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(Article published in the “Sunday Pioneer” on 16 Jan 2005.)

Misplaced Pride

By Dominic Emmanuel

The controversy whether India should or should not accept foreign aid to deal with the natural calamity caused by Tsunami waves is still raging. The government’s stand on the matter is quite clear that it is quite capable of handling the crisis of this magnanimity and that it does not need any foreign aid. It has, however, left its doors open for future aid when it goes into rehabilitation and reconstruction mode.

By the time, the Government partially realized that its stand of not accepting foreign aid was creating nearly as much bad odour as generated by Tsunami disaster, it scaled down its stand and said that NGOs could receive foreign funds for their relief work. But a bit of damage had already been done as several foreign NGOs that normally contribute to their counterparts in India during such calamities turned their attention and purse to other countries as in the time of such crisis they had no time to massage the false bloated Indian ego. The countries with no ‘ego problems’ gladly accepted the offer from donor countries.

It is difficult for anyone to comprehend as to what the Government is trying to prove and to whom by refusing the aid. One sees nothing sensible in this particular stand which is no different to the mind-set of those in the previous government who propagated the notion that the Indian culture was by far the best in the world and that India could teach the rest of the world a thing or two just about anything under the sun.

The sacred Indian scriptures speak of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, advocating the idea of the whole universe being a family but the message the Government is trying to send is that family members of the universe do not need to be on its side at the time of this deep grief caused by nature. The land that has produced millions of sages who emphasized the path of self-realization through detachment of the Ahambhav (ego), the Government is trying to announce to the world that we are in the process of reversing that age old wisdom. We do not want our Ahambhav to be hurt.

In a country where nearly 300 million people cannot get a square meal a day; where 100 million children of school going age either roam the streets or are child labourers; where 7000 children die of malnutrition everyday; where 68 people contract the HIV every hour, where Dalit women are paraded naked every so often; where some people are not allowed to enter temples because they are born in a particular caste, what hurting of aham can we talk of? And, surprise, surprise, a large number of people, elated with this false pride of the Government, want to go along with it. It is in trying to perpetuate this aham that we are unable to sympathize and mourn the dead – our own brothers and sisters- by not agreeing to either cancel or scale down the Republic Day parade?

The whispered explanations for India refusing aid are that since it is bidding for the Security Council, it needs to showcase to the world that it can handle its own affairs well and that it is even capable of offering help to neighbouring countries at such moments. Another argument is that receiving such help will expose us to security risks, particularly in Andaman and Nicobar islands, where we have our military and air-force bases.

One is pained to learn that such international political considerations should come into play when we are dealing with human tragedies of such proportions. Will membership of the Security Council wipe out the tears of those thousands of orphans and widows? And how could a visit by Kofi Annan or any other foreign dignitary visiting the affected areas jeopardise our security?

Then there are the obvious contradictions in the Government’s stand. One, that while it can not accept any help, the Indian NGO’s can. Well! If the Government has enough resources to deal with one of the worst disasters then why should these NGOs not make use of those resources? Two, that it is open to accept the aid at a later stage of reconstruction of coastal area. Why not now? Three, though not directly related to Tsunami, is the call of the Prime Minister for more and more FDI in India. True, FDI is not aid. But the GOI does need large amount of FDI for a faster development of the country. With all the due respect to Dr. Manmohan Singh, who never tires of speaking about the benefits of globalization, how come he refuses to accept ‘global’ help at such a moment? And finally, when India refuses to accept aid because of its self-respect, how come by the same measure, it offers aid to Sri Lanka and others? Do these not have their own self-respect?