Death from being rich grows in India

A young Indian girl prepares meal at a slum in Jammu, India, Monday, March 26, 2012. <AP/Newsis>

Man is not immortal. As we know it, there are two kinds of deaths. One that comes naturally due to terminal disease or old age and the other that is inflicted by economic factors like poverty and hunger. In India yet another category has got evolved in recent years – “death by plenty”.

When I asked Bimla, a twenty-five year old tribal girl in village Khariguda of Koraput district in Orissa, “what is that she would ask god if ever she had such a chance”, she replied, “more than liquor, I will ask god for food”. And what else, I asked. She said, “Of course, gold… but that I can’t ask from my husband…he would beat me up”.

A very natural and innocent response from a young tribal girl whom I met during the production of a documentary film on the status of the “Girl Child” some 20 years back. In the Asian year of the Girl Child, she was working for over ten hours a day in collecting fire-wood, collecting water and pounding rice along with her mother. She was only five then.

Her mother was below the poverty line, she is below the poverty line and perhaps her children will continue within the web of poverty. I was surprised that she survived malnutrition and could even bear children.

One Sunday morning, “the largest circulated daily newspaper on the planet,” brought me 90 pages carrying some 20 percent of news, views and editorial wisdom. Remaining being the advertisements for selling every conceivable consumer good on the market… not to omit half-clad American or European young ladies, desperate to show their assets in full glory…to what purpose, I don’t know…

So? What is the connection between “death by plenty,” Bimla and the largest selling newspaper of the planet full of ads. This is a riddle that the best of Indian economists have not been able to solve in years.

The Chairman of the Press Council of India must be tired of crying hoarse, pleading that “Dev Anand was a great actor, even I saw him when I was young…but he does not deserve the space on the front page…his death is not news”.

The honorable retired judge, heading a council without any teeth, is furious and at pains to define what is news and what is not news. Perhaps he has never flipped the newspaper I mention beyond the first page…otherwise should he not be talking of commercialization of news piggy-backed on scantly clad foreign ladies, expensive cars, luxury flats and of course grooms for sale. And above all, misuse of expensive newsprint bought with foreign exchange.

Anyway, let us get back to ‘death by plenty”. Who are the people who are being addressed by the advertiser of cars ranging from twenty five thousand US Dollars to a millions dollars…luxury flats costing likewise…etc. etc.

The natural answer would be…people with that kind of money….”People with that kind of money” are very loving parents presenting cars to their young children as birthday gifts… young children… who begin their evening at ten or eleven at night and return home in the wee hours of the morning after drinking the whole night at a bar …that is if they do return home…without killing or being killed in a car accident.

In the past few years, these young children, their expensive cars and loving parents have remained on the front page. The most common factor has been the age of dead children, make of the car involved in the accident and of course the position of power the father holds in this unequal society. Naturally, I call these deaths as “death by plenty”.

So? What is wrong? As some TV anchors would say, “it is not rocket science” to decipher what is wrong”. First, plenty of ill-gotten money to buy the most expensive car advertised by “the largest circulated daily newspaper on the planet” and then plenty of ill- gotten money to blow up in the bars at the age of 18 or 20.

Is there an answer? No? Not until we sort out the speed of judicial process and figure out how this ill-gotten wealth is generated by a few.

Alas, Bimla and others like her will have to be satisfied with two meals a day if she is lucky to get that – till our economics is sorted out by the legitimately elected wise men sitting in the parliament seeking more perks like red light on their cars.

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