala, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, where poverty levels were 19.7%, 20.9%, 22.9% and 24.1%, respectively.

On three important social indicators, viz life expectancy at birth (LEB), mean years of schooling (MYS) and school life expectancy (SLE), Gujarat is far behind some other states. In Gujarat, the LEB during 2002-06 was 64.1 years and it ranked ninth among major Indian states. In the areas of MYS and SLE, during 2004-05, it ranked seventh and ninth, respectively. Kerala ranked first in all three indicators. Even Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka performed much better than Gujarat.

With respect to Human Development Index (HDI), Gujarat's story is devastating. The HDI for Gujarat, in 2008, was 0.527 and it ranked 10 {+t} {+h} among major states. Kerala stood first (HDI: 0.790), Himachal Pradesh scored 0.652, Punjab 0.605, Maharashtra 0.572 and Haryana 0.552. With respect to three HDI components - income, health and education - Gujarat does not present a shining story. In this respect, states like Kerala took the lead in every sector, while Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal did better than Gujarat.

It is found that inequality with respect to income, education and health is higher in Gujarat than some of the major states. Shockingly, in terms of hunger - as revealed by the 'State Hunger Index 2008' - Gujarat ranked 13th among 17 big states and worse than Orissa.

In Gujarat, the percentage of women suffering from anaemia has risen from 46.3% in 1999 to 55.5% in 2004, and amongst children from 74.5% to 80.1%. The conditions of dalits and women have deteriorated during the last decade; while those of Muslims and tribals are still worse.

Thus, Gujarat's growth story as claimed by Modi is more a myth than reality. But it is also imperative that other states in the country make concerted efforts to secure higher and also inclusive growth, rather than getting enamoured with the Gujarat growth story. Also, for the people of Gujarat, it's time for introspection and putting right efforts in the direction of making Gujarat a truly "vibrant" state.

(The writer is a member of the Rajya Sabha and former member, Planning Commission.)

Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
PRASHANT   (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052,
Tel :079-27455913/66522333

Saturday, June 02, 2012

A different kind of courage.


                                                                                                                A Different Kind Of Courage. 


I was jolted by an email I received a few days ago announcing the death of Fr.Pierre Ceyrac. I had never met anybody quite like him, with his boundless love for human beings. He was almost ninety-nine when he died, an age which many of us will never live to see.


Even in his younger days he had a wrinkled grin on a weather beaten and unattractive face. Everything about him was gauche. I am doubtful if a pretty woman ever fell for his looks. He had a goofy smile, disarming in its own way.  If you did not know him you could take him to be a simpleton. In fact one foreigner referred to him as a 'ga-ga priest', meaning that he got excited about everything and everybody in a naive sort of way.


But all this is besides the point. Let me explain.


When I was sixteen, and a pre-university student in Chennai, I happened to walk down Chetpet bridge on a sweltering hot summer afternoon. In those days I was extremely self-conscious and did my best to walk elegantly, which often produced the opposite effect. People even embarrassed me by asking if I limped. In any case it was rather hot that day and there was nobody watching for me to affect any elegance. There was little traffic on the bridge and only a few ambassador and fiat cars were to be seen. I remember hurrying so that I could get out of the heat and find a tree lined road. When I was almost at the bottom of the bridge I found a foreigner on his bullet motorcycle stopping and parking on the side. From the tucked up cassock I knew he was a priest.


Why had he stopped, I wondered. There was nobody at the foot of the bridge. It was an unlikely spot for a pee-stop. He walked up the bridge, which seemed an odd thing to do, considering he had a motorcycle. And then, to my utter surprise he began helping an old man who was struggling to pull a hand cart up the bridge.


I had not noticed the old man. A man pulling a cart is such a common sight that nobody pays any attention. In fact I suspect that some people might even subconsciously put up their defenses, preferring to turn a blind eye to anything that reinforced the notion of India as a backward nation. 


Fr.Ceyrac was now pulling the cart alongside the old man, who was still getting over the initial surprise and discomfiture of a foreigner coming to his assistance. White men ruled over us for a couple of centuries, and we considered them superior to us. How could a white man become the equal of a sweating, dark-skinned old man, a no-body in his own society? I don't think that any of these thoughts crossed the old man's mind; he was too embarrassed by what was happening. The old man would not have expected a local to have come to his aid, let alone a foreign apparition.


It took several minutes to get the cart up the bridge and then down the other side. It was probably as unusual an event for me as it was for the old man, for I watched with utter curiosity. Even today, forty-five years later, the images of that afternoon are still etched in my mind.


Over the years I got to know Fr.Ceyrac fairly well. I remember accompanying him to several colleges where he addressed students. He would stand before a hundred students, sometimes five hundred, and say, " This is an extraordinary country. Extraordinary people!". And then with a choked voice and watery eyes he would remind us that we had five hundred and fifty million brothers and sisters in the country, and we had to think of them. To all those who listened it was an unforgettable experience. No one else had  stood before them and cried for the millions of people who had difficulty feeding themselves. Hardly any Indian would cry for the poor, unless it was in a movie theatre; poverty is taken for granted.


I was myself a student then, and Fr.Ceyrac's words made me take notice of two middle aged women who came and picked cooked-rice grains from a drain next to our hostel dining hall. These were grains that clung to our fingers after lunch, which we washed away at the row of taps, which in turn flowed down the drain to the two squatting women. They would carry these drain-soaked rice grains back to feed their families. 


Many years later I heard an economist saying that India had moved from mass starvation to mass hunger.


Inspired by Fr.Ceyrac a few dozen young people took to working with the poor. Some worked sincerely, others cut corners to eventually secure a middle class life-style. But even the most compromised among them didn't lack compassion. After having encountered such a man there was no way they could be indifferent and uncaring.


Even today, so many years later, I still wonder if this man's compassion had to do with his Christian commitment or whether he was innately endowed. There are so many others I know who see themselves as believing Christians, but not a single one would measure up to him. Compassion was a gift he was born with. Perhaps Christianity deepened his compassion somewhat, but even this I am not sure.


In the mid-seventies I had moved to Paris, where I met Fr.Ceyrac's niece, Veronique, from time to time. I was also aware of Fr.Ceyrac's brother Francois, a leading corporate personality in France, who was then the president of the French business association. His photograph appeared in the newspapers fairly frequently. In May 1981 the socialist candidate Francois Mitterand got elected the president of France, the first ever socialist to be elected president in the Fifth Republic. It was a time of hope for the French left. Shortly after the elections I spoke to Veronique and asked her how her uncle Francois had taken the results. "Oh, he was badly shaken," was her reply. " As soon as he knew the results he went to his terrace and chopped off all his rose bushes".


The symbol of the socialist party was a red rose and Francois Ceyrac had vented his anger on his poor rose bushes.


I laughed at the moment, but couldn't help comparing the two brothers. Fr.Ceyrac often worked on a piece of land in one of the driest parts of Tamilnadu, a semi-desert region called Manamadurai. He tilled with the workers, who he hoped would inherit the land one day, as a cooperative. Francois Ceyrac, on the other hand, had known only luxury. Socialism, which promised a degree of equality, was anathema to him. I am sure he admired his brother toiling beside poor, lower caste, agricultural workers. But Francois wouldn't have survived an hour with a spade in his hand, in that terrible heat


I repeated the story of the rose cutting spree to Fr.Ceyrac on one of my visits to India. He was deeply embarrassed. But I knew that he loved his brother dearly and he was not going to let the incident get in the way of the deep bond that existed between them. In any case Fr.Ceyrac did not understand ideology too well. He was not the kind who would let the ideological override the human. At the time many of us saw this as a major weakness in him. Today, in hindsight, that was perhaps a significant strength.


Fr.Ceyrac was a simple bhakta. Greatness and simplicity often go together. Christ himself was no complex philosopher. I do not remember Fr.Ceyrac articulating any sophisticated theology, although he did admire a few Liberation theologians like Kappen and Rayan, who combined Marxist analysis with Christian compassion. At the time Liberation Theology was the spirit of the age within radical social action circles, and Fr.Ceyrac, I suspect, just went with the tide. Ideologies would come and go but what was non-negotiable for him was a total commitment to the poor.


Over the years I have wondered why India is such an uncaring society. I must confess that I don't have a clear answer. Perhaps caste was such an ingrained value in our consciousness that we could only think of being of some assistance to members of our own community, but even this concern was never pressing. The decades ahead will be even bleaker for the poor, as climate change kicks in.


Those of us who were smitten by Fr.Ceyrac's spirit know that we are condemned to act, come hell or high water. We are called to act, not await the fruits of our action, as the Bhagvad Gita reminds us.



(Fireflies, Bangalore)