Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tolerance, thy name is India-Scary tolerance for unsafe and sub-quality foods by the population

"Intolerance" is the new slogan one hears in India frequently during the last few months. Why not? After all we are all familiar with sugar intolerance, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, intolerance for many other foods and India is to day the world capital of sugar intolerant people. However no one seems to be concerned with some of these life threatening intolerance and this issue is rarely focused in any media discussions or social sector plans. In stead the theme of to days raging discussion is about intolerance at the political level. During the last few months if one watches the television channels, especially those airing "news" for 24 hours and presenting "panel" discussions, an impression is gained that India is the capital of social intolerance and consequent violence through out the country! If  one believes them, minority community people are not safe in this country any more because of increasing intolerance by the majority community.. Some "intellectuals" who felt neglected by the media, suddenly got the opportunity to come to lime light by grandiosely declaring that they "would" return the awards they "earned" through their achievements in their respective fields as a mark of protest and troubling of their "conscience" which were never evident before even at worst of the times in the history of this country.. 

Whether one likes it or not India is an over democratized country with each and every citizen aware of his rights without bothering to think about his responsibility to the society. Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution. Probably this is giving them the right to say any thing and every thing, logical or illogical, rational as well as irrational, use of hurtful or abusive language in the public and above all the right to violate any law without fear of retribution from the authorities. What is galling in this great charade is the "death of truth"! According to statistics during the year 2015 incidences of intolerant actions and dangerous communal clashes has come down by almost 50% compared to the past 5 years and one fails to understand how any one, honest and decent, in this country, can say intolerance has increased! One can understand the relevance of such a discussion if one talks about intolerance among politicians because every political party is intolerant of others in their greed for power which also entitles them the right to loot the treasury! Definitely this intolerance has greatly increased during the last couple of years because of the political upheaval caused by the dethroning of the dynastic political family during the election in 2014. After all most political parties that work in India are like the "crabs in the bucket" where no crab is allowed to escape by laggards pulling its lags!  

This great country has a glorious past, a great culture, world envying heritage, several virtues and achievements about which every Indian can be proud of. It is true that India is also one of the top 10 countries with high corruption and consequent debilitation of the average citizen. Major financial scams that took place during the last few years  are unbearable to most citizens who are honest and it is a pity that the omnipotent corruption is eating into the vitals of the country. Are not the citizens showing utmost tolerance to these negative perception about the ruling class, be politicians, bureaucrats, some industry captains or the lowly paid babus in government agencies with whom he has to deal with every day? Have we come across any violence against these vultures of the society in any part of the country? Is this a sign of "intolerance"?. Sociologists may conveniently push this trait under the carpet saying it is the helplessness of the common man that has made him docile and submissive!  

Look at the way the people in this country are being systematically trampled upon by insensitive rulers at all levels, be it federal government, state ruling machinery, civic administrations in towns and cities, zilla parishats, village panchayats or others and how amazing that despite such assault on the rights of human beings day in and day out people are rarely provoked! Whether the roads are full of pot holes or the traffic is non-disciplined water supply is irregular or non-existent and dangerous to health, or hospitals are any thing but hospitable or foods and drugs are fake and spurious or prevalence of looting by the thieves, gangsters and dacoits or uncontrolled pollution of the air or irregular supply of quality power or imposition of taxes irrationally, average Indian citizen bears them with a grin! If this is not tolerance  reminding us of ancient sages with unlimited patience, what else it is? 

Take the case of foods which are available in the country. One of the fundamental rights of any citizen in a civilized country is access to safe and quality food in the market. Governments at the Center as well as States have employed thousands of personnel, supposed to be vested with the onus to ensure only safe foods are offered in the market place. Unfortunately the ground reality is totally different bordering on disgust! In a shocking report it was brought out that in a big state like Bihar, the third most populous state in the country with a population exceeding 10 crore, there are hardly a dozen vigilant officers to monitor the quality of food offered by thousands of traders, retailers, hotels and restaurants and road side eateries! Practically every food there is adulterated, some benign and others dangerous but still there is not a murmur of protest from there and to top it the people have selected the very same people, responsible for this pitiable situation, for ruling them in the recent election there! If this is not tolerance what else it is? This food landscape is true in every state in the country and one never hears about riots or violence on this score. 

Indian citizen whether rich or poor, always had a raw deal as far as food prices are concerned. When onion prices shot up last year to unbearable levels, did any one hear about riots any where though onion is an important component of the diet to most Indians. Common man also knows why this happened, most probably because of the classical politician-hoarder nexus that created an artifical scarcity for onion in the market. Same situation keep repeating with many vegetables and fruits the price escalation varying from 50-200 % . The abnormal price increase of dals and pulses is another case. Imagine the distress of a population most of them vegetarians by choice when their major protein source became dearer because of 100% escalation of price! Such things keep on happening in a big country like India and the patient people in this country had taken such periodic hiccups in their stride.

Talking about food, are the people so innocent not to understand the implications of such gross negligence and shirking responsibility by rulers they themselves elected? Probably there is a dormant awareness that foods which are not branded backed by reputed manufacturers can be of indifferent quality but many do not sense the long term dangers inherent in buying unsafe foods, often at cheaper prices. Some say Indians are fatalistic in nature leaving their fate in the hands of God and if this logic is applied to food there is unlimited scope for food fraudsters in the country. Look at the Maggi noodles case where the whole Government machinery came down very heavily on the manufacturer, banned the product saying it is unsafe and initiated legal action  for reparation, accusing that the noodle is unsafe! But the very same Maggie reintroduced this month after judicial intervention, disappeared from the market shelves like hot potatoes in no time! Why this has happened? Because people seem to trust the industry more than the government. 

Some of the products most frequently and successfully adulterated in the country include edible oils with dangerous inedible oils and mineral oil, spices like Turmeric with Metanil yellow dye, vegetables like peas, green chilies with malachite green, black pepper with papaya seeds, mustard seeds with Argemone seeds, coffee with tamarind seed powder, tea with tea waste, saffron with other flower stigmas, milk, khoa and condensed milk with starch, milk with water, detergents, soaps, cheap oils, tea with spent tea, etc. According to admissions by FSSAI, more than 60% of milk in the country is adulterated! Still millions of consumers in India chase the fresh milk vendors for "fresh milk" hoping for a natural product. The list goes on and on but Indian consumer is ever patient with them with not much of a grouse. Tolerance is the reason for such an attitude which is sustaining such a situation.  How any one in his right sense call this an intolerant country! It is a bitter truth that this tolerance is increasing day by day which is scary and not good for the country! If this intolerance debate is channeled to the food landscape in the country, people must be advised to be more intolerant towards harmful and fraudulent foods and pressurize the rulers to be more aggressive in bringing to books the food criminals who are holding the country to ransom!     

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