By Rajendra Bhanawat
A period of 75 years in the life of a country is not a long time particularly when the country happens to be India, which has a history of thousands of years having multiple languages, ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Therefore, to expect that the society would transform unrecognizably within such a short span of independence would be unrealistic.
Nonetheless, India has charted her own course as a nascent nation in the modern world after being subjugated for around 200 years by the British, and before that Mughals ruled for 300 years.
Rule of Law, Equity, and Equality
The most significant achievement of India on her 75th anniversary of independence is ensuring an uninterrupted democracy and rule of law enshrined in the constitution. Contrary to the other countries in the subcontinent and most of the developing world, the transition of power in India has always been seamless.
However, it must also be acknowledged that the condition of the marginalized sections of society has not changed much over these years. The pace of change has been much faster for the upper echelon of society. A large section of the population in India continues to live at a subsistence level and the unemployment levels are rising fast due to jobless growth.
Affirmative action through progressive social legislation including reservation in educational institutions and government jobs for the schedule caste and the schedule tribes has benefitted those who lagged behind in civilizational progress due to social customs.
The electoral process in India has been largely free and fair and has strengthened the rule of law in the country. But after the use of money and muscle power in the elections, now communal polarization has become a way to sure shot success in capturing power. But amidst all din of the power corridors, those standing at the end of the line, who are the poorest of the poor, are somehow feeling left out.
Societal norms have been changing fast in India. Nuclear families have become the new norm replacing the traditional joint families. The inter-caste marriages are no longer frowned upon. Improvement in the economic status of the Dalits has almost removed the stigma of untouchability. Importantly, with the special focus on sanitation through campaigns like “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” manual scavenging has become a thing of the past.
The fast growth of technology, particularly mobile technology, has led to the exponential growth of social media. This has changed the way Indians interact with each other irreversibly as it has done across the globe. But social media is proving to be a double-edged sword for social harmony due to the raining of unchartered commentary by all and sundry on every issue under the sun.
The new age social evils such as breakdown of the family system, overuse of mobile phones particularly in the youth and increasing aggression in the young generation are some of the results of an increased pace of life and pressure on the young generation. Picnics and family outings have become a thing of the past along with the bedtime stories by parents or grandparents.
Some of the social evils such as child marriages, and dowry continue to ail society. Suicide by a 30-year-old Sikh woman allegedly at her Richmond residence in New York on August 3 is a glaring example of the preference for a male child in society is prevalent. Moreover, many times, it is affluent families where such incidents come to light.
It is often argued that Indian society has two segments: one is India – an urbane, progressive, educated section with western values and the other is Bharat – those with traditional and rural mindsets still holding to the old ways of life. But when the world looks to the spirituality of India for solace from their worldly problems, it is desirable for India to focus on the best of all cultures – the east, or the west.
Pace of Development
The pace of development has also not been uniform across the country. There is a clear north-south divide in basic sectors such as education and healthcare. But the major achievements have been in the field of infrastructure- in the form of roads, irrigation dams, power stations, and in renewable energy.
A campaign such as “Digital India” is focused specifically to ensure the trickling down of the benefits of mobile technology to the lower rung of the society for ensuring essential social services to them. Most government departments have already been digitalized and people are increasingly using their online services. Though, there is a rise in cases of cyber and online fraud with gullible people largely due to illiteracy.
There are still villages in India, where women have to fetch drinking water from a distance. There are campaigns running on the mission mode to ensure tap water to every house in India – urban or rural, but the turnaround rate of such missions is largely dismal.
Cities in India have been growing at a fast pace as rural masses are migrating in search of opportunities and a better life. But it is affecting the quality of life in the cities as many of the cities have grown much beyond their carrying capacities.
Visionary former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam had proposed a scheme named, “Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas (PURA)” to decrease the pace of rural migration which needs to be taken up seriously.
Health, education, nutrition, and drinking water are a few sectors where India still has a long way to go.
New Green Revolution
Agriculture production has made India self-sufficient in the food needs of its vast population. Moreover, India exports wheat to many countries the world over. When the Ukraine war had broken down the dry bulk supply chain in the world, it was India that came to rescue countries like Egypt, etc.
Though, reducing the size of the agricultural holding is a cause of concern in rural areas. Monsoon failure, pestilence, lack of irrigation facilities, and drought still make farming in India a ‘gamble’ but still, the fast-changing technologies in the farm sector are making farmers more efficient and market savvy.
Local Self Government
Local self-government was introduced in India on October 2, 1959. Though the law provides a clear-cut delegation of power to the local government at the village or city level these grass root institutions remain financially dependent on the provincial and the union governments. The ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of India required self-governing institutions at the grass root level to cater to the local need in specific ways but umbrella policies and centralized funding still rule the roost.
To sum it up, it can be said that Indian society is at cross Roads today. It has progressed materially but only in parts. As a whole, it can do well only if the top emphasis is laid on education and health. The commercialization of education and health leads to accentuating the divide between the rich and the poor which, if not checked in time, could lead to social conflicts.
The vibrancy of the democracy and fragrance of the diversity of India is the foundation of the world’s largest democracy, and we today are celebrating its diamond jubilee.
(The writer is a 1988 IAS officer. He retired in 2012 after 38 years in civil services.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times