Sunday, September 11

Punjab the 'Best' State! - Really?

Punjab was recently adjudged the best state. Birinder Pal Singh, Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Punjabi University, Patiala, in an article in The Tribune wonders how could it be so, the way things are actually.

The recent "Best State Award" to Punjab is, no doubt, a matter of pride. But if one looks at the state of society, polity, economy, or even agriculture and environment, he would fail to appreciate the criteria adopted by the judges and meaning of such awards. One wonders how one-dimensional and lopsided are the indices of growth and development selected by the judges.
As a sociologist, this writer finds it difficult to reconcile how the "Best State Award" is related to the problem of female foeticide and lowest sex ratio (793 females per 1000 males) in the country. That too, in an area where the religion of half strongly interdicts the killing of baby girl - those who kill their daughters would be boycotted socially. Despite this, we find a highly skewed sex ratio. Is this variable not related to the criteria of selection of the "Best State"?
It is not that the female in Punjab is an endangered species in its foetal stage only. Her problems multiply as she grows. Starting from neglect of all sorts - food, clothing, education or other allied privileges - compared to man, she is finally sent to another family to be exploited and sometimes be a victim of the exploding stove. The lust for dowry is going sky-high in this age of consumer culture.
Lately, Punjabis have become desperate to marry their daughters abroad so that she becomes a safe conduit for the whole family, especially the sons, to the greener pasture of the western world. Once again, the daughter is sacrified for the son's settlement. These parents know full well the fate of such marriages, but still "someone must sacrifice" for the family.
The picture is no less gloomy for males. Their dropout rate is high in school. And they keep filtering out as they go up. The Punjabi University has about 70 per cent girls who were a meagre 30 per cent two decades ago. What are the boys doing? The fortunate ones make to the US/Canada somehow. The Malta tragedy has not dampened the spirit of the Punjabi youth for illegal migration. And, the not so fortunate ones who stay back take to drugs and intoxicants. This menace is growing every day. Why are young people indulging in escapism and others desperate to run out of the "Best State"?
The land of "the five rivers" is gradually losing out its water reservoirs, both surface and underground. We may boast of the increasing number of tube-wells and tractors, but do not look at the water table that is receding at the rate of a metre per year in most parts of the state. Aren't we becoming an extension of the great Indian desert? We haven't taken water harvesting seriously. The rich farmers are going deeper and deeper to water their crops. Where would the poor farmers go? Why are the farmers committing suicide?
The state of the forest, so very essential for the environment, ecology, water and wildlife etc. has also succumbed to the thriftiness of the Punjabi farmer who is well known for clearing the forests in the Tarai region of Uttranchal and Madhya Pradesh. In Punjab, the forest cover is dismally lower than the minimum requirement of 33 per cent. The inflated figures released by the government stand at less than 8 per cent.
The state of polity is no better. It is ridden with factions and strife both within and outside the party independent of its type and ideology. Barring a few exceptions, political leaders are concerned with their narrow end of maximising one's own resources. Why are they so callous towards their own beloved Punjab?
What is happening to the health services of the state? The Government Rajindra Hospital at Patiala was a premier institution only two decades ago. It is now slogging due to paucity of funds. It is stagnating while the private polyclinics are mushrooming and flourishing in its vicinity. The condition of the rural health services is worse. The doctors and other staff go to the Primary Health Centre to collect their salaries only. According to the latest World Bank Report, on an average, on any day, "nearly 39 per cent of doctors and 44 per cent of other medical personnel are absent from their place of work".
If health is not taken care of in the rural areas, is education faring any better? The latest World Bank report says 552 government schools do not have a single teacher, 2500 have one teacher each and 7000 primary schools have only two or three teachers. Each day 36 per cent primary teachers abstain from schools. Of the remaining 64 per cent, only half go to classes. What is the status and future of government school education in the "Best State" and the "builders of the nation" after 58 years of self-rule?
One may reach out to any sector of the Punjabi society and find it replete with problems. Are internal security services any better? One may only listen to the cassettes of Bhagwant Mann to assess the nature and character of the Punjab Police. The people are scared of approaching the police stations that are fraught with all kinds of ills. The senior officers of this force have often been charged with serious misconduct especially with fair sex. How secure is the life of an ordinary citizen in hands of the police of the "best state"?
The reader may charge this writer with extreme pessimism in painting such a gloomy picture of their beloved state. But what should one do when he cannot be a victim of the pigeon-cat syndrome? The academic and the media must not eulogise the little achievements of the government/state which is duty, but they must point out mistakes so that the state may improve and deliver the goods.
The whole problem with declaring a "Best State" lies in our obsession with statistics of a select set of variables. We must shun this obsession. A rise in the number of tractors, tube-wells, the volume of pesticides and fertilisers or even of wheat and rice does not mean that all is well with the state. On the contrary, the number of suicides does not seem large enough to bother the government for launching a remedial action on a war footing.

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