The Thin Edge

Why we must love our land and not romanticise the nation state

If the State forgets its reason for existence then it needs to be, and will be, challenged.

Let me begin with a declaration.

I am not a nationalist. I am not even patriotic about this state created national identity. I refuse to be an unquestioning loyal servant of our political form. I am not wowed by the symbols of the State. I certainly don’t enjoy watching the Republic Day parade where every type of killing machine is on grand display. I don’t believe that the death sentence should be awarded even to terrorists. Yet, I will say that I belong to this land and have an equal right to its embrace and no one, and I mean absolutely no one, including the highest courts can take that away from me. That sense of belonging is in me and will live until the day I pass on. But I will not have someone demanding my love, my salute, my tribute for his notion of India.

So, who am I and where do I belong?

Right to question

In the last few weeks we have seen the deadliest venom spewed on students who have expressed a different idea of their land and its purpose. Beyond the legal arguments, we have seen rank hatred being hurled and that needs challenging. We must ask: What is the nature of the love that is being demanded from all those who hold that white voter identity card or blue passport? Is it love at all, or just a selfish protectionism, violent assertion, an unthinking stone-walling of those who question the very foundation of our political construct? But is it not just this kind of discourse that allows for a revaluation, even rejection of “what is”? We are told that these questioning people are negative, bringing disgrace to our country, contributing nothing to nation building. Where does the blueprint for this building come from? It evolves from difficult, uncomfortable, disturbing questions raised by voices of varied textures and tones. I, for one, certainly believe, that we cannot move ahead without their words questioning the meaning in our sentences. This is openness to receiving without anger, inhibition or confrontation.

Let us also not reduce this to Voltaire’s cliché on freedom of expression. This is a deeper, subtler enquiry into the nature of belonging to a nation. We need to go beyond the right to speech and explore the thoughts behind expression. Born from this is also humility towards what we believe as being sacrosanct and essential. There will be very many pitches, each providing for a different insight. And unless we make an attempt to receive everyone, we are lifeless.

Creating the ‘other’

Why are we unable to listen to voices without being reactionist? What are we so scared about? I am baffled. The students in Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University did not at any point take up arms and attack anyone. They did not demand the killing of any human being or the destruction of any natural assets, yet we want them removed. But the corporates and conglomerates of the world are allowed to strip our land with state sanction and displace people. And religious bullies continue to spread hate among people.

Where did this madness for national pride come from? By drawing dotted lines around us and separating us from the rest we have all been forced to assert an identity of pride, pride itself being an imbalanced emotion. The students at Hyderabad and JNU are not anti-national – whatever that may mean – but let us suppose, for the sake of argument that they are, I don’t see a problem. They are not anti-people, anti-life, anti-nature, anti-love, anti-compassion or anti-welfare. We need to seriously ask ourselves what we are looking for in our co-inhabitants. Isn’t an inhuman nationalist worse than an empathetic anti-national? Take one look at many of those who today drum their loyalty to the Indian nation and you will see a religiously sectarian, casteist, male-chauvinist who cares little for the poor and marginalised. Any active involvement of theirs in social upliftment comes from the position of charity or a misuse of that for advancing their own divisiveness.

What keeps us safe?

Let us love our land, not romanticise the nation state as the insider-outsider dichotomy built into the latter’s DNA. This separation operates as much within its borders as it does beyond. It is to the credit of our founders that they recognised this problem and tried their very best to address its structural complexity. But the debate continues and should. Our Constitution has given us some remarkable things. But there is nothing absolute or final about a document that allows amendments to keep it abreast of the times, of life!

Political parties have only worsened the situation by twisting people’s ideas into party positions. The BJP, Congress and the rest are incapable of seeing anything beyond their own noses but will use every opportunity to create confusion, manipulate minds and weaken the quality of the debate that normal people want. It is also true, that we live in a society where few are willing to listen to political questions that emanate beyond party outfits.

The other dimension that has been added to this shouting and counter-screaming is pitting the sacrifice made by the armed forces against questions being asked by students. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and actors like Mohanlal have unfortunately used the death of soldiers to trivialise dissent. Their sacrifices can never be forgotten or diminished, yet I am wearied by the argument that we sleep safe at night only because someone patrols our borders, for truth that it is, it is not the whole truth. Sleep settles over us at night because someone called the Indian peasant is growing our cereals, someone called the line engineer and manual scavenger is keeping our water and drainage pipes going, someone is handling the dangerous chemicals that make our paints safe, someone cleans our streets of all the garbage we patriots keep heaping on them, someone is fighting for the rights of the downtrodden and because our teachers share generously and policemen and policewomen guard our roads selflessly. And, let us not forget, we find rapture in the morning and repose at night because someone called an artist sings or dances for our happiness. Every member of society helps us sleep safely and happily and no one can be placed on a lower or higher pedestal. There is also another side to any country’s fighting machine that we cannot glorify. That which keeps us safe, threatens others, does it not? I refuse to sanctify the bomb-dropping jet and the flame-throwing tank.

Humanity above all

I belong to this land because of the air, fragrance, earth, sounds, languages, music, dance, drama, rituals, cuisine, unsaid words, smiles, quirks, jokes, habits, battles, inequalities and sharing that make me who and what I am. All this exists beyond the state. This is my land, my people and my life. My “here” is not bound by the homogenising tag that makes for an Indian citizen – whether of the ordinary native, or OCI or NRI variety. My land is fluid not static, constantly self-renewing, self-defining, leaving me free to sing any song. There is no question that the state has facilitated my living, but the state itself comes from the experiences that I have described above and therefore it cannot take away who I am. The state is not a privilege gifted to us, it is built on the understanding, questioning and framing of what already exists. If the state forgets its reason for existence then it needs to be, and will be, challenged.

Tagore, who gave us our national anthem, also said:

“I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds. I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”

Let us not destroy life by succumbing to the State.

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Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

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Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

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Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

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Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.