Saturday, December 31, 2011

From the municipality with love: A few loads of waste for new year

The town of Thiruvalla is sandwiched between the important towns of Chengannur and Changanachery. Its importance can be attributed to a high NRI population and a railway station which caters to small villages outside the railway corridor. The past two decades have seen enormous activity in terms of big apartments and new shopping malls. The mad rush was kick started by the gulf war and the fleeing workers of the oil rich state of Kuwait. Now people see Thiruvalla as a town which has all basic facilities and is conveniently placed.

The speedy construction and new buildings has also given rise to a serious problem which no one knows how to solve. The town is producing huge amounts of waste and the municipality does not know what to do with the piles coming up each day. The public stadium was seen in the eighties as the pride of the people, leading to the hosting of state level football matches and inter-state level cricket matches. But that image of the stadium changed with huge piles of waste being disposed all around the stadium. Early morning walkers and sports lovers were forced to retreat because of the unbearable stench of the waste.

This forced the authorities to shift the waste disposal to a private plot near the stadium and then to the area next to the private bus stand. All the while people have been protesting this haphazard outlook of the municipality whereby people are not able to wait for buses without covering their nose and getting nauseated. Every time some event comes up near the stadium the authorities shift gears to transport the waste to other areas. One such area is the vacant municipal plot next to the temporary KSRTC bus stand on the railway station YMCA road. Residents of the area were woken out of their sleep by the unbearable stench of the waste.

A similar attempt was prevented by the public a couple of years ago which may be the reason of the night attempt this time. The health official present had a few things to say. One, that this waste is produced by the people and therefore there is nothing wrong in disposing it in a residential/town area, two, don’t stop the authorities from doing their work (The official even took photos of the people present in a overt attempt to scare off those assembled.), three, disposing waste and putting mud on top is scientific and the municipality usually fills land with waste and this can then be made use of for the public. The public on the other hand had their version. One, the huge amount of waste is produced by hotels and other institutions. They then pay money for this to be disposed by the municipal workers. Two, mud is not put properly on top of the waste and this leads to crows and dogs scavenging the remains and spreading it all over. The sparsely covered waste will then start smelling and people start falling sick and the water table is polluted by the authorities themselves. Three, money changes hands over mud filling and dispensing of waste and there is an unholy alliance between the authorities and private players. Four, history has shown that the authorities have failed big time in waste managements and all they do is to pollute the soil and the air.

The options in front of the public are two. One, file a complaint with the municipal authorities and two, file a writ in the honourable High Court seeking stopping of the waste disposal in areas where people live. The municipal chairperson has already assured that the waste will not smell and that this is a one time affair. For some reason the public refuse to believe this.

As I sit writing New Year wishes to people, my mind simply won’t function the way I want it to. I can’t help drawing parallels with the municipal authorities and church authorities. Both are called to serve and both end up serving themselves and threatening the people of dire consequences if they show the courage to speak out. What is the common woman/man supposed to do? Approach the political leaders, approach the court or take to violence? As I think about my local experience I realise that this is what happens in my country as well. Why should 2012 be any different? All statistics show that corruption has increased, high handedness is the norm and the public are the least everywhere. The words public servant and service are a joke. Is something going to change? Will the people get what is rightfully theirs? Will we still bend our backs and tie our towels around our waste and say ‘yes, yes’ to our authorities or will we demand service? As a servant myself, will I be able to serve others rather than rule and boss over them in 2012? Let the small expectant sparks (if any) be the fireworks of 2012. Happy new year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Those who give freely, receive freely

Christian discipleship is important in understanding how to conduct oneself as an adherer to Christian faith. The essence of an act can only be understood in how it impacts others. Christian discipleship similarly can be only understood based on how it impacts others.

In John 13: 1-16 (“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”) Jesus sets an example for his disciples to follow. By washing their feet he calls for servitude and humility as essential to Christian faith.

Washing feet is profound in the symbolism it offers. Feet can only be submerged as much as it does not remain too long in water and lose colour. But by washing feet we are also becoming close with those who are away. What could for some be humiliation, in this case becomes the point of breaking forth all that holds us back. Washing feet thus becomes very important.

The states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in India are engaged in a conflict over a dam and the water it contains. The fear of one state is of being submerged if the dam breaks and the need of the other state is of water, to bring life and offer food to its people. In a single country we are divided into various regions and each region then addresses to the needs of the region. That leads to walls being constructed and boundaries being defined.

The imagery of washing the feet, the dam and the water with people on two sides brings about much to think about. How is one to make sense of it? Will anyone seriously think about washing away an entire people just to save themselves? I don't think so. The water in the dam then becomes too holy to touch. The fight for the water and the dam smells of religious overtones of holiness which the other is not supposed to touch and meddle with.

Religions cannot be so narrow in their outlook. The existence of religion is for conflict resolution and not conflict arousal. Jesus' call for washing of the feet should resonate amidst this conflict over water. The neighbours should wash each others feet with the Mullaperiyar water and not turn this into a holy turf war. Our religiousness should make us give and not take.

Christians also have an important role to play. It cannot just be naive support for anti-regional feelings but should be a resolve to serve those who are in need. A believer of Jesus should sense the feeling of déjà vu wherein Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his disciples should come alive again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why this kolaveri di?

The stand off between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the Mulaperiyar dam issue is continuing unabated. Both sides are not willing to stand down. Kerala is concerned over the safety of the dam and the risk it poses to thousands of the people inhabiting the area close to the dam and those who could come under the impact of the water in the event of something happening to the dam. On the other side we have Tamil Nadu which gets water for its farmers from this dam and therefore gets its food security taken care of to a great extend by the dam holding the water. It is also interesting that Kerala gets vegetables and other food items from Tamil Nadu!

The issue has been getting headlines on and off with both sides not willing to budge an inch. Tamil Nadu has made sure that it is well represented and that its concerns are taken up in the appropriate tribunals. The allegation that the politicians in Kerala are soft pedalling on this issue could be public emotion more than actual facts.

The release of a movie Dam 999 has also provided lots of fodder for controversy. The images of what could happen if such a dam broke are likely to affect the minds of people to great lengths. A specific documentary on Mullaperiyar has also been doing the rounds.

Youngsters in Kerala are circulating and posting different versions of Armageddon (read Mullaperiyar) and what could happen if a new dam is not constructed. Some of it is fact and some jumping the gun for Indian standards. All religious communities are also joining the protest because this is going violent in its own terms and there is no scope for the sanity of sitting and talking about what this really is.

Classic examples of protests and struggles don’t just involve bringing a lot of people together but brings to the fore the timing of such struggles. Could this not be a way of deflecting interest from real issues and bring all the people together in the name of a dam? The same goes with Tamil Nadu. Water politics can never fail. Could it then be possible to sit at the table and discuss this important issue rather than staging a protest which is funded and motivated by a few?

The other problem lies with the need for a Union (National) government. If we have to decide things based on our local divisions and pay taxes in each and every state and fight each other based on our local identities, what is the need for a national identity? Is it only for the purpose of showing a passport stating that “I am an Indian” while travelling to another country? If we are going to be in constant conflict with one another, why should we call ourselves Indians? The Mullaperiyar standoff is already creating problems on the road. People will be attacked when any sign to identify them will be on show. Vehicles on the road will come under attack based on the registration number and regional identification in terms of language will also be asked for.

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have several similarities in language, culture and food. But I will be damned if a dam is going to make us fight on the roads. Why this Kolaveri di is a song sung by Tamil star Dhanush and is a Tanglish version of the conversation between a boy and a girl, the boy heart broken at being left in the cold. The “why did you do this to me, why you dumped me?” could be translated in the dam context as “why did you dam(n) me?” Why this kolaveri di(a)?