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There was a time when I used to be proud to be a Mumbaikar, or Bombayite as the case may be.. Here was a city of opportunity and dreams. A city where people of various castes and religions lived in harmony. A city that had unbounded spirit in face of unimaginable adversities. Naturally this ‘feel good’ rubbed off on the State of Maharashtra. I was proud of living in a safe and well governed State especially when friends and acquaintances in other parts of the country complained about the state of affairs in their hometowns. I work in the social development field and even here I had reason to feel proud of being a resident of Maharashtra. After all which other State had made so much contribution to the upliftment of the downtrodden. Did not Phule, Shahu Maharaj, Dhondo Karve and Ambedkar come from this land? Did not Gandhiji make this his home for several years? Did not the internationally unmatched Bhoodan movement start from here? I had the privilege of this legacy behind me as I strove to contribute my mite.

This ‘feel good’ got a bit dented in the horrific riots of 1992-3 when neighbours turned against each other, killing hundreds in the process and more importantly damaging the psyche of the city forever. It has been downhill all the time after that.. Caste riots, scams, land grabbing, gang wars, violence against women, bomb blasts have all taken their toll. The flooding of July 26, 2005 exposed the inadequacies of the administration like never before.

This systematic erosion can also be seen in the State. Myopic governmental decisions meant that the State had to suffer loss of foreign investor confidence. Automobile majors, IT czars and Schools of Business started looking elsewhere as the Most Industrialized State in the country began slipping into oblivion.

Maharashtra is now in the news for all the wrong reasons. Farmers suicides which have crossed a figure of 4,000 in the last 5 years, malnutrition deaths, declining sex ratio, droughts and forced migration are in the news. The Development Indices are steadily going south. What has been the response of government? Nothing much I am afraid. Administrative and political Neros fiddle while the State goes down the tube. Successive State governments have been engaged in the game of survival in the times of coalitions. They have not had the time or mental space to carve out a vision of a strong and poverty free state.

Government has been systematically withdrawing from its responsibilities of caring for the poor. One does not have to look far to see the trends.

  • Attempts are being made to water down the landmark Employment Guarantee Scheme so that contractors and large farmers, who have political muscle, benefit rather than the poor landless.
  • No significant investments is being made in improving health status of people. Diseases like Chikungunya, dengue are on the rise.
  • Quality of education is taking a beating with too much focus on enrolment rather than attainment. The system is at the mercy of the Teachers Union and no action can be taken against the non performers.
  • Insane, politically driven policies are forcing industries to seek greener pastures in other states.
  • Infrastructure is in shambles. People have no power, roads or safe drinking water.

So what’s new, you might say. We all know that this is happening. What speak about it now? There is a reason. While this has been happening around us, I remained optimistic. I continued to believe in the system of government. not a welfare State mind you. But a State that cared. I was sure that whatever responsibilities the government may devolve, it would not give up its responsibility of maintaining law and order in the State. We are living in a democracy and not under a military junta after all. This last hope also took a bashing last week. Here is how.

Reports on atrocities on the dalits in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, more specifically, Khairlanji, have been coming in all of last week. The government has responded. The honourable Dy. Chief Minister and Minister of Home affairs, R R Patil toured the area and issued a statement for the benefit of the media – the government is going to take action to prevent this from happening again. The solution was simple – in all villages where the dalits were a minority, they would be encouraged to arm themselves and fight off atrocities! I read that small news item and went into a shock. ‘Law and order is dead … Long live militia rule’ I was tempted to scream.

Of all the regressive and opprobrious steps that the government of Maharashtra has taken, this must surely take the cake. Is the Honorable Dy. Chief Minister joking? Does he really want people to arm and defend themselves? Our own version of the Chattisgarh Government promoted Salwa Judum? Of is it based on the measure of the councillor of Idaho who asked people to arm themselves to protect their property from refugees? Will the state be really a safer place if people bore arms willy-nilly?

One knows that dalits are discriminated against and are oppressed, even assaulted. Every year in some corner of the State caste based killing occur. However, is bearing of arms by the dalit community the solution? Does the state no longer believe in

  • Better law enforcement?
  • Improved awareness amongst the SC ST population of the Atrocity (Prevention) Act?
  • Faster and just disposal of cases filed under this Act?
  • Developing an atmosphere and systems for Zero tolerance of discrimination?
  • Long terms measures of Educating and Mobilizing the dalit population?

It is time for all thinking people to rise and oppose this measure. Even as I write this there is only one ray of hope.. Maybe this was just a political promise, like the others and if so we don’t need to fear… Nothing will come out of it.. I mean, after all, nothing has come out of the other promises so far.