I got back today after a three day trip to Odisha. I had been to visit what is considered to be one of the “Maoist Hubs” of the state – the Turekelia block of Bolangir district. People I knew were a bit tensed about this visit particularly as it was happening when the Maoists were celebrating the”Shaheed Saptah” ( the week of the patriots). Colleagues in our Odisha office warned me to leave the villages before 4.00 PM. Even my husband who is generally cool about all these visits that I make called up asking me with a laugh“How much ransom do you think I should ask to take you back if the Maoists kidnap you?” But I knew deep down he was worried. I do not worry about such matters much but when others are so obviously worried, it makes me a bit uneasy.
However, the visit in itself was went very smoothly. Other than a few red flags fluttering around in the countryside I did not encounter anything remotely resembling violence! We had been in touch with a small grassroots NGO who were to help us with a research study. Barely larger than a youth club they preferred to operate at that level- not hiring any one with big qualifications! My role was more in terms of getting them to understand the objectives of the study, finalize the study sample and ensure that they understood the questionnaire. I am not conversant with Oriya but having a very good knowledge of Hindi and Bengali, I was able to understand most of the discussions that were facilitated by an Oriya colleague and whenever I wanted to speak I found that they were able to communicate with me in Hindi. We had a fruitful discussion after which they invited us to join them for lunch – prepared by them in an open air kitchen behind their small office. I offered to pay them for their expenses but they politely declined. We discussed the amount that needed to be paid to their staff for administering the questionnaires – again they left it to us. I went back filled with a sense of positive energy
Now consider this scene as I landed at Chennai airport today. I was jostled by people I went to pick up my bag from the baggage carousel. As I waited for a taxi to pick me up the driver had some problems with my address. I insisted that he take me as it was a pre paid service and I had his taxi number written down on the slip given to me. He agreed grumbling all the while. As we drove down the road opposite the airport he got into an altercation with another taxi driver abusing him for overtaking him. The man in turn abused him back and they raced each other shouting abuses all the way. Meanwhile he kept honking at every vehicle that passed us- the lumbering buses ferrying employees of various IT and other companies as well as engineering students.
Suddenly my sneezing fit started! I realized as I looked for the tissue in my bag that I had not had an allergy attack for the entire period that I had been travelling! As he dropped me outside my gate I got out with a sense of relief – almost as though I had escaped from a war zone!
Nearly four hours later as I pen these thoughts down I wonder which was the more dangerous situation- this urban jungle with its wild inhabitants or the calm countryside of those tribal villages whose inhabitants had risen in protest after years of oppression?
I find there is a very basic difference between these two states in terms of the kinds of people that it has. People in Odisha are generally very calm and peace loving, almost to the extent of being passive! The tribal communities are more so as a result of which they have been extremely exploited by the outsiders particularly people from the traditional trading communities. Infact the MLA for the region one Mr Saluja is not even a Oriya!! He is supposed to be a big trader and a “goon” involved in what is called there as the “timber” mafia! The health and education infrastructure in those regions are in no way comparable to what a state like Tamil nadu has. Infact when we compared the government old age pension between the two states we found that where it is Rs 1000 in TN it is only Rs 300 in Odisha. People have very few opportunities there as a result of which they migrate to cities like Chennai and Hyderabad. Children are sent out often as child labourers and sometimes entire families migrate. They are employed in Chennai / Hyderabad at wage rates far lower than what the local population gets paid. Nobody dies in Tamil nadu of starvation while death due to starvation is a bitter reality in the parts of Odisha that I am talking about.
Yet when we look at people here in Tamilnadu I find that we are so aggressive and avaricious. Nothing satisfies us and we do not want to work hard in order to get what we are looking for. We would rather it came free from the government. During my dozen odd years of work in the villages of TN, I am yet to come across a people's organization like the youth club at Badabanki with whom I had interacted. There are hundreds of "rasigar mandram" or fan clubs for film stars but no local organization that is built for their area development - may be people here do not feel they can do something for their own development.. May be they think development is their government's responsibility?
So we have on the other hand two state governments – one that delivers and makes people dependent on its services and another that has abdicated its responsibilities making people take up arms in frustration!
I would like to reiterate here that this post does not seek to justify Maoism or violence in anyway. What I am trying to say is something simple- as we go down the trajectory of “development” we become less developed as human beings! We want more and do less. We become impatient about everything and aggression rules our lives.
It was very touching to see young people taking leave of their elders or vice versa at the airports and railway stations in Odisha. I have spent nearly 17 years in Tamilnadu but I am yet to see a young person touch an elder’s feet as a form of greeting or leave taking! My own daughter does not do it unless I prompt her to do "namaskaram" to her Pati and Thatha.
People treat you with so much concern and care in these places that it often overwhelms me because I have forgotten that it is the norm in these parts of our country! Just before I left our office this afternoon one of my colleagues from the Odisha office ( who used to work earlier in the Chennai office), a Bengali lady who all of us refer to fondly as “Didi” or elder sister was absolutely insistent that I have lunch before I leave because I was taking an Indigo flight and as she said “ I will not have you eating their cold sandwiches”!!! There is a small canteen that operates from the office. Though it was a hour before the designated lunch time, she instructed the cook to make two rotis and a vegetable for me and had him bring it to her room on a plate as I was packing up my computer and files getting ready to leave. Believe me friends no one has shown me this kind of concern other than may be my mother, father or sister. People in Chennai may do this sort of thing but not for ordinary mortals like me . May be this a part of what is called "professionalism" ?
I wonder why these places are called “Under developed”? “Oh, it is because these people are like this that people exploit them” says someone. Now the truth in this cannot be denied! Survival, growth and development all seem to be oriented towards negating the nurturance of humanity turning people into machines that pursue their goals single mindedly ruthlessly grinding down people or things that come in their way!