Thursday, September 01, 2005

Happenings at Home

It has been ten long years, since I have been out of Orissa, except for brief visits, two or three times every year.The first four years were because of studies and the subsequent six for work. Yet, for all practical purposes, Orissa remains my home sweet home. The place which I adore and always wish to go back to and where I am going to be eventually.

Orissa never makes it big in the national news. The happenings in this quaint & peaceful state are often tucked in the middle pages of national newspapers and magazines, where they are likely to be overlooked. The news channels, with the possible exception of good old Doordarshan, completely ignore the state. After all, the news channels have their TRP and majority viewer-base to take care of - which for them takes precedence over authenticity and importance of the contents they broadcast. It is indeed disheartening when channels like
Aaj Tak spend the entire prime time talking of a vagrant bull that wandered into Connaught Place, New Delhi; scaring the shit out of the denizens of the national capital, while they don't even make a passing mention of the signing of the biggest FDI deal in the history of India.

FDI & More:

Yeah, the biggest FDI deal in the history of India involved an agreement between Pohang Iron & Steel Company (POSCO) of South Korea and the government of Orissa. The deal amounts to Rs 52,000 crores (US $12 billion) and involves the setting up of a steel plant at the port town Paradeep. As per this article in rediff:
"Posco signed an MoU for setting up a steel plant at Paradip in Orissa with a total investment of $12 billion (Rs 52,000 crore). It is the biggest foreign direct investment in India. The project will be completed in two phases. Each phase will consist of two modules of 3 tonne per annum. The first module is expected to be completed by June 2010. Thereafter, 3 million tonne capacity will be added every two years and the plant will reach its full capacity of 12 million tonne by 2016."
The state boasts of a huge & high quality reserve of iron ore, apart from the availability of cheap and surplus electricity. As a result, both domestic & international steel makers are making a beeline for the state. Among them are Posco, Tata Steel, Sterlite, Essar and the Murugappa group. The fact that the government of Orissa has received 40 different proposals for steel industry in the last one year, is a testimony to the potential of the state.

Albeit a little late, things finally seem to look good for Orissa, which has long been one of the poorest states in the whole country. Way to go, indeed !!

A welcome relief for children:

Those of us, who studied in Goverment schools, especially in small towns might have gone through a particular ordeal in our school days. What happens when a VIP visits the school or the town housing the school? The children are asked to present themselves in neat uniforms and are paraded in front of the visiting dignitaries. If not paraded, at least they were made to stand in queues to welcome the visiting dignitary, who could be anyone from a District Inspector of Schools to a State Minister. What added to the woes of these children is the fact that VIPs are almost always fashionably late and the kids have to sweat it out in the gruelling summer, while waiting for the visitors. Teachers used to encourage and co-ordinate such activities, to please the dignitaries as well as to show off the kind of discipline & obedience they command among their pupils. May be the dignitaries also preferred to see well-dressed school children in front of them - rather than the ugly face of poverty, which was an eye-sore for them.

Well, not any more. At least not in Orissa. So declared the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. The school children will be completely exempt from doing the VIP duties. The executive order has banned parading children in front of VIPs and Orissa was the first state in India to bring such a directive into existence.

Bravo, Mr Patnaik !! You might not be the typical media savvy politician or a suave political player, but you do have a decency, which is almost-extinct among other indian politicians. I am sure the mantle of Orissa is in very able hands, with Naveen Patnaik at the helm of state affairs.

I wish Indian mainstream media , which seems obsessed with negative news, had devoted some time & space for such heartening pieces of news.

The darker side:

Unfortunately, all the news about Orissa are not equally heartening. The story of Mamta Nayak, a dalit (scheduled cast) student, who was banned from cycling to her school in a village by the upper cast people, makes us wonder if we are indeed in the twenty first century. During my stay & visit to several small towns & villages in Orissa, I found that the cast system was pretty much prevalent. But it seldom took an ugly turn like this particular event. The Panchayat (village council), comprising of members of higher cast, had asked Mamta not to cycle in the premises of Narasimhpur village. Mamta had to travel 14km either way, every day to attend school and uses her bicycle for the commute. But she was asked to get off her bicycle when she neared the village, and walk along with it, while crossing the village.

These things are bound to happen, when a place remains under-developed and under-educated for a very long time. What is important here is the steps that we take to tackle such issues. In a typical situation, probably Mamta would have abided by the edict and would have embraced her misfortune with quiet tears. But, I am glad to see that Mamta has very bravely defied the village council's decision and has decided to resume cycling to her school. The local administration had come to her aide, after a NGO took up the issue, and have provided her an escort (a lady police officer) to accompany her to school and back. Of course, the government can't provide escorts to hundreds of Mamtas, who are being victim of cast discrimination. But surely the courage & determination of Mamta would go a long way in resolving the age old problem of cast disputes.


(This post is on the occassion of my long awaited trip to home, which starts tomorrow. Hope to come up with more such posts on my home state in future.)

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