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Monsoons have exposed chaotic urbanisation

Aug 01, 2016

Rajesh Tandon, President of PRIA, a non profit, reflects on issues ranging from monsoon to religion, and democracy to the youth.

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The most popular topic of conversation in India these days is monsoon. Rains are good this year after several years of drought. Prospects of agriculture are improving. However, cities are flooding; traffic is stuck; people are afraid to go out of their homes. Why? Because of chaotic, rapid, unplanned and illegal urbanisation, it seems.

If several thousand people spent a whole night in flood and traffic jams, some officials and political leaders must be held accountable? Ministers have changed; officials have retired; citizens continue to suffer!

Whatever Marx may have meant by ‘religion is opium of the masses’, it is the fastest growing industry worldwide. Many more temples, churches, mosques and gurudwaras have opened around the world; many are being renovated with modern tiles, furniture and audio-visual systems. Donations—both domestic and international—to all religious places are growing faster than any GDP.

Philosophers and intellectuals claim to equate modernity with secularism; world reality seems to reject this assertion completely. Religion must –MUST—be serving some functions in the lives of billions around the world?

American presidential elections are festivals, full of rituals and pomp. Both Republican and Democratic parties held their conventions recently where Trump and Hillary were ‘nominated’ (there was no opposition left). Though media pundits with disguised political preferences may label one convention ‘better’ than other, essentially they were the same. Each party had speakers who did both—eulogise their own candidate and demonise the other candidate. Wonder if any one votes based on convention rhetoric?

Random killings of innocent citizens through deliberate acts of violence occurred with increased frequency and deadlier impacts this past month. These killings happened around the world; victims were of all ethnicity, colours and religions. However, there seems to be a general overlooking of underlying causes for these ‘barbaric’ acts. There is indeed a clash of cultures, aspirations and identity, perhaps all mixed up. Has rapid economic globalisation created a deeper socio-cultural lag?

In today’s digitalised consumption of literature, it is not surprising that some youngsters were heard enquiring who Mahashweta Devi was when news about her passing away came. Modern poetry, stories, novels and other literary forms are readily available in short bytes on google; scan, copy & delete! There is no time for ‘refresh’, unlike in the previous era where stories were discussed after reading, and digested, not merely consumed.

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