Archive for the ‘Socio – Economic Issues and Politics in India’ Category

I love food. The first thing that I was enthusiastic about after I landed in Mumbai was the variety of food available to satiate one’s taste buds and hunger, of course! Mumbai is known for its wide variety of street food, especially since it has people coming in from all over India laden with their own skills and talents. The mouth-watering sight of Paani Poori, Bhel Puri, Ragda Puri, Vada Pav, Bhajjiya Pav, Batata Vada, Masala Dosa, Idli/Vada Shambar, Chaats, Seasonal fruit juices, Kulfi, Tender Coconut, Poha, momos and what not… is enough to make even a diet conscious person give in to temptations.

1Sai Ki Palkhi, a street stall selling colourful and mouth watering flavours of Kulfi at a beach in Mumbai

Street food is not just about taste. To me and to thousand others like me, street food is an attractive alternative to home-cooked food at affordable prices. At a price that ranges from Rs. 5 to Rs. 30/- per plate they provide significant relief to the local population in times when we speak of inflation as one of the major hurdle to be tackled. Street food hawkers provide food at really low cost compared to restaurant meals. They provide an essential source of inexpensive ready-to-eat food for workers of every class and occupation. Street site hawkers (women and men) who make and sell ready to eat food on the street, provide significant income for themselves and their families, as well.

These stalls are usually temporary stalls run by one or two person, usually in a busy street corner. In F.G. Winarno and A. Allain’s words, “…customer orders the meal which can be consumed where it is purchased or taken away.” However, despite certain similarities, street food and fast-food enterprises differ in variety, environment, marketing techniques and ownership. To delve into the depths and behind the scenes story of street food, I chose to speak to them to have a better understanding of their lives. Every stall has its own story to tell – stories of despair, stories of life away from loved ones, stories of struggles for daily bread, struggles of love, hope, satisfaction and finally, stories of triumph.

8Young Karthik from Mysore has been working at the early morning and late night stall outside Chembur railway station (Mumbai) for over one year. He sells Poha, Idly/Vada Shambar, Sheera etc. from 4 am to 10 am in the morning and after 11 pm at night. Karthik is employed by the stall owner who also hails from Karnataka. Early risers or later sleepers come in hordes to this stall for odd-time meals.

2Suresh, who hails from Kerala sells coconut water at MG Road, Mumbai. He gets his supply of tender coconut from Mysore, Orissa and Gujarat. The stall his not his own but he works for his seth who also is a Keralite. Suresh works from 8.00 am to 8.30 pm, i.e. for over twelve hours a day with no off-days at all. He lives with his family in Mumbai.

3Anil Patel who hails from Mirzapur (Uttar Pradesh) sells sugarcane Juice at MG Road, Mumbai. He has been selling sugarcane juice in the same spot for over 6 years. He earns a meagre six thousand Rupees salary that he uses for his sustenance and sends the rest to his family of four who still live in his village house. He works for over 15 hours a day.

5Karuna Karan from Tamil Nadu has been selling Dosa, Idly/Vasda Sambhar near Govandi Station (Mumbai) for over fifteen years. The energy with which he makes delicious masala dosas and his capacity to remember orders is astonishing. He says he derives satisfaction from feeding so many people, everyday. He too does not own the stall but rather works for his boss who is of Tamil origin too.

9Santosh sells Chinese Pakoda (with and without Pav) in the street near Govandi station. He has left his home and come to Mumbai just 3 months back. This is his first job. The owner of the stall is also hails from Uttar Pradesh. Heavy rains and hailstones ruined all crops in his village and he had no choice but to leave his home-state (Mirzapur, UP) in search of a job to sustain his family back home. He says he likes Mumbai and is enjoying his job.

7Ramesh Gupta owns the Paani Puri stall that he puts up every day outside the HP Gas station at Deonar, Mumbai. Young Ramesh began his journey as a street food hawker 14 years back owing to financial constraints back home. He has been selling Paani Puri at the same spot for over five years now. He was completely disdainful when he spoke about people who write about hawkers like him. He had started to believe that no one could be of any help to improve the condition and situation of street hawkers, no matter what they write.

6Heeralal has been selling Vada Pav and Bhajjiya Pav outside TISS campus at Deonar for past 14 years. He hails from Jonpur and so does his owner. His family still live in his village. When asked how come he chose to sell Vada Pav (a Maharashtrian speciality) despite being an UPite he replies, “dimag lagana hota hai… business samajhna hota hai” (translation: you have to understand business and use brains accordingly).

4Shiv VadaPav, at MG Road (Mumbai) during the busy lunch hours. Employees from nearby offices, policemen, Autowallas, Taxiwallahs and travellers flock to this street food vendor for hot, spicy, on the spot cooked food.

In the process of enjoying economical yet delicious food at road-side hawkers, we often tend to forget the people involved in the business. Despite its huge presence and popularity in daily life, it is not a recognized industry. Complex or non-existent licensing system makes life difficult for them. Instances of organized bribing and evacuations often play havoc in the lives of these vendors. The street food hawkers are not always owners of the business, as we have already seen in above mentioned examples. They are usually employed by old and experienced hawkers, who had started their profession in a similar manner.

IMG_4116Vishal’s tea stall adjacent to Heeralal’s VadaPav Stall. It is interesting to note that different fast food and tea/juice vendors form a cluster so as to give a complete package to the customers in terms of food, beverage et al.

We may consider street food as poor and unhygienic but (barring certain unpleasant instances) in fact, street food vendors use fresh ingredients compared to restaurants and other eateries. They do not use refrigeration and hence prepare fresh food and spices on daily basis. The quick on the spot preparation is possible with these home prepared spices. In fact, they provide nutritious (most of the time) at really low prices. Their profit margins are very less compared to other places of eating.

It is interesting to observe that the street food vendors sell food based on their origins. For example- The Street vendors who sell Dosa/Vada Sambhar usually used to be of South Indian origin. Similarly, a Momo seller would be a person from Darjeeling, Nepal, Tibet or from North Eastern India; A Keralite a tender coconut seller and so forth. Also, it is really interesting to note that owner of a stall employs people form their own origin, most of the time. However this trend has now begun to change. Suresh confirms this in fluent Hindi when he says, “these days there are many Bihari’s and UPwalas involved in tender coconut business. And even Marathi owners keep non Marathi employees.” Almost every vendor seemed to agree on this change (globalisation) happening around them.

Their marketing success of street food hawkers depends exclusively on location and word-of-mouth promotion. They carefully choose certain spots that will attract consumers on daily basis – on a busy footpath, outside railway stations, near school and colleges and offices. People across all ages, class, sex, communities flock to these temporary eating places every day. In fact street food is an integral part of our culture and society. They bring together people from all aspects and bind them with one common thread – a combination of quick, cheap and delicious fresh food to satiate hunger and taste buds. Yet, the hawkers feel and experience a lack of social status. In Ramesh’s disdainful words – Kya hum hawkers ka kabhi kuch acha ho sakta hai…!!! (translation: Can anything good ever happen to hawkers like us…!!!)


I do not have a driving license. Not that I am woman who is afraid of driving. In fact, I love to race a two wheeler.  I fulfill my driving dreams whenever I visit my hometown, where there is no police on the road to stop me and ask me to show my license. An idealist, I have never passed my driving test exams because I have refused to pay bribe. And back home (Assam), it is impossible to get a DL without paying a bribe of thousand Rupees. People called me an irrational idealist.

My travel expenses skyrocketed after I joined a distant workplace. And, at the age of 25, I had almost given up on my ideals to get my DL at any cost when I witnessed the greatest mass upsurge against corruption in India, led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal.  I was  awestruck to see Lakhs of people from all walks of life come together onto the streets in every part of the country expressing intense anger against the corrupt political and economic system. I now knew, I was not the only one! Then and there, I again chucked my idea of bribing for my DL.

The upsurge settled down with false assurances from politicians; and the Lokpal Bill was never passed. I, like million others Indians, felt disappointed. I felt that nothing could save our corrupt nation when politicians went to an extent of ridiculing Kejriwal (and fellow activists) and challenged them to contest in elections. There was small news from here and there about formation of the Aam Aadmi Party. Media had stopped covering about it anymore. And, everyone had completely forgotten about the revolution amidst the hustles and bustles of life. But one fine day to everyone’s surprise, Aam Aadmi Party declared their decision to contest elections in Delhi. A team of social worker and activists had taken the challenge of cleaning up “corrupt India.” Undoubtedly, jhadu was the symbol of AAP!

Till then, it was universally believed that the elections of 2014 will be a fight between Narendra Modi of the BJP and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress. To everyone’s surprise, AAP emerged victorious in Delhi, defeating prominent congress leaders by thousand of votes. Suddenly, Third Front idea was no longer any fictional rant, but a distinct possibility. Kejriwal became the Chief Mister of Delhi.

Today, this young team of enthusiastic activists and reformers is an inspiration to many. Especially to the younger generation, who had been frustrated with corrupt and inefficient governance in India. The success of someone (all AAP candidates) with no Godfather amidst the dynastic rulers was in-fact refreshing (and inspiring) to every common man and woman. The refusal to accept any extra privilege like Laal Batti, sirens, extensive security and luxury enjoyed by traditional politicians and bureaucrats immediately caught attention of media and the citizens. So did the Dharna against the five Delhi cops. Many called it a publicity stunt and labelled it as drama. But Kejriwal, the shrewd and efficient leader of the party has answers to everything. He has his facts, figures and economics very much in place.

“Until politics is fixed, economic policies won’t work,” believes AAP CM Arvind Kejriwal. AAP has never been sitting idle ever since it came to power. As an emerging national party, they have made declarations on economics, law and order, foreign and social policies. It is not a power hungry group of political leaders but a refreshingly young, modern, and tech/media-savvy team of people. AAP has been very active in social networking sites and has kept the public aware of its every moves and actions. Surprisingly, they have revealed new scandals of UPA that were under the wraps – the 3600 crore worth helicopter scandal (ordered for VVIPs in India. Even Obama had refused them stating that it was too expensive).

The governments (be it Congress or BJP) have only talked about inclusiveness. It is only AAP who has practised it. The immediate orders and construction of Night Shelters for poor street dwellers of Delhi, the economical oath ceremony in public speaks for itself. The oath ceremony cost only 6.3 Lakhs as compared to 13 Lakhs on Sheila Dixit’s oath-taking ceremony five years back. The filing of FIR against Mukesh Ambani is astonishingly bold step by the Delhi Government. No other political party or group had ever dared to confront the corporate giant Reliance. In Kejriwal’s words, “BJP and Congress are both “faces of Reliance” and have openly challenged Rahul Gandhi to justify gas price hike.

“Agree/disagree with him, as a journalist like the fact that @ArvindKejriwal takes all questions. Rare among today’s netas.” Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted after interviewing the AAP Chief Minister. AAP has in fact brought a paradigm shift to the politics of India. People have become much aware of their votes and voting rights.  It is interesting (fun) to see the dominant political parties coming up with strategies, tactics and marketing techniques to compete with AAP. The threatened Congress party’s fear of losing the race is very much evident from the shift in the pattern of their hoardings and advertisements. The latest “Mein nahi hum” featuring Rahul Gandhi is a perfect example of the same.

Of course, AAP is not a perfect political party either. It had its own share of foot in mouth moments. Comments on Khap Panchayat by its minister Yogendar Yadav, alleged acceptance of cash as donations by party members etc. has created enough controversy. Critics have termed AAP government as Populist Anarchy that lacks governance skills. My question to the constantly cynical critics is – why not let AAP work for some time and then pass a judgement. It is very much evident and even polls show that Kejriwal and his ministers were obviously not allowed to work (disrupted on every step they took). Hadn’t we been blindly accepting nepotism, corruption and worst form of so called democracy without any question for years and years? Here, we have a young set activists turned politicians who speak so straight forward and with such vision and hope for a better India. They need our constructive criticism, not cynical judgements.

Kejriwal’s resignation came as a shock and disappointment. But in hindsight, maybe that was the best thing to do at that point of time. Before AAP came to power, Congress and BJP clearly conspired against the Janlokpal Bill. After years of hard work when AAP finally came to power, anti-corruption bill was again blocked in the state assembly. AAP certainly needs to work on a wider vision and not keep just anti-corruption as the only agenda. Yet, their efforts are highly commendable. No one can claim if AAP shall become a successful national party. It is too early to make such a claim. But victory of AAP in Delhi has created disgust with organised politics in other parts of the country as well. However, the AAP Lok Sabha candidates, winnable or not, make a fine, respectable list. Social activists like Medha Patker’s decision to join AAP certainly cannot be devalued.

I wish AAP all success, for in its vision and success lies the gateway to hope in millions of lives – freedom from corruption in ration cards, in old age pensions, in mid day meals, in Indira Awas Yojana et al to humongous corporate scams. I still continue to believe that one fine day I shall get my driving license, without bribing anyone!

Image Credit: Google Images

Image Credit: Google Images

Water water everywhere
But not a drop to drink

These lines of Coleridge seem to be so true in today’s context. Water is one of the most important natural resources available on this earth, or rather, in this whole world. We need it for every other activity in our daily lives, be it for drinking, cooking, cleaning or washing and what not!!! Yet we take water for granted most of the time, despite clearly knowing the fact that our water supply is limited. 97% of all the water on the earth is salt water which is not suitable for drinking. Only 3% of all the water is fresh water, and only 1% is available as drinking water.
Water is the very foundation of life. As the most intelligent and responsible beings dwelling on this earth, it is our duty to conserve water and preserve its quality for our future generations. Water conservation reduces the efforts and energy required to process and deliver water, which in turn helps in reducing pollution and in conserving other natural resources. It is also the most effective and environmental friendly method to fight global warming!

Image Credit: Google Images

Image Credit: Google Images

Water conservation needs to be a way of life, not just something that we think about once in a while. We can start this from our own kitchens. For instance, when washing dishes by hand, we should not leave the water running for rinsing. If there is a double-sink, we should fill one sink with soapy water and the other with rinse water or if there is a single sink, we should gather dishes in a dish rack and rinse them with a spray or panful of hot water. For dishwashers, there is usually no need to pre-rinse the dishes. One should also ensure that the dishwasher and clotheswasher should be fully loaded for optimum water conservation. Hence it is very important that we start reducing wastage by using right methods, products and appliances in our kitchens.

One such company that is the pioneering manufacturer of products in the area of water purification and conservation is Kent RO Systems Ltd. Their unique product, the Kent tap guard is a cutting-edge innovation that prevents wastage of water in the filtering process itself. Another product by Kent is the Vegetable & Fruit Purifier, which ensures water conservation along with healthy washing of vegetables and fruits without the need of running tap water. The water used for rinsing fruits and vegetables can also be reused to water houseplants.
Every drop counts. Water conservation is not a job that is limited to the scientists, hydrologist, foresters, and farmers alone. It is a personal responsibility for each of us. We all must make a conscious commitment to change our lifestyles to conserve water. Maybe one day Coleridge will be forced to change his lines altogether…

Water water everywhere
And every drop to drink

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Left Wing Extremism is an almost totally rural phenomenon. It is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and domestic political agenda. It is our long neglect to develop the tribal areas which has created alienation against the government and has become the very source of violence and terror aggravated by discontentment among the marginalized sections of society. To sum up it up in brief I would like to bring into light the study and conclusion by the Bandopadhyay Committee – Choosing its words carefully, the report states that “We have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing…”

Development of villages and empowering the rural population only can solve this problem. My suggestions to contribute to rural development and minimizing extremism can be summed up in following points:

1.      Focus on creating employment and income and follow latest methods to increase productivity.
2.      Educate children and adults.
3.      Make them aware of modern technology.
4.      Make them aware of our government policies, schemes and steps that government has taken for rural upliftment and help them avail the facilities.
5.      Psychological Factors: To promote the feeling that government is not against them but is dedicated enough to support and uplift them by various means. This will in turn save youngsters.

But until and unless we are into those forests… into that situation, it shall not be possible for us think of a practical solution. The approach should be to systematically resolve the problem of unemployment, poverty, health care, education and governance. Sending armed troops is not the solution as it will only aggravate the situation. Rather than winning the war, the locals should be empowered and won over!

The socio-economic problems:
There are many socio-economic reasons for the rise and growth of Left Wing Extremism like – Poverty, Unemployment, Land Issues (lack or land reforms), Corruption, Illiteracy and Violence in the name of religion, community and caste etc. If we look at the land reforms in Kerala and West Bengal, we shall see that it has eased the  agrarian tension, while exactly to the contrary, failure of the same in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh has changed what was initially a peasant revolt into Naxalite movements. A lasting solution to Left extremist politics cannot be achieved without addressing the socio economic factors that contribute to its rise and growth. I firmly believe POVERTY AND UNEMPLOYMENT as the burning issues in promoting Left Wing Extremism. It is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and domestic political agenda. The Extremists target and lure people in vulnerable jobs like – fishermen, bamboo cutters, farmers and daily labourers. By doing this they have created a large and strong social base.

Suggestions to curb poverty and unemployment:
The majority of the tribal population is engaged in agriculture, fishing, animal farming, handicrafts and wood cutters and daily labourers. Micro planning is the one and only strong solution to beat poverty and unemployment.

1.      Focus on raising their income and standard of living by training and engaging them in work they are already good at.
2.      Promoting scientific methods and incorporate latest technology in day to day work.
3.      Keep them informed about various government policies and scheme that will benefit them.
4.      Take initiative and act as a mediator between bureaucrats/babus and the local people. It should be ensured that no one can take advantage of their poverty, illiteracy or ignorance.
5.      Teach them certain marketing strategies. They lack the knowledge about marketing or selling their produces.
6.      Removal of middleman so that they earn more than what they normally used to.
7.      Forming Co-operative groups (I have always looked upon Dr. Verghese Kurien and  his AMUL model as an model for real development and empowerment of rural India).
8.      Reduce the lack of support at panchayat and block office level.
9.      Tackle issues like seasonal and disguised unemployment by improvised irrigation and scientific facilities.
10.     Vocational Training to women – making pickles, process indigenous food products, handicrafts and hand woven fabric etc . These can be supplied to major handicraft companies like Fabindia.

Ultimate solution To Left wing Extremism and the likes:

74% of people in India earn their livelihood from agriculture. One third of Indian population is still below the poverty line. If we manage to channel all these people, their energy and skills in the right direction, one can easily imagine the scope of success. The various sectors that we can help and advice to plunge into are –
1.      Bee Farming
2.      Food Processing
3.      Dairy Farming
4.      Handicrafts and Furniture – begin as supplier to Retailers in Metros (Fabindia, Mother Earth etc), Export to foreign countries and eventually retailing own brand.
5.      Educational Institutions (Schools/Colleges)
6.      Hospital
7.      Transportation
8.      Cooperative Banks
9.      Garment Manufacturing Units etc

Why not propose to build business empire in villages. Instead of promoting migration of rural population to cities, why not go to them with better opportunities. We can begin from one village and slowly incorporate throughout the district (depending on area and demography). We should aim at conquering poverty and raising the living standards of most hardworking but poorest section of our country. I firmly believe in the fact that a country can develop only when its villages are developed. And starting from agriculture is the best possible way to connect to rural farmers (75% of Indian population is engaged in agriculture).

The bright side –
a.      Minimize migration of labours to cities
b.      Optimum usage of manpower and resources
c.      Cheap labour
d.      Minimize production cost
e.      Raised standard of living

The educated and aware rural youth should have the desire to go back to their villages. Only they are the ones well acquainted to those areas and know the local language and customs. They have the awareness about the issues that people face in day to day lives. And hence, easily understand and get along with the locals.

Social Entrepreneurship is the ultimate solution to this burning issue. Empowering Rural India only can bring about real change!


Note: Inspiration from various sources available on this issue has been taken in and compiled with my personal views and perspective. Unfortunately I couldn’t maintain a bibliography of the same.