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India's progress?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

India's progress?
Nino Pagliccia

Delhi 31 August 2001

Upon arrival in Delhi I was struck by the beautifully designed international airport, in operation just from a year ago as I was told by the very polite immigration officer processing my passport. A "Welcome to Delhi" sign both in English and Hindi leads your eyes to a series of ten giant silver coloured hands, with index and thumb closed in a circle and in other positions as it is done in meditation, mounted on the wall. The giant hands are surrounded by concave and convex bowl-shaped copper discs - maybe representing stylized lotus flowers.

The luggage pick up area is adorned by a long mural with many symbols of religious and secular India. I recognized among others the Taj Mahal, several temples, the face of a Raj, a car representing Indian industry and a tractor representing Indian farming industry. What I saw as the only recognizable personalty is the face of Mahatma Gandhi with his eyes looking down towards the ground next to a spinning wheel.

But what is striking, aside from the artistic display of the airport, is the spatial arrangement of the different areas. I noticed that from the immigration area after you have your passport stamped, you immediately find yourself in the huge Duty Free area; yes, a big store filled with shelves loaded with an amazing array of goods. From the Duty Free area you then "exit" into the luggage area. The idea behind this design? I was told by a prominent resident of Delhi that is "so you keep busy shopping while waiting for your luggage to come out."

Putting aside your political ideas about capitalist consumerism you have to admire the ingenuity of the human mind. A perfect design to provide a human "service".

Unfortunately, a few hours later walking down the streets of Delhi I was reminded that the ingenuity of the human mind is not a consistent trait and that you cannot put aside your political analysis.

While I was waiting for a sudden downpour to pass standing under the doorway of a building watching the busy traffic of cars, rickshaws, bicycles, scooters and people all noisily competing for the same stretch of the street I saw the saddest sight.

A man was crossing the street. But this was not an uncommon man. He was crippled by a condition that kept his left leg completely locked in a bent at the knee. He was not on a wheelchair. He was literally dragging himself on his behind moving forward by the pull of his right foot and leg while leaning on his bare hands behind him. He moved slowly, soaking wet by the rain that clenched his dirty shirt and pants to reveal an extremely undernourished body, dodging vehicles whose seemingly unaware drivers passed inches away from him honking as if to warn him to move faster. 

I could not help myself from feeling moved, powerless and enraged.

I am not dramatizing about the renowned poverty in India reflected in a crippled man that I happened to come across while visiting India. And I could not numb my experience by comparing one man's suffering to the current mass starvation in Somalia, for example. I cannot rank human condition and feel that one suffering is better than many and that living without dignity is better than dying without dignity.

All I could think is that all the reported "progress" in India after embracing a cozier relationship with US-led capitalism is meaningless. It is not meant to bring about human progress, democracy or social justice. 

True progress must be measured in terms of the political ingenuity capable of designing a society that reduces human suffering and increases human dignity. It has been said that a sign of a civilized society is how well the society takes care of the most needy. 

Gandhi's dream of an India free from the British Empire is been replaced by the nightmare of an India under the American Empire. I wonder wether this is the reason why Gandhi was painted looking down as to stop him from seeing where India is headed today. 

In an interview Gandhi was asked by a journalist "What do you think of American civilization?" Gandhi replied "I think it would be a good idea." So do I, Mahatma, for the sake of Mother India. 

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