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Thursday, April 08, 2010

It's the money, honey

Of the millions of words being said and written in the mass media following the Maoist-organized massacre of CRPF policemen in Dantewada, Chattisgarh, this particular news item caught my attention. Look at the last paragraph. It seems that the families of the jawans who were killed will receive a total of Rs. 38 lakhs (3.8 million) each as compensation, besides one job per family on humanitarian grounds.

Now I have no intention of belittling or insulting the soldiers who die fighting for the government (notice I didn’t say ‘for their country’, though), but a few reflections are in order:

1. A lot of people work in very harsh conditions ‘for their country’ (postmen and firemen and ordinary policemen and teachers in private schools – who are usually paid much less than their government counterparts – and coolies at construction sites, to name just a few), and cannot expect even a tiny fraction of that kind of reward whether they die at work or live beyond normal retirement age;

2. Given that these policemen come from humble or even poor backgrounds, the compensation is truly princely – now I know why there’s never a dearth of people eager to sign on, despite the risks;

3. Since these people know they can look forward to that kind of reward for their families in case they are killed on duty, don’t expressions like ‘they made the supreme sacrifice for their country’ sound a little hollow, not to say pretentious?

4. Make a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. The government doles out several tens of crores in such compensation to the families of dead soldiers/policemen every year. Mightn’t it have been a better idea to spend that money on the kind of genuine and much needed development of those most backward regions of this country where mass discontent is the breeding ground of militant rebellion?

5. A few years ago the father of a pupil of mine, a civil engineer working for the army’s Border Roads Organization, had volunteered to work on a highway construction project in Afghanistan, despite the huge risk from resurgent terrorists there, because, he said, the pay was really good. Since these people love money more than their lives (remember, the man was, if not rich, quite comfortably off here, and nobody had forced him to go), do we really need to shed copious collective tears over them when they are picked off by terrorists or brigands? Why do we want to have our cake and eat it too?

6. I have been a teacher all my life. For the last eight years I have been entirely self-employed. The government happily takes income tax from me every year, but promises my family no reward, no compensation of any kind should I die early. A beautician charges ten times what I do for a tenth of the kind of work I do, whether you count mental skills or physical exertion (of late my doctor has been urging me to take it easy). Everybody in this country pretends to ‘honour’ teachers and the work they do. Yet there are so many people who say behind our backs that we teachers have become 'greedy'. Whereas Shah Rukh Khan is not, and Sachin is the pride of India, and fashion models 'deserve' to be paid little fortunes for posing in underwear, and soldiers make ‘supreme sacrifices’ killing their own countrymen. (Just to silence armchair cynics, I'd be glad to 'die for my country' anytime provided I knew that my family would be comfortably off as a result for the rest of their lives. And I wouldn't care whether people called it 'the supreme sacrifice' or not.)

Any comments?

18 comments:

ginger candy said...

Sir,

First of all,the link doesn't seem to work. I think the letter 'h' is missing from 'http'. You may want to correct it.

Thanks,
Joydeep

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Many thanks for taking the trouble, Joydeep. I've made the correction. I hope it works now.

Shilpi said...

Been brooding a bit over this bit of news, and was wondering when you were going to write a post about it.
It's your last point (6) that disturbs me the most, and for more reasons than one. But I've already ranted about a part of what you talk about here in more than one of my previous comments in response to your posts which are sober and measured (while one is simply lyrical). The rest of Point 6 just leads to a hollow pit inside me, which doesn’t need to be ranted about. But to repeat myself - I really don't understand how or why people get valued the way they do.

Point 4 too struck an immediate chord in me although when I've voiced a similar opinion in public a couple of times - people (depending upon who they are) have looked at me with odd expressions.

The sentiment of the Indian government toward the Maoist insurgents or the voicing of the thought that the violence needs to be curbed and immediately seems to be a reflection of how any sort of insurgency or terrorist activity is treated these days - although I'm guessing you'll tell me that in earlier times - states/nations/countries didn't 'talk' about squelching a rebellion if they could squelch it....

I wouldn't call myself an absolute believer in the principle of non-violence but I'm not one for condoning violence either (and a part of me will never stop wondering as to how many Maoists are actually filled with brotherly love for the villagers/tribals whose cause they claim to be representing. It's the tribals, who face the short end of the stick...).
Yet for the most part and across all sections of society, what I hear is 'down with the terrorists and terrorism' (as long as, and you pointed out to this too very recently, we're not talking of state terrorism or brutality. The state after all, as Weber pointed out rather ominously some time ago, has the monopoly over the 'legitimate' use of violence...). The insurgents/terrorists are the devils who employ meaningless violence of course, so with no thoughts other than some tsking over the fact that there might be some factors – such as poverty, humiliation, lack of decent employment opportunities to name just three factors – that need some attention, the State calls for a war on insurgents or a war on terrorism or a war on discontented people without saying anything about whether the people who really are discontented are so for valid reasons or whether all of them are sadistic, evil, and violent hoodlums.
I can’t believe that people in important places and those who make important decisions don’t know these very simple things, but they’d most likely tell me that I don’t understand very complex things, and that it’s easy for me to rattle.

I agree with you about Point 5 with no reservations, yet I wonder about the paltry compensation given to each individual family. I know it could be seen as a princely sum but I wonder about people who don’t have the choice – so they take what they can and make do because the other options (if one can call them that) are worse. And somehow thousands of rupees don’t seem to make up for the life of someone loved – to put it in mildly. Since you know how I feel about the whole ‘sacrifice’ bit – I won’t talk about that. One way or the other – it’s hollow, pretentious, and untrue to talk about ‘sacrifices’ being made.

Thank you for this post for more reasons than one...
Take care.
Shilpi

Sreejith Nair said...

Dear Sir,
Though I agree with you on some issues and disagree on others highlighted in this post, your courage to write in such a brave comment is commendable. Most people do not comment on it because it is sensitive. So the general rule as far as compensation is concerned is: If you want to shut up some mouths, give off a bigger compensation. The more you give, the tighter people shut their mouths.
Sir, first of all it is the Government's series of ridiculous measures that has caused the tragedy, so much so that even the Home Minister has accepted the occurrence of "lapse". The Alpha battalion had 80 members from the state police and the CRPF jointly and 74 of them were killed annihilating the unit totally. But the way they were killed and the blatant violation of basic jungle warfare laws shows how ill equipped they were to handle the situation they were put into. Chidambaram's hollow statements in Bengal promising to "wipe them out within 3 months" and "the buck stops with the Chief Minister" were exposed within hardly even a day. Needless to say to save face and to hush up the matter, the Government has had to dole out such sums. Why, hasn't the same thing happened when 24 Mig fell out from air killing the best of IAF's fighter pilots? Or hasn't it been the case when the train accident at Ghaisal took place in 1999? The UPA Government is just following the trend.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

hmmm... sensitive topic, I guess!

ginger candy said...

Sir,

Is it known for sure that the government promises every policeman a healthy compensation in case of death on duty? Did the CRPF men knew beforehand that their families would be taken care of (that too in such a generous fashion) before they embarked on their tragic mission? Or is it that the government took it upon themselves to hush things up by doling out a more than generous compensation package to make up for their shortcomings in proper training, equipments and planning?


Thanks,
Joydeep

Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

Dear Sir,
I had also earlier thought about point 4 and you have repeatedly discussed point 6 in our classes.
Although I do not understand much about politics, I have well understood point 4 and 6. I also agree with you regarding point 5 because I often hear from elders that they have been suffering from this or that disease since they have began their work. They mostly fall among the people who are either working in IT companies, Power plants or construction sites.
But these jobs are well paid too! But they do not care about their lives despite knowing the risk (some ailments can cost one's life in the long run!).

Thanks,
Soham

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Entirely possible, Joydeep. Our government has a bad conscience over a lot of things done and undone, and it frequently burns money as a salve to that conscience...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

This post has obviously made a lot of readers uncomfortable enough to be at a loss for words. Good.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

You are absolutely right Suvroda that this post has obviously made a lot of readers uncomfortable enough to be at a loss for words. I am also one such reader. I have grown up in cities and have very limited exposure to problems faced by people residing in forests. Whatever little I have learnt from my reading or a few visits to a few places in Jharkhand, I can realise the extent of neglect. I am not sure how will I react to such neglect and backwardness in my own land. At present as a mere spectator to the killings (rebellion?), I can just say I am embarrassed that this is happening in my own country. I am not sure whether brute violence is the solution to all the problems that tribal people face, but it is a truth that in our country voices such as Irom Chanu Sharmila go unheard. What bothers me though is, the entire issue is becoming a war or words. On one hand, there are those “activists” whose writings/talks are not very convincing either and on the other there are those politicians who have made talking nonsense (and getting accepted for that) a habit.

I will not go point by point on your post. I agree to most of your points. However, in all countries security forces are the biggest political tools. Some years back I watched the Clint Eastwood film, Flags of Our Fathers which portrayed this issue. I don’t think a lot of Jawan join the force either to serve the country or to die to get compensated later. I am not sure whether those compensation ever reach them or not. He takes the plunge either because a few of his ancestors have done so or because he does not have enough money to repay the landlord. You however are right about all other profession you have mentioned. Though in developed countries security men are used as political tool but firemen, construction workers are respect too.

As far as teachers are concerned the less said the better. I think we have discussed point 6 before in many ways. In places like Jharkhand a teacher in a small school most of the times “dies for his country” either because of the bullets pumped in by rebels or by security forces. I wonder whether we ever know about them or not. Every time such teachers are forced to be on election clerk duties in such dangerous regions, I wonder why? I don’t think any of them bargained for such a life when they joined the profession and I am sure many of them are good teachers too.

My apologies if my comment did not make much sense but on this issue I am a bit confused myself.

Regards

Tanmoy

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I agree with you on point 5...foolhardiness never helped anyone when his/her life was on the line. As for the other points, I am not entirely sure what to comment. Most of what I feel right now is just pity for those men and for their families. Whatever a Jawan's or a policeman's reasons might be for choosing to do what they do, getting killed is literally as bad as it can get isn't it? These men are just pawns. Government policies fail, intelligence fails and it is always the last man that dies. I have felt first hand and second hand what it is like to send someone off for a man-hunt or for some kind of an operation. It is horrible and I pity anyone who gets the wrong side of the stick. Compensation or not, the man is just a pawn in a game of high stakes and I think it requires extraordinary strength to actually go out there and face a bullet in the eye. But as for why people do what they do, like I said before, I may never know the answers, I am really confused. As for point six Sir, there will always be thousands of people who don't realize the worth of good teachers in their lives just as there will be people who will but will this change? I don't know, apathy and a superb disregard for the deserving are rampant all around us....

Regards,
Vaishnavi

Anirvan Choudhury said...

Respected Sir,

Thank you very much for such a bold and time relevant post. The readers including myself are uncomfortable with such topic most probably because of urban background and less experience with the lives and livelihood of the tribals. I was waiting to learn from others before writing my own. One thing I must accept that the overview of comments sums up the problem fair and square. Kudos to Shilpi for pinpointing the socio-economic aspect of the problem and Srijith for his usual highly informative posts.

Point 1. : Yes a lot of people, in addition to our uniformed services, work in very harsh conditions both in Govt as well as in private (organized and unorganized) sectors. However, even in Govt, the civilian jobs are backed by a nominal insurance benefit in most cases. For the private and unorganized sectors, Govt started the ESIC scheme, a couple of years back, which as usual is least publicised and worst maintained affair at all levels. This includes facilities of health, education, sanitation and housing too. Why is it these issues never crop up during the normal discussions?

Point 2 : These policemen come from humble or even poor backgrounds and so are the Maoists / Naxalites. I had the opportunity to work in a lot of tribal dominated areas(for ground water and mineral exploration) in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Chhatishgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Most of these places are richest in terms of natural resources but poorest economically. Our tribals have a very rich heritage in every aspect. Unfortunately they are also very rigid in their faith and belief. For ages together they protested and detested any contact with outside - the case of the Tribal girl who inaugurated the DVC Project in presence of the then Prime Minister Pt. Nehru. She and her family members were refused entry in the tribal community and had to settle in some distant place. Similar cases have been reported among the Jarwa’s in Andaman too. With time these places under the changing land use pattern faced the inevitable problems of poverty, starvation, humiliation and lack of decent employment opportunities as Shilpi pointed out. The older generation adjusted but the newer generation protested and sought out newer avenues. At this point there were only two prospective employers – either the Govt. or the Left wing extremists.

Point 3 : I don’t think the CRPF personnel were at all aware of the Rs 38 lakhs package in case of their death. As usual promises are made to be broken. Administration, politicians and most unfortunately the senior officers of their own department are highly insensitive in these cases or should be called ‘Administrative Detachment’. All of them happily ignore the knowledge learnt from the previous mistakes and commit them time and over again and again. The issues of proper training, proper equipment, proper camping condition, safety, reasonable duty hours, timed tenure and proper recuperation etc are best sidelined in the name of emergency orders from whimsical bosses.

Once a massacre happens, the next of kin of the deceased will run from pillar to post for each of the separate compensation packages. In most probability the sum of one would be spent in meeting the expenses for arranging paraphernalia for the other. Again the time dimension will then hardly be focussed. In that case I prefer to call it a supreme sacrifice of not only the Jawan, but also his bereaved parents, widowed wife and his orphaned children. And the again who get how much share of the compensation. The critically injured suffers even worse.

contd..

Anirvan Choudhury said...

contd.. from previous

Point 4 : I agree entirely with you. Even if a fraction of the amount of the promised compensation package was utilized for development of these regions, mass discontent leading to extremism could have been averted. This particular weakness among the tribals and poor & backward masses was utilized at some point of time by the Missionaries for conversion and presently by a number of NGO’s (mostly belong to some political honcho). Wheras in the first case, some excellent developmental work was carried out, in the second case it is mostly a poster and presentation based publicity campaign for more funds.

This is where I vehemently oppose our reservation policy in its current form. It seems to create just another creamy layer and further widens the economic divide. Tribal people educated and employed under reserved category should be preferably posted in their native regions and their performance should be assessed on the amount of mass awareness, genuine fund utilization and developmental activities they have carried out. By this way the communication gap too can be bridged. There will hardly be the need for Salva Judum or the Green Hunt in those cases.

The proper natural resource management could result in eco friendly and self sustainable among these people(In Finland every year they fell more than one lakh trees and yet the forest cover remained intact and as a matter of fact has increased every year to reach a steady state as of now) and restoration and renovation of water bodies would usher in a sort of localized green revolution.

Another facet of this extremist problem exists. In lot of places in the north east, it has been pointed out that youths prefer to join militant groups and serve for a few years before surrendering to receive mass amnesty, Govt. jobs or rehabilitation packages and other associated bonanzas.

Point 5: It really the money, honey. Be it any profession, lot of people venture into places, unthinkable even a few years back for the green stuff. It is their choice. But, sometimes its more of a compulsion than choice. There I think we need to a little bit more sympathetic and sensible in our judgement.

Point 6 : I think we have discussed this time and over again. Very few lucky ones have the privilege to be recognized and appreciated for the job done and responsibilities undertaken towards the society.

Sincere regards,

Anirvan

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I know this is a vexed issue, and there are many different dimensions to it, so there cannot be pat answers and easy solutions. But one thing is certain: as long as there is so much poverty and inequality all around as, while a small fraction lives it up as though we are already a developed country, things are going to turn pretty nasty pretty soon...

aranibanerjee said...

Sir,
It is unfortunate that I did not have the opportunity to read this post before. I absolutely loved it.
It doesn't really matter whether people know about possible compensation before they die. I will not, for whatever pay someone promises me, kill people who are fighting for livelihood, the protection of their resources and their right to be equal to those who rape and loot them. The moment you decide to be the state's agent you loose the right to be priveleged over other citizens who do their job with far greater sincerity and dilligence. Pray tell me about the bravery needed to support private militias like the Salwa Juloom and Ranvir Sena. How brave does one need to be to pump bullets into innocent men and women at Dantewada, Warrangal or Lalgarh? How brave does one need to be to be able to arrest Binayak Sen, Khobad Ghandy, and Sushil or for that matter Chhatrodhar Mahato--ideologues or civil liberty activists? If people, no matter how desperate they are for money, ignore the immense lack of courage and humanity such a job entails, they ought to be treated with far less compassion than we usually accord to prostitutes. Policemen in our country are either busy killing starved fellow-countrymen or guarding overfed crooks who pass off by the name of politicians.
This is not to deny that the Maoists use violence, often indiscriminate. Their notion of the class-enemy is as vague and dangerous as the state's definition of the terrorist. In fact, if one has the opportunity to read 'In the Wake of Naxalbari' by Sumanta Banerjee (Samik Bandyopadhyay's elder brother and a Naxalite himself), one would know of the rift bewteen Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal being caused over a debate as to whether the CRPF jawan is a class-enemy at all. I am willing to send enthusiasts an interview with Kanu Sanyal that was recently published in 'The Seminar'. However, the act of the state in designating the soldiers as martyr is deplorable. In fact, the agenda of the state is actually to convert the policeman--otherwise a character who is a victim of what Sartre would call 'bad faith'--into a member of the ruling class. The state's gesture is an ideological strategy aimed at alienating the soldiers from the revolutionaries. We do not even know whether compensation would ever reach the interiors of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand. The compensation package becomes a 'sign' without a 'signified'--an invisible cross that every soldier will now bear as they go out in the jungle.
Arani

avishek said...

Dear sir,
we have reached the stage where anybody who voices his/her opinion against operation greenhunt is instantly labelled a maoist. Truly this is the most vulgar rule of democracy - by sheer weight of numbers. If someone has the numbers behind them, he gains the power to do almost anything in India. The human rights activists have been called as the ‘overgrown face of the underground movement’ for opposing the action against the so-called maoists. In a democracy, i feel everything can be resolved through a dialogue process. In this case, it is quite bizarre that the state is waging a war against its own people. Ms. Arundhati Roy says 90% of the maoists are tribals but all tribals are not maoists. We all need to be more sensitive to the cause of the tribals. It’s mainly the urban people who needs to understand that these tribals have been forced to take up arms for sheer survival after decades of exploitation. The state has taken away their land – their only means of survival in those areas and gifted those to mining companies like Vedanta or Posco. It is quite naive for the government to expect that the tribals should slowly but surely resign to their fate. The defence government puts forward is - wherever economic growth and development happens, certain people do get displaced due to the industrialization process. The only question one needs to ask - what is the number of people involved here?

It is quite evident that the jawans have joined the battle just for the money. In fact, in this case they may be fighting the people from their own village – i mean to say places where they were born and brought up. Many of them belong to the same place where they are at present fighting the maoists. I can understand many people from these rural areas of UP, Bihar and Chattisgarh choose to join the defence forces out of desperation, poverty and in hope of a better future for their children. It is right they have no choice but to obey government orders - then the question of ‘supreme sacrifice’ as pointed out by you sounds so hollow. I agree with you it is truly a great honour to die for one’s country but not for the government. In a way the armymen have always been revered as the holy cows in India. Question their actions and motives and you are sure to be labelled an anti-national element. In fact you will remember there have been several instances of army’s misuse of the Special Powers Act in Kashmir but hardly anything has been done to punish the culprits. Very few can resist the temptation of money and many people volunteer to work for incredibly risky jobs just for the lure of money. In this case I feel this is the case with the jawans. The reason i say this - the army chief is believed to have said he cannot risk using the army in Chattisgarh, UP, Orissa because majority of the recruits in the army come from there. Using the army may have repercussions on these people.

It’s no doubt the princely sum the family members of the jawans will receive will be of real help but I agree with you on the point several other people in their role as teachers, firemen, postmen do not receive the same treatment. This is highly unfair and tend to imply the misplaced priorities of the Indian state. I end by quoting Ms. Roy “ If India is a fake democracy, what the Maoists are doing is right. If India is not a fake democracy, what the government is doing is wrong.”

Regards,
Avishek

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I do not get angry over political issues quickly. But watching the likes of our 'successful' leaders in business, politics and culture in action (I have just written a new post on Lalit Modi) I grow more and more convinced that our elite need to be counterbalanced by fanatics of another sort. Desperate cures for desperate diseases...

pankajsingh said...

Though this post is highly sensitive, it is really a worth reading message sir has imparted. I agree on all the points sir has written, because they are depicting the true scene of our system. And i would definitely appreciate the 1st point. But i hope we can do something for this!!