Friday, April 24, 2009

Rubina: Our Moment of Shame

Rubina Ali is in news. Of course, she is - she was the girl child in Slumdog Millionnaire. That movie which made news, won Oscar and infuriated some of our chatteretti. I recall reading a stunningly insensitive piece written by Arindam Chaudhuri, the education entrepreneur, media owner, movie producer and aspiring politician, somewhat the pinup boy of the shining entrepreneurial India. There, he argued, that Slumdog Millionnaire is a shame, it shows India in a bad light - something the Westerners still love to do - and undermines India's progress.

I have read chat room postings - this is not real India - and followed the blog chatter accusing non-residents like me being insensitive to the shame of the slums. I obviously made no secret that I liked the movie immensely, as I did like The White Tiger, Arvind Adiga's Booker Winning effort, both of which were united in celebrating the spirit of the underdog. I did think that the real progress in India is being made as Jamal becomes the millionaire. I thought these recent efforts were celebrating the idea of India truly - the dream of building a modern nation on the basis of progress and fairness.

I know why some people felt angry. Because they are the children of privilege. They are Old India. They belong to the pre-independence mindset in India, where if you spoke English and came from the city, you could afford to deny that the rest of the countrymen were 'real'. I said this before, and say it now, that Gandhi's genius was to turn the heat on this elitism and bring the 'real' India to the political centre stage. He fought his wars against these Babus and such denial first, before he went on face the British rulers, who were living in a cozy alliance with these privileged agents. That was the start of our freedom struggle.

Unfortunately, we thought all that was over in August 1947. It is sure not over if we don't think those slums are for real. It is sure not over if we feel embarrassed that someone dared to write about the slum boys and make movies out of it. That attitude - these are our slums not for public viewing - is both delusional and self-defeating.

If that was not shame enough, now this story about Rubina Ali should make us ashamed. She was being sold by her father, which hit the international news. News of The World reported in Britain that there was a huge fight between her real mother, who left her at the age of two, and her step-mom, who raised her so far, regarding the share of the proceeds. The photos are everywhere. Real India or not, that's what you could see on BBC, on the newspapers and on the magazines last few days.

Oh yes, this is a real progress that the fate of a slum children in Mumbai is being discussed on International Media. I know I shall get slated for writing about this, because I live abroad and what have I done for India so far. And, I am sure the government will make some right noises and the Indian media will largely ignore the story, and the management gurus like Mr. Chaudhuri will soon go back to the cocoon of denial. Rubina may have been saved from being sold, but there will be many more girls - just like the fictional ones in Slumdog Millionnaire - will get sold without anyone doing anything about it.

And, yes, we shall continue to have those conferences and write those white papers about the enormous economic opportunity in India. We shall elect a government which will line up for foreign investment and foreign tourism, and make the nice ads depicting nicer parts of India. It is as if we have decided that we can live without acknowledging the 500 million people in India who live below the poverty line.

This is real real shame. Not just seeing Rubina being sold on English Newspapers, but that we have let this happen even after all of us have seen the movie and talked about this endlessly. It tells us that we don't care and we don't. We don't get angry, we do not feel the shame. We have built such a superficial society of privileges that nothing matters anymore.

1 comment:

workhard said...

The movie was a perspective .. and yes children sold off due to poverty is very real..

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