Ostrich Syndrome!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Choice: Insulated Nationalism or Arundhati Roy?

Across the length and breath of human history there are instances when a person can get away with murder but being an anti-national (as defined by popular sentiment) is a crime of the highest order. In Hollywood or in Bollywood, treason is the ultimate epitome of a villainous character. Arundhati Roy’s recent essay on Maoists of Dhantewada has more or less opened a Pandora’s Box. More than the debate on subject, the conventional and the alternative media (read internet) is busy in pronouncing her guilty of treason, a charge not easy to prove or refute. In wake of what I consider as one of the most poignant pieces of honest evaluation, Ms. Roy has come under significant attack from both the right and left ends of political and intellectual class. Many have written her off as an anti-national about whom India and Indians should not worry. She has been labeled as a fanatic bohemian. She has been disregarded as an author who has a habit to describe the problem emotively without offering a solution. In a nutshell she has been criticized, spited and even threatened. Of all the comments on her platter, her being labeled as a rabid, anti-national is the one which makes interesting read.
George Orwell had once said, “by ‘nationalism’ I mean the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’”. Good or bad? Nationalist or Anti-national? The vernacular sounds familiar. As a young boy growing in a Muslim ghetto, I had heard this vocabulary on more than a single occasion. Growing up in a middle class, “secular” Muslim Indian household, my sensitivity to nationalism had been nurtured and grown into a robust beast, ready to devour any signs of sedition, treason and subversion. It was very late in life when I realized that nationalism does not necessarily mean accepting all that the state says, commands and orders. Nationalism also means asking the correct questions at the correct time even if this compromises the state’s own interests.
We all practice what can safely be labeled as “insulated nationalism”. A kind of nationalism which is kept free from external influences and affections. Pure and unadulterated. Insulated nationalism carries the smell of blood. It attracts beasts of all kinds. Human history is full of disastrous effects of insulated, thoughtless nationalism. Nationalism gave birth to Hitler. In the early nineties, it was nationalism cooked with a pinch of Hindu religion which saw the rise of right wing fascist parties in our country. Taliban and their machinery of jihadism is the end product of nationalism mixed with tenants of Islam. Jingoism post 9/11 incited the American people not only to re-elect an incumbent and incompetent George W Bush but also to support his so called war against terror. Insulated nationalism is one of the most perfect weapons of mass destruction human mind has ever discovered. A missile which can be fired without any payload; from any distance. It’s an unmanned drone which causes unprecedented destruction in its wake.
The rhetoric of insulated Nationalism can be most dangerous when the people fed on it are half literate, half hungry, half clothed and all in all half human. This half human does not realize that even his nationalism is half baked in the fire of vested interests. Day in and day out his mind is controlled by the jingoism which appears on television, radio, newspapers and other sources of state outlet. The ability to ask questions, the power to raise a finger, the insight to evaluate a plot, are all burnt in the fire of this insulated nationalism. The story doesn’t end here. The insulation of nationalism is further fortified by straps of religion, caste, and region. So, if you are a Muslim you cannot question the violation of human rights in Kashmir. If you are a dalit you cannot condemn the government’s credibility on reservation policies. A Christian cannot raise the issue of Orissa carnage on an International Human Rights forum. And on similar lines, an Arundhati Roy cannot raise a voice against the misfortune of adivasis and the tribal of Dhantewada without being labeled anti-national.
Nationalism is an innate trait which we acquire growing up in a society. The components of nationalism cannot be forced but felt. Nationalism means assimilation and integration of people on a common social stage. What kind of nationalism can we expect from the dalit survivors of Kherlenji massacre or the lucky ones from the Gujarat and Delhi (1984) pogroms? None. Their perception of nationalism and the concept of nationhood have been blurred (or should we say clarified) by their experiences of the microenvironment they lived in. The insulation from their nationalism has been ripped apart, exposing the rawness to factors around them. In fact it would be outright ridiculous to expect quantum of nationalist packages coming out from such underprivileged and downtrodden sections of the society which has been denied justice in cold blood. Strangely it would not be surprising if we see the perpetrators of these crimes berate nationalist slogans from roof tops. Insulated nationalism is surely a strange weapon.
As for the likes of Arundhati Roy, who could be more nationalist than the one who has the ability and courage to raise voice against injustice, inequality and discrimination of her own people? Who could be more patriotic than the one who fights for the rights of those whom we consider inconvenient road blocks in the agenda of OUR progress. It is frightening to see the “insect” definition of George Orwell being applied with impunity. Nationalism with insulation is like fire without warmth, like a bird without wings. It is time that we remove the insulation from our nationalism so that our raw nerves could be exposed to what is happening around us and with us. The mist of breath and the warmth of blood spilled next door can only be felt if we have this raw nerve.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Certificate of Good Standing from the MCI- Who Needs it?

For any Indian doctor applying for a course or even employment outside the country, it is usually essential to procure a “Certificate of Good Standing” from the Medical Council of India (MCI). I have gone through this arduous task on a couple of occasions. Correctly enough the validity of this certificate is for a year and for re-certification you have to again go through the same procedure. That is to say the Council keeps a check on your character as a doctor on an annual basis.
A couple of weeks back, Dr. Ketan Desai, the President of MCI was nabbed by the CBI on charges of taking a bribe of Rupees 2 crores in lieu of recognizing a Medical College from Punjab. How ironic could that be! President of the Council which issues Certificates of Good Standing to thousands of doctors has a dubious character himself. No wonder, the Certificate of Good Standing of the MCI is not signed by its President. This task is left with the Registrar of the Council.
It is funny (and scary) how often our government system and its characters are an oxymoron to their own value system. How often we are betrayed by those in whom we dispose our faith and belief. Judges, civil servants, politicians, journalists, doctors. You name it and every single profession has betrayed the common Indian in the country’s short history of sixty three years. It makes me think. Are we heading in the right direction or have we lost the plot already?
We all remember the first few lines of “tryst with destiny” speech of Jawaharlal Nehru on that eventful midnight but we rather prefer to forget the concluding part of his speech. He had said, “We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be”. Surely destiny didn’t mean this for the people of India to be! Against the back drop of Nehru’s “tryst with destiny”, the destiny of common Indians is written not by themselves but by thugs who are at the helm of affairs.
Loss of faith of the common man in government machinery is an open secret. People like Dr. Desai only reaffirm this loss. It is this breach of faith which throws a life-line to the ever expanding private sector. Day in and day out, new hospitals and private medical schools pock mark the Indian landscape. Rules are twisted. Illegal permissions granted. The party goes on. The loot goes unabated. I am not arguing that the Private health sector should not exist. Unarguably the government health sector should be supplemented but not substituted by a robust private sector. In fact some of the best brains in Medical sciences in our country are the product of a vibrant private health sector.
Unfortunately, the problem is not the private sector. What can we accept from Institutions which are formed and run with an open intent to earn money? Dr. Ketan Desai was not from the private set up. It is us, people working in the public sector who are guilty of betraying our clientele again and again. It is us who defy rules. It is us who get lured to money. It is us who are an easy prey to temptations of wealth, power and mammon.
The acceptance of “gifts” from pharmaceutical companies is a common occurrence in thousands of government hospitals across the country. How conveniently a “bribe” can be changed into a “gift” is something on which we all need to ponder. Gifts are given to someone you love, not to doctors meant to treat patients! Pharmaceutical companies set out big sums in their budgets to lure doctors into writing their drugs and implants. It is ironic that the corridor of most government hospitals across India are filled with sick and dying patients as well as a good number of neatly dressed medical representatives with well polished shoes. In fact I could see the class difference here too, bigger the company, more suave the representative!
The most dangerous part of the story is that with exponential (and selective) economic growth, there has been an intrusion of foreign companies on the Indian scene. Most CME programs, medical conferences and surgical workshops are now sponsored (read hijacked) by these profit making machines. The promotion of implants and drugs in the name of scientific research in a country with no clear guidelines and checks is a matter of urgent concern. The rampant use of implants actually meant for the western population is riddled with intrinsic complications. But who cares? The flow of money washes away the ethical concerns.
The corruption in the Indian medical fraternity is not limited to the MCI or Dr. Ketan Desai. The rot goes deep. He just headed the juggernaut which steam rolls over human life and suffering in the pretext of alleviating it. The disintegration of ethical values is near complete. Entice of wealth has taken its toll. The question is whether we can break out of this free fall or are we ready to land with our faces flat on the ground. The task is cut out for the MCI. There is an urgent need to set the house in order. The need of an honest and transparent system at the MCI cannot be over emphasised. It’s my belief that India cannot cleanse itself of people like Dr. Desai. They will keep coming back like seasonal pests. But we can surely have a system to identify and neutralise them. If checks and balances are in place the likes of Dr. Desai can be kept at bay. In all honesty, the Medical Council of India needs a Certificate of Good Standing for itself more than anyone else.