A couple of days ago, Naveen called his parents to tell them the news that he had topped his state’s pre-university in the Arts stream with a stunning average of 95.7 per cent (see the full report in The Hindu). His non-literate parents couldn’t initially grasp the enormity of the achievement. His father, who works as a porter, first thought that all his son had done was to out-perform his hostel and college mates. The report doesn’t say how his mother, who works as a daily wage agricultural labourer, reacted. It is almost a miracle that Naveen did not drop out after completing the tenth standard like so many of the economically, socially and geographically disadvantaged do. Though he got a very high percentage in the school completion exam (85%), his parents wanted him to help them. All they own is an acre of dry land in a remote area in a backward district. But good Samaritans in the form of a cousin and a college lecturer who hails from his village, intervened to ensure Naveen went on to study further. The young achiever has a remarkable, noble goal: to complete his graduation and post-graduation and then teach English to rural students. Naveen is acutely aware of the importance of the language and the difficulty in learning it, having experienced it first-hand as a rural student who had been educated in the vernacular through school.
Naveen’s is a story of the triumph of hope over despair. India is morally bound to ensure his hope is never belied. To create policies that facilitate achievement and ensure just rewards for the same should be the first task for the new Indian government. For too long we have failed to live up to the promise of our young people and also failed to keep our promises to them.
Also hailing from the same district as Naveen is Yellappa Huded, a small farmer. His paddy lies unsold, heaped on the bare earth on the outskirts of his village. Paddy grown on about one-lakh acres of land owned by small farmers in the region remains unsold even twenty days after harvest, reports The Hindu (see full report), as mismanagement of water distribution by the Irrigation Department results in the tail-end villages getting water late and in insufficient quantity, leading to poor quality crop. The paddy growers here have to store their grain in the open as they do not have the wherewithal to hire godowns. Their grain has no takers even at throwaway prices. Through the day they keep rotating the place of storage, moving the grains from one patch of land to another once every two days so as to avoid decay. At night, they sleep beside their piles of grain to protect their produce from thieves. ‘Small farmers like me have only two options: either give up agriculture to migrate to cities, or commit suicide,’ Yellappa Huded is reported to have said.
Yellappa’s is a story of hope turned to despair. The new government of India has a duty to ensure that this story is turned around and such occurrences are a thing of the past. For too long we have made promises that address the periphery, we have made policies that do not synchronise with each other to ensure sustainable development. Compensation for loss of crop cannot recompense the destruction of hope. Departments of the government cannot function in individual ivory towers far removed from each other and from the people for whom they make policies. Ways have to be found to ensure that all departments work in tandem, and together they address the interest of the citizens they represent.