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12. India: Everything That It Should Not Be

India is also the opposite of whatever it should be: so much appears to have gone wrong in this country, everything has been perverted. And if we had to name the horror that is India, we would say: the VIP culture; Delhi an arrogant, superficial and polluted city; tourism where the foreigner is a cow to be milked by the Government; there are also much more than one billion human beings in India, whatever the Official census says; and finally, India might be going towards an ecological pralaya a and nobody in this country gives a damn, certainly not the NGO’s who are too busy making money out of India’s poverty. 

VIP SECURITY AND KARMA _(” or What the BJP Manifesto Forgot to Say”)


The other day, at the ceremony marking the unveiling of the BJP’s election manifesto, we journalists were searched and hassled like never before. Forget about bringing in our cell phones - we were not even allowed to take in our electronic organisers, tiny little machines, which could not even hide a miniaturised bomb ! Today, no leader in the world, even the President of the United Sates, is as protected as Mr Vajpayee. France, which has got its fair share of Islamic fundamentalism - there has been numerous deadly attacks against its railways, shopping plazas, airlines even, has learnt to cope with security in an efficient and discreet manner. President Chirac, for instance, does not move around with an army of rude and brutish security men; and one still remembers how Francois Mitterrand, the previous President, used to go out at night to his favourite restaurant with only two bodyguards.

Everything has already been said about the hassles that VIP security has created in India : the status symbol it has become for people like Mulayam Singh, who are not particularly targeted by terrorists; how 70% of the Indian police is tied-up by VIP protection, instead of attending to the problems of its common citizens; how we all suffer at the hands of VIP’s, waiting endlessly in our cars, as the Honourable Sonia Gandhi passes by, or in planes, as the PM’s aircraft is landing; or of being rudely treated by these arrogant and useless Blacks Cats, who all of them should be sent to guard Kargil in winter, so they get a taste of what real security is about. And what about the habit of Indian Prime Ministers and Presidents of chartering a full jumbo jet from Air India for their travels abroad? And when a technical snag occurs, the PM finds it quite normal to requisition another one on the spot, throwing into disarray hundreds of passengers, including many foreigners, as Air India’s planes have a round the clock schedule. Cannot the Prime Minister have his own plane, even if its is more modest than a Jumbo jet ? India after all is a poor country 

Yet we find no mention of the VIP problem in the BJP manifesto, although many of their leaders, such as Mr Advani, had personally vouched before coming to power, that their party will address itself to this syndrome, which it inherited from the Congress.

But what has never been said is this : the BJP, although it has, in its eagerness to prove itself “secular”, muted this aspect, prides itself to be a party which has Hindu roots, not in the narrow religious sense, but in the large tolerant tradition of “santana dharma”, which has shaped the lives and psyches of all Indians, regardless of their race or religion. Then has not the BJP leadership read the Bhagavad Gita, the supreme work of spiritual revelation in the whole history of our human planet, which says nearly everything that needs to be known on the mysteries of human life : why death, why life, why suffering? Don’t they remember the gist of what Krishna tells Arjuna : “the body is just an envelope and the soul never dies, but is born and reborn again to complete its works”. Does not Mr Vajpayee know that if he is to die tomorrow at the hands of an assassin, then it will be his karma, that it has been written somewhere in the book of Destiny and that there is nothing that any security in the world, however sophisticated can do about it ? Remember how Ronald Reagan, the most protected man in the world was shot; or how the LTTE always manages to get the Sinhalese and Tamil leaders it targets, although the Sri Lankan, being trained by the Israelis, have one of the best security in Asia ? However a good and wise leader Mr Vajpayee is, he is an old man - and India being such a vast and ancient country, there will always be other “vibhoutis” to replace him if he is assassinated. So why fear death ? Does India always have to ape the West, when it has such deep knowledge in itself of the reality beyond the reality, of the occult truth behind the appearances ? Does not the BJP understand that if it would address itself seriously to the problems of VIP security and tone it down DRASTICALLY, including around the Prime Minister, it would acquire the party tremendous goodwill from the people and as many votes as wining the Kargil war ?

“Delhi : The Sodom and Gomorh of India ?”

Of all the four metropolitan cities, Delhi is the most ancient and soulful, where one can feel at every corner that seven cities lie buried below the actual Delhi. In old Delhi, one has the impression of stepping back into history: burly Sikhs with their colourful turbans, Rajasthani women, their arms covered with bangles, venerable mullahs and their long flowing white beards, Maharashtrians with their Gandhi caps  New Delhi is also one of the most striking capitals, with its wide and tree-shaded avenues, its numerous gardens, which make it the greenest city in India and one of the most stunning perspectives of the world, rising from the Indian “Arc de Triomphe”, to the President’s palace, behind which the suns sets majestically in winter.

Unfortunately, Delhi is also a city of blood and tears and its history is seeped in treason, murder and genocide. Who remembers today that Nadir Shah attacked Delhi in 1739 and that for one whole week, his soldiers massacred everybody, ransacked everything and razed the entire countryside, so that the survivors would have nothing to eat ? On top of that, Delhi is also a colonial legacy : it is a city which is totally decentralised compared to the rest of India and bureaucrats sitting in Delhi have often little idea of the feelings, of say, the people of Tamil Nadu - and hence, their decisions are frequently flawed. Most politicians, even if they start with a little bit of idealism, are quickly engulfed by the despicable VIP power trip of Delhi : the bullet-proof white Ambassadors, the palatial bungalows, the peons, the luxurious - but meaningless Lok Sabha - and they quickly forget that they were elected by the people and for the people.

Foreign embassies must be held too responsible for what is happening to Delhi : diplomats posted in India often know precious little of what is happening in this country, locked up that they are in the luxury ghetto of Shanti Path and Vasant Vihar, where they only meet between themselves. Being too highly paid, they have grossly inflated the rents in Delhi and some of them must still be thinking that they are living in colonial India, witness the Swedish embassy, which has an unwritten policy of hiring only Christians for their Indian staff, because “they feel more comfortable with them” (their application forms even have a mention asking if you are catholic or protestant). Is it the only embassy doing so ? It is for Indian journalists to investigate  And even those embassies which also hire Hindus, grossly underpay them: 18.000 Rs is the average for a qualified full-time working Indian, whereas his ferengi colleague gets ten times this amount. Foreign correspondents often arrive here with prejudices and set ideas. And in Delhi, they also tend to gravitate in the embassy- journalist cocktail circuit, hearing the same old cliches about “secularism”, “Hindu fundamentalism” etc. It would be wonderful if they could be enlightened by Indian journalists - unfortunately it is not always so : Indian journalism, in spite of a tremendous change in popular opinion, is still partly in the grip of the old nehruvian spirit.

All this contributes to make of Delhi an arrogant and superficial city, where stress is so palpable, that you can feel it oozing in you the moment you get out of the plane. And it is worsening day by day : unsmiling drivers are becoming more and more aggressive, horning with impatience; and Delhi youth shows a tendency to become totally westernised, flashing the symbols of India’s “nouveaux riches” - cell phones, Hyundai cars , and Gucci shoes - and they have absolutely no idea about their roots and the greatness of their own civilisation .

Will Delhi become then the “Sodom and Gomorh” of India, this ancient biblical city which was engulfed by fire, when its inhabitants turned their back on their dharma ? And indeed, in a case of a nuclear war with Pakistan or China, Delhi will be the first hit ! Wake-up then Ô Delhi, remember thy bloody past, and mend thy ways ! Thus, the motto of the Government should be to decentralise at all costs, as everything is decided in Delhi and it has triggered separatism and regional angers. This decentralisation will also help alleviate the pollution of Delhi which is slowly killing both humans and nature. Foreign correspondents should be sent out of the capital : the real genius of India lies in its countryside, where people smile and still know the value of patience.

Tourism in India as Seen by a Foreign Journalist

Recent statistics show that India received only 1,2 million tourists since January, a drop of 40% compared to last year. Compare this to the 3,5 millions tourists who flocked to China during the same period ! The Indian Government is pointing a finger at the American sanctions imposed after India’s nuclear tests, but the reality is quite different.

Take flying. I have often to shuttle between Madras and Delhi. A return ticket by Indian Airlines between these two cities costs more than 15500 Rs. But for that price, I can fly from Paris to New York, which is double the distance. Indian Airlines runs only two flights a day between New Delhi, the capital of a one billion nation, and Madras, five millions souls, the gateway to the South; and even these two flights are not always full (did you know that only 10% of Indian Airlines passengers actually pay their fare - the rest are bureaucrats, or executives of state and private companies; thus most of the money goes from the government to the government !). The French have one flight every half an hour between Paris, the capital, and Nice, their gateway to the South; and they are always full, because all kinds of incentives are offered: return fares, discounts on weekends, off-season fares.. Try to tell Indian Airlines that they should offer you a discount because you’re buying a return ticket and they’ll probably give you a dirty look !

The funniest is that there is sometimes a 15 days waiting list to travel by train from Madras to Delhi (or the other way) in IId class A/C sleeper, which costs Rs 3000 and takes 36 hours - that is when the train is not a few hours late, or is not hit from behind by another train, as it happened to me and my wife a few years ago. If Indian Airlines had the intelligence to offer their Chennai/Delhi tickets at 4000 Rs, people will gladly shell out another 1000 bucks, just to avoid the 36 hours business. And IA could easily fill up six Airbus 300 a day and make a handsome profit, instead of hiking-up the prices four times in five years. It is thus very sad that different governments, including the present one, have sabotaged theTata proposal for a private airline, which would have given real competition to Indian Airlines which is the most staffed airline in the world (and Jet Airways, who are too glad too align their prices on them). After all, didn’t the Government steal Air India from the Tatas and turn a proud carrier into the laughing stock of the aeronautic world (like when Gujral had two 747’s on hold, but cancelled nevertheless his meeting with the French President in Paris, because he was too busy trying to topple the BJP government in U.P with the infamous Bhandari…) .

Take hotels. When Jacques Chirac, the French President came to visit India in January, he stayed at the Taj Bombay and we French journalists had to tag along. The price of a room in the new wing was more than 300 $, that is nearly 13.000 rupees. The room was nothing extraordinary to speak off, except the view of India Gate; but the sea there has become so dirty, with all kind of plastics floating around and there are hawkers galore, snakes charmer and other con-men, waiting to pounce on the poor tourist as soon as he dares step out of the hotel. The food at the Taj and other 5 Star Hotels can’t even compare with a one star restaurant in a minor French town. Yet the Taj (or the Oberoi) people make you feel as if they are doing you a favour by letting you stay with them. But for the same price one can stay in a much better hotel in Paris, or in Madrid, which will boast better cuisine and service.

Take visas. In Sri Lanka, all foreigners are automatically handed a one month visa upon their landing at the airport. But not in India. One has to apply to sour faced, underpaid staffers at Indian embassies abroad - and forget about five year visas, even if you have been visiting India for 35 years, like Roger Anger, the famous French architect, who designed the international city of Auroville near Pondichery, and was recently refused one. Renewing your tourist visa, can also be a nightmare, although I have a friend of mine who recently bought it to an « agent » in Nepal for 10.000 rupees and even got a genuine embassy receipt for it, which means that there must be some heavy racket going at the embassy.

Take banks. 30 years ago, it took half an hour to change 100 $ in the Pondichery State Bank of India. Today they may have computers, but it still takes half an hour! Being a resident of India and married to an Indian, I have an Indian Grindlays Credit Card, on top of my American Express and Visa international cards, as the Indian Government has a policy of milking tourists, instead of catering to their needs : one rate for Indians in rupees at hotels, or for paying air and railway tickets, one rate for foreigners in dollars, which needless to say is 40% more expensive. To cut a long story short, Grindlays, which charges outrageous interest rates for this card and debits you a 100 rupees for clearing cheques (yes you have read well : one hundred rupees !), cancelled my credit because I was six days late in paying my monthly instalment. My card was thus refused by Indian Airlines when I tried to pay my ticket from Bangalore to Chennai and I had to use my Visa card, which meant 40% extra ! I am thinking to go to a Consumer’s Court…

Take the Indian Tourism Department. When I was in Paris some time ago, I met the Director of Tourism there, a nice and courteous man. However he told that he spent most of his time showing Paris to Indian Ministers and their wives and that he had practically no budget to invite French journalists to India. And when journalists are actually invited by the Indian Government, it is usually the wrong ones, who instead of reporting on the positive aspects of this country, often dwell on its negative and more sensational side, such as Calcutta, poverty, Mother Teresa, etc., or on the « fanatic » Hindus (like Christophe Jaffrelot, who just wrote « the BJP and the compulsion of politics in India ») because that is what foreigners want to hear. A few months ago I was thrown out of his office by the Gentleman who happens to be India’s Director of Tourism, because I dared to tell him exactly that.

However, it may very well be that all these politicians who are stalling privatising of India’s airlines, these obscure bureaucrats who make absurd visas rules, the arrogant hoteliers, and bankers who are inflating prices, are all doing a great service to India. Because Tourism kills the soul of a country. We have seen it in Sri Lanka, in Thailand, or in Nepal. India is a vast country, thank God; and it lives for itself, within itself - Its festivals, its dances, its ways of life are not (yet) custom-tailored to please the ignorant and arrogant tourist.. As for myself, I am quite ready to suffer for the rest of my life at the hands of Indian Airlines, if it helps India keeps its soul which makes it such a unique country in the world.

One Billion Indians ?

Officially India’s population crossed the one billion mark last week. It may be remembered that some UN agency had unilaterally declared that this landmark was recahed last Agust. Of course, they made it very conveniently coincincide with the 15th August. The story was fist taken-up by the New York Times - and of course the whole of the foreign correspondents’ corps, which is affliected by what the French call “mouton, de Panurge” instinct - which means that the whole herd follows the herd leader; even if it jumps from the cliff - followed suit. And all the major European newspapers, including France’s Figaro (I was holidaying in Almora to the displeasure of my editor) Le Monde, and Liberaion did full page stories on how “India already poor and aflicted with debilitating problems (corruption the unibiquous caste systeml French love to talk about etc) had even more mouths to feed. The usual negative, superior-minded and condesecending talk about India which sells so well abroad.

I have read most of the stories published at that time. And I have read most of the stories published last week in Indian newspaperes. All the reason,s of why India’s population, have been paraded: the failure of India’s successive family priogrammes, the corruption and inreria of the bureaucracy, the baskwardness of its peolple, the underpriviledgeed contion of women in Idia (althoçugh Indian women must be amongst the most intelloigent and ressourcful in the world and had under ancient Hinduism unparalled freedom) etc. But nobody and I reapt nobody bothered to mention that one of the reaso,ns that India crossed so quickly the billin ma*rk is that there is according to offcially - but secter recors compiled by governments which were non BJP, at meast eighteen million (1,8 crore) Bangalsfesdhis, most of them illegal but many of them having acquired fraudulous papers throrugh faudulkous means - and even soemtimes with the connivance of the local admisnistation like in West Bengal where the communist government wants at all cost to ptovce his secularnbess.

Did you know for instance that India shares 4096 kms of border with Banglasdesh, this frak nation, which has no natual ressources except juet, born out of the madness of parttion ? I is an impossible bnorder to guard: it cost one crore per km to guard (metalled roads so that patrols can quickly survey, barbed wire, miradors etc). There are 41 battalions of BSF, precious manposer, which is teid down along the Bangaldeshi bvordere. The famous fencing project has only manages to fence 788 kms ou of 4000 and 1500 crores are spent everfy year on garding the Bagldesh borderThat Banglesdeshis inflitrators come-up upto Bombay ort even Delhi where they form imuportant communisites which have voting power, hence their woing by pliticians and the silence that differndt governmenst (even, the BJP, apart from the courageous Assam Governor, who was imediately brabded a “nationalistr by the Press). And of xourse, even thought rhe BSF manageed to catch 60.000 illgeal Bangaldeshis last year very few Banglasdehis are ever sent back ,as officially the BV,nagladesh government, which enclurages it says that there is no ilegal immigration to India. Is I over ? Not at all Banglasdeh may lmose 20% of its land in the few yars because of erosion and constant flooding. And wheer will these people which has no poppulation contyro go it may be asked ?

It would be nice to say that the process is recerse and that Hindus in Bangladesh are porpsering . But it is the recerse which ahs hhapend: there were 28% Hindus in Bangaldesh in 1941, 10,5 in 91 and less than 9% today, progroms ,burning of temples after Ayodhay (see Taslima Nasreen’ book Lalja) have all ensured that Hidnus flee Bangaldsh. What is the solution to the illgeal immigration of Banglasdfesh ? Ot is true that it is not done in a bad will: most of these immirant ome to India in search of better salaries and contionosn of life . It has been a process thouhout hiostory. Ultimately the Indjan and Bangladeshi Government (which owes its freedom to India it often forgets) shoulld reflect on the stupidity pof parttion. If tjhere is cooperation between Banglasdesh and Indiaz quotas for work permits can be iisued with identity cars and proper census so as to corol at least in some maesures illegal immiragtion

There is another factor which has been kept under silence by the Press, both wesern and Indian: most of Hindus - even the poorest in today’s remore Tamil villages, which I kopwn well - have understoof that it is beter to have children. Many women have operation after three or four children. The christains of xourse, have been the irst to embrace family planning in Idnia, because they are amongst the best- deucatesd, eve,n though the Opoe nd Mother Teresa are so against abortion and family planning, in a coutry which cannot even feed probably a thrid of its poupaltio The same thing cannot ve said about h Muslim of India the great majority of which are poor. The Coran not olny recommends having many children but it makes it a colinising poilcy so that eventyualmly Muslims come to outnumber the original inhabitats. Thus muslims of village sin Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, have six or sencen children. Of course, if you dare say tha Ind India or abroad, yi are immediately tawe of being anti-mlislim ior ahindu lover. But let me be clear: the refi,ement and hospialmity of many Muslims in ndia is often uparalled. The roblem is not witht he muslims as human beings, the problem is with their Scriptyture whihwas devsied 1400 years ago for consitions and people which did not applu any more and has bnecver been reviosed and adapeted ifor odernb times.

So next time someoi,e tells you that Indiua’s ppulation has reached the billion marck tell tjem: no there are 982 Indians and 18 millins illgeal Bangelsdeshis.

India : An Ecological Pralaya ?

We can understand that during the just collapsed WTO negotiations in Seattle, India wanted to delink child labour from trade issues. Because, although the West is right in pointing out that there is indeed a terrible exploitation of child labour India, by people who make shameful money out of them: beedie factories owners, carpet makers, cracker factories etc., at the same time, child labour is a reality of India, which cannot be wished away, as many poor families depend on the earnings of their children to survive. And it is anyway not for the West, which is itself disgracefully exploiting cheap labour in Third World countries, to give lessons to India.

On the other hand, one is a little surprised to hear India’s Commerce protest against the West’s insistence to link trade with environmental safeguards and norms. It would be all right for the honorable Minister to ride on the high horse of offended honor if India’s ecology was in a good state. But the simple truth is that it is near the point of no return - and no government, be it the Congress or the BJP, has ever given a hoot about India’s environment, except to pay some lip service. We have since seen for instance how the BJP made a political appointment out of the Ministry of Environment, showing how low India’s ecology is on its agenda. But did they think for a moment that the Ministry of Environment may be as important as the Defense Ministry, because two nuclear bombs dropped by Pakistan on India will not do as much harm as India as fifty years of greedy saw-mill owners in league with corrupt politicians and forest officers have done to India’s environment ?

Does the Commerce Minister Minister (who is otherwise very competent in his own field) know that by the middle of next century there will be no more forests cover left in India ? That its population will have long crossed the billion mark and will overflow everywhere, stifling any progress, annihilating all efforts ? That India’s cities will be so polluted by their millions of cars that it will be impossible to breathe any more ? That India’s rivers will be so poisoned by industries, that all living life will long have disappeared from it (and that there will be no drinking water left, except imported mineral water) ? And that India will be littered with so much plastic (bags, bottles, buckets, etc.), that it will be materially impossible to ever get rid of them (indeed the land of Bharat should be renamed « the civilisation of plastic »…) This is 21st century India for you.

Many experts have already pointed out that hardly 11% of India’s classified forests have adequate density. In 1950, 1/3 of India’s area was still forested; each year India loses through deforesting a territory bigger than France, that is nearly two million hectares. And of these, only 3% is protected… And even that 3% is in deep distress, because of population pressure, big dams (like the Narmada), and industries. The main culprits of the deforestation are the contractors, the ones with big money, particularly the saw mill owners and the Forest Department, although it claims that it does selective tree felling, has absolutely no understanding of ecological balance.

But without doubt, the greatest culprits of the massive deforestation, the dwindling of animal life, the thinning of underwater tables and the increasing desertification of India, are the politicians, in connivance with the contractors, who in turn bribe the forest officers, witness how Veerapan was able to plunder the forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for ten years. The Konkan railway, the Narmada Dam, or the increase of the prawn farms, are all examples of these criminal wrongdoing. And unfortunately, bare for Maneka Gandhi, who was the only serious Environment Minister India ever had, there have never been as many harmful projects to ecology as lately. Fortunately, there is a growing ecological awareness in India, and movements led by Medha Patkar, Shri Baghuna, or the lawyer Mehta, who are doing wonderful work. But they often stand alone, because as long as the people of India will not be educated, their work is doom.

But ultimately, is it fair to blame only the politicians, or even the British, who started the massive deforestation for their railways and killed hundreds of thousands of tigers ? Is there not something else in the Indian psyche that is to blame? Where is the root of this massive unconcern for one’s environment; this total disregard for beauty, whether it is the terrible ugliness of the cities in Punjab, or the appalling filthiness in Tamil Nadu ?…

And, maybe, for once, the Hindus are to blame. The Ganges seems to be the perfect illustration of a religion which enjoins a thousand purification rites and yet has allowed her own Mother earth to be defiled. Here is a river that Hindus have held most sacred for centuries, nay millenniums; to bathe in it is to purify oneself of all bad karma; to die here is to be reborn in Light. Yet what do all Hindus do with their sacred Ganges? They defecate in it; they throw in all their refuse; they let their dead float down the mighty river, AS IF THEY THOUGHT THAT THE SPIRITUAL PURITY OF THE WATER CAN NEVER BE OBLITERATED BY MATERIAL DIRTINESS. But ask any scientist what is the degree of pollution in the Ganges today and he will also tell you that it is near the point of return. What will happen to India if it loses the Ganges, which is its very soul?

So, Mr. Minister, for once, use the West, let them have their own way, however hypocrite and moralistic it is. Use them for the good of India, so that a little bit of ecological concern is drilled in this country, which allows its very body to go wasted. Because we have already seen how India has been forced to adopt certain environmental measures just out of greed, when European countries refused for instance to accept any textile export which was not azo free, or leather which was not chemically poisoned. The West has grown an ecological consciousness and knowledge which India totally lacks and we should learn from them.

The Big Scam of Ngo’ S

You think that the most corrupt organizations in India belong to the Government? But you may be wrong, because some of the biggest scammers in this country could be the Non Governmental Organizations, or NGO’s, and it is all done in the name of the poor of India.

In the old times, the leaders of NGO’s used to be working in the field, dressed simply, lived in humble dwellings, and had minimal salaries, sufficient for their most essential needs. But nowadays, the new breed of NGOs you meet in Delhi, or Bombay, is smartly dressed in jeans, he or she usually comes from India’s upper elite class, carry the latest laptop and often travel around in a/c cars. These NGO’s spend half of their time abroad, in London, Paris, or New York, doing smart presentations, with mesmerizing slides and Excel spreadsheets, in front of gullible westerners, always ready to shed a tear for the poor “downtrodden Indians”, so as to convince them to grant more funds.

And what is usually all about? 70% of the time “woman empowerment”, or “uplifting” the villagers. It is nowadays fashionable in India to always highlight the downtrodden condition of Indian women and their underprivileged place in Indian society. But no country in the world has granted such an important place to women in its spirituality and social ethos. And even today, behind all appearances arranged marriages, submission to men, preference of male children in some rural areas (but girls are loved in India like nowhere in the world) - it can be safely said that very often, from the poorest to the richest classes, women control even if behind the scenes a lot of the family affairs: the education of their children (men in India are often “mama’s boys”), monetary concerns, and husbands often refer to them for important decisions. Countries such as France or the United States, who are often preaching India on “women’s rights” never had a woman as their top leader, whereas India had Indira Gandhi ruling with an iron hand for nearly twenty years; and proportionately they have less MP’s than India, which is considering earmarking 33% of seats in Parliament for women, a revolution in human history!

But this obsession of NGO’s with women and village empowerment (usually they take one village and make it like a showcase, for the benefit of visiting donors from abroad) has completely eclipsed the burning issue that would require NGO’s attention with the tremendous amount of funds they attract from abroad : afforestation, as there are hardly any forest worth the name left today in India. Take the Himalayas for instance, and a region like the lovely Kumaon hills. Less than forty years ago, people in Almora, the ancient capital of the Kumaons, still remember the beautiful blue cedars forests. Today, there are no forests left around Almora - they were cut down in the early 70’s by contractors from the plains with the full knowledge of the Government - except commercial pine forests, which impoverish the soil and do not hold it properly. Yet, there is terrible shortage of water in Almora, the climate has warmed-up considerably in the last twenty years and wood is fearfully expensive.

There are literally hundreds of NGO’s in the Kumaon hills, who are doing lots of women empowerment, lots of village uplifting, lots of weaving this and weaving that  but absolutely no tree planting. Why? “Because the others do not do it”, is the usual answer, when you ask some of the NGO’s or :”because it is too hard work”. But the beauty of the Kumaon hills around Almora is fast going: more and more hotels are coming up, cutting more trees, like near the Kassar Devi temple, above Almora, where Vivekananda is supposed to have meditated and which has been bought to make into a resort by a non-resident Muslim who is suspected to have links with Ibrahim Dawood.

Most of the big NGO’s are funded by Western countries; but what is not always known is that they often get the bulk of their budgets from big Christian organizations, such as Christian Aid, or Oxfam. There is no doubt that Christians are doing selfless work in India and that they still provide the best in health care and education (work which Hindus should do themselves). But it may so happen more in the case of American Protestants than European Catholics, who are more tolerant - that there is a slight catch, a string attached to the money donated, not only because there is always that western obsession with “woman empowerment” and the “exploited” low caste Indian (by the Brahmins, of course), but often also, these charitable organizations have a downright bias against Hindus and even towards the BJP ! Some of them even had posters advising people not to vote for the BJP in the last elections. Can you imagine an Indian NGO asking Indians settled in France not to vote for some pro-catholic party? They would be immediately kicked out!

This is not to say that there are no selfless NGO’s who are not fattening themselves on money meant for the poor. Some of them do bring drinking water to remote villages in the Himalayas, or like the Young India Group, teach villagers to stand for their own rights. But there has to be a shift away from empowerment, to fight the real burning issues which are affecting India such as afforestation and water collection (there is no Government policy for collecting the tremendous amounts of water India gets from monsoons, which would save millions of gallons of precious ground water which is fast depleting). And the Government, while leaving to NGO’s the freedom of expression they already have, should make it mandatory that they have a certain percentage of their activities dedicated to these two areas.