Rediff Navigator News


Capital Buzz

The Rediff Interview


The Rediff Poll


Crystal Ball

Click Here

The Rediff Special



Commentary/Dilip D'Souza

Hope, Where You Look For It

Afriend in Austin, Texas, sent me an e-mail after reading my columns in these virtual pages. I suppose the gloom and doom I wrung my hands about in those columns must have alarmed her. For she wrote, " Wow, do you ever get overwhelmed? Do you think you will see any changes (for the better) in your lifetime?"

I thought about her e-mail for a long time after I read it. No, I don't get overwhelmed. Yes, I think I will see changes. So I asked myself, ' Are there things in my country that offer hope? Is the situation quite as gloomy as I made my friend think with my columns?'

The answers I came up with: A yes and no, respectively. And that's the reason for this column. For you in Austin, yes, but more for me chosen at random, here are just two things that give me hope for my country.

On August 17, the high court in Bombay gave an order to the state of Maharashtra's Criminal Investigation Department in a case the CID was investigating. I am tempted to use quotes, to write 'investigating,' but I will desist. This is, after all, a column about hope. Anyway, the order says that the CID officer assigned to the case must report directly to the high court. He must send a progress report in a sealed envelope to the high court every Wednesday.

To understand why this is such a significant development, you need to know a little about this case.

One evening in late July, a man called Ramesh Kini was found dead in a cinema theatre in Pune, during the late show of Broken Arrow. Kini was a tenant in a ramshackle building in central Bombay.

Now if you know anything about Bombay, you will not be surprised to know that Kini's landlord, Laxmikant Shah, was trying to get Kini out of the flat. Trying to evict tenants has become almost the prime function of landlords in this city. For tenants rarely leave rented premises voluntarily. The laws and the backlog of cases in our courts favour them.

The infamous and quite foolish Rent Control Act prevents landlords from raising rents. Tenants pay the same rent for decades. Real estate is so expensive in the city that they cannot think of moving. So if the landlord wants his flat back, he cannot get it easily. Thus, he often resorts to threats and violence to get rid of his tenants. So it was with Kini and Shah.

Now let's add some spice to this equation. Shah is a close friend of Raj Thackeray, Bal's nephew. Bal Thackeray, of course, is the supremo of the Shiv Sena, the party now in power in the state. Raj is, The Nephew, a man of sudden, growing and completely undeserved power.

After Kini was found dead, his wife Sheila told the press and the police that her husband was regularly threatened by Shah, Raj Thackeray and another Sena man called Ashutosh Rane. On that morning in July, she said, Ramesh had left home saying he was going to the Shiv Sena office. The next thing she knew was that he was found dead in Pune.

Shah and Rane were arrested. The Nephew was questioned by the CID. After he went in for that questioning, his uncle growled a warning to the Government in his party's scurrilous rag, Samna (Confrontation).

Almost within the hour, the state's chief minister got up in the state assembly to make the incredible announcement that Raj Thackeray was completely innocent in the case. Can you recall the head of any other government publicly pronouncing the innocence of an accused? Neither can I. It's all happening in Maharashtra under the Shiv Sena. Except that nothing further has happened to The Nephew. And Shah and Rane are both out on a measly bail that must have been no more than pocket change to them.

These events should be enough to raise substantial doubts in your own mind about the investigation the CID will be able to conduct into Ramesh Kini's death. So far, not so good. So far, no progress either.

But the high court has evidently had the same doubts that are swimming around in your brain. The judge's order shows that the court is sometimes willing to step in and take action when the government evades doing so.

I'll admit, it's not ideal. I don't want my government run by the high court. But in a time when the guilty are regularly let off without punishment, the high court's order offers at least a faint hope that Ramesh Kini's death will see justice done. Hope that you will not be allowed to sidestep the law just because you're The Nephew or The Niece or The Uncle's Brother-In-Law's Second Cousin Twice Removed from his flat.

Hope that the guilty will be punished. That's one kind of hope I'm talking about.

Ifound hope of a completely different kind in Koinpur. This small hamlet high in the hills of Orissa, is the kind of place honeymoons should be. The hills all around are a lush green, the birds sing, the stars are dazzling, the rain clouds descend majestically off nearby Mahendragiri, the tallest peak in the area. On long walks, your only company is the sound of your breathing.

Sounds lovely? Actually, the whole picture is considerably less idyllic. Surrounding Koinpur are a few dozen Saora tribal villages. Saoras are like tribals all over the country. Truly, the forgotten people of India.

Most of their remote villages can be reached only on foot after tough treks. They have no schools, no hospitals. The government dispensary in Koinpur, the only remote medical facility that would have been available to thousands of Saoras, is staffed by a compounder. Its shelves are never burdened with such inconveniences as medicines.

One morning in nearby Bada Deula village, we met Malti and Deenabandhu, a young tribal couple whose two-and-a-half-month old son had a mysterious high fever. Two days earlier, that compounder had 'prescribed' an expensive multi-vitamin tonic that was only available in the plains, a day's hike away. Their friend, who set out to get it was too late returning - the boy died that morning. Not that the tonic would have helped anyway.

Such is life, and death, in and around Koinpur. But Koinpur is also home to an outpost of an Orissa non government organisation. Thanks to them, there's a residential school for tribal children; a cane furniture factory; nurseries that raise saplings for reforestation of the hills; even a small dispensary. Workers are trained in the basics of health and fan out into the tribal settlements to apply their training. Young women run balwadis -- like day-care centres for kids whose parents are out at work all day. At these balwadis,kids can count on at least one hot, nutritious meal in the day.

The man who coordinates the Koinpur project for the NGO gave up a promising marketing career to come here. He and his staff run an efficient operation that is making a definite difference to Saora lives. The cane factory's tribal-made furniture attracts customers from hundreds of miles away. You only have to look at the lush hills, so different from the bare mounds elsewhere in the state, to know how spectacularly reforestation has worked.

The school is doing so well that it will need a new building soon. And perhaps best of all, the Saoras in the area are showing signs of better health.

It was only when I returned home from Koinpur that I realised why I had been so exhilarated there. In those rain clouds drifting off Mahendragiri, in the fragrance of the air, in the faces of those school children -- I had seen the same thing in them all.


Different from the hope offered by a high court, but hope nevertheless. So why on earth should I get overwhelmed?

Illustrations: Dominic Xavier

Dilip D'Souza contributes a fortnightly column to these pages.

Dilip D'Souza

Home | News | Business | Sport | Movies | Chat
Travel | Planet X | Freedom | Computers

Copyright 1996 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved