Friday, May 23, 2008

Myanmar deja vu and India's false pride

Myanmar’s military dictatorship won’t allow international aid to come into the country that has been left devastated by Cyclone Nargis. The world is rightly outraged. Even junta-friendly India has urged the Myanmarese government to accept global aid.

But then, look who’s talking.

India had also famously refused international aid and access to foreign aid groups in the Andamans after the devastating tsunami hit its coastlines in 2004. New Delhi had then stated with a confident voice that it could and would manage its own affairs, thank you very much. But three-and-a-half years after the tsunami, permanent shelters for the homeless in the Andamans have still not been built. Tender notices for the reconstruction projects are still appearing in local newspapers.

One might be tempted to question the comparison made between India, a democratic, regional superpower, and Myanmar, a secretive military-ruled State. But the comparison, which should have been impossible to make, is there for all to see — especially for those suffering, who don’t quite care whether a democratic government or a tin-pot dictatorship is denying them food and shelter. A confident India, with a rising economic prowess, has all the right to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to outside help.

But shouldn’t we be eating at least a slice of the humble pie if thousands are left to suffer for years because of national pride?

The tsunami was not the first time that India was hit by a natural disaster of such proportions. More importantly, it also won’t be the last time. India needs to firm up its ‘rising power’ pride by actions that signify that it can ‘do it alone’.

In the Andamans, almost 10,000 permanent shelters were to be built in the archipelago where 7,450 people died. A total of 16,400 people were killed across Indian coastlines. Construction has not even begun on more than 80 per cent of the houses. In the rest, the basic structure is yet to be built — and this according to the government’s own project report that was made public at the end of February.

Read the full article here in the Hindustan Times, where it first appeared today on the editorial page).

Please also read this piece I wrote about the Andamans in the Span magazine.
(All photos by the author, except when credit mentioned otherwise)