Fifth Column by Tavleen Singh: Little Things That Matter

Once again last week, the bulldozers rolled in Delhi, ruining the lives and dreams of ordinary people. Once again, battles raged over which mosque was once a Hindu temple. Into this rectification of historical errors, the Qutub Minar and the Taj Mahal were drawn. This is a current column, so both events require a comment. As for bulldozers, I have to say that I am anxiously awaiting the day when bulldozers smash the homes of the corrupt officials who allowed illegal construction on such a scale. As for the triumphalist Hindutva movement, which now claims that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu monument, I have a question: When will bulldozers arrive to tear down the most famous mausoleum in the world?

To those of you who think I’m junk about serious things, I have an answer: enough is enough. For weeks, if not months, we seem to have talked about nothing but cases of this kind, so I will spare you one more piece on either bulldozers or majority madness. A little more can be said that has not already been said in endless, repeated primetime debates and endless, increasingly repeated deliberations by political experts.

So this week I plan to talk about what are considered things that are so insignificant that they never make headlines. My reason for doing this is that on the inside of newspapers appeared what for me was the most important news of all and that is that 89% of Indian children are malnourished before they reach their second year. This information came in the recently published report from the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-5). The report concluded that there has been only a marginal improvement since their results five years ago. This is heartbreaking and shameful. Malnutrition in a child’s most formative months means they will grow up crippled and unable to reach their full potential either physically or mentally.

When I asked myself why Narendra Modi, who has been so keen on correcting negligence of many kinds under the rule of Congress, I noticed that Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh were the worst offenders when it came to malnutrition in infants. This is clearly something he has never been aware of. Can we hope that after this latest NFHS report from his own government, he will be as aware of malnutrition as he was of sanitation in his first term? Swachh Bharat achieved levels of rural sanitation to an impressive extent because Modi put his weight behind it. If he did the same to ensure that India’s children were no longer malnourished, then maybe one day we could reap the full benefits of having the world’s largest population of young people.

There are other ‘little’ things I would like to point out this week. I use the word little consciously because Modi has shown that what he really loves are big things. The ‘tallest statue’ in the world has come up in its time. The ‘biggest vaccination program’ has been achieved successfully, and these are things that the Prime Minister loves to brag about. The day I sat down to write this piece, I drove past the new Parliament building, and without being allowed to get close enough for a proper inspection, I can report that it is already towering over every other building in its proximity. The old parliament, which is a repository for so much of India’s democratic history, looks like an anthill in its mighty shadow. But I deviate.

The most ignored and most horrible news at the moment is that a mountain of rubbish, estimated to be more than seventeen storeys high, remains on fire in Delhi. It spews toxic gases into the city’s dangerously polluted air and reminds us that even though we dream of putting a man on the moon, we have not managed to learn how to handle waste. On the outskirts of every village we see ditches filled with rotting rubbish, and almost all of our small towns have main bazaars that are, in fact, just landfills. Is this not shameful at a time when we are so proudly celebrating the 75th anniversary of India’s independence?

Those who shout Vande Mataram and Jai Shri Ram with each breath must read the Ramayana more carefully to discover the description of Ayodhya on the eve of Ram’s coronation. And while they are at it, they can also pay close attention to the road that Bharat built to go to the forest where his brothers were forced into exile. The methods used to build the road were as modern as they are today, and Ayodhya more beautiful than any modern Indian city. While Hindu revival is so fashionable, can we please revive some of these things? Is it not time we ensure that Bharat Mata is no longer covered by rotten waste? And what could be a finer tribute in this year of our Amrit Mahotsav than to ensure that no Indian child lacks the basic nutrients they need to grow to their full potential?

Can I finish with a question? What happens now that a court has ruled that it will not start discussing whether Hindutva activists should be allowed to start interfering in the alleged ’22 sealed rooms’ in the basement of the Taj Mahal? Will Hindutva troops be unleashed in Agra to start attacking Muslims for the ‘sins’ of their ancestors? Seriously, what’s going on now?

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