We live in times when political scams, corruption and wastage of public money have become the all-pervasive norm in Indian politics. From the scams in the telecom sector, to the Rafale Deal, to the fleeing of business tycoons like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi- the inherently corrupt politics has begun to destroy the very fabric of a welfare state. As the government has withdrawn from much of its responsibility towards the strengthening of the public sector (building educational institutions, developing public healthcare, generating employment, ensuring basic standard of living for all, boosting India’s public sector industries etc.) and the corporate lobby seems to have become the most assertive force –it is the welfare of the common masses that tends to suffer the greatest. While many of us tend to take the rising economic disparity and the suffering of the marginalised for granted, often it is a sensitive and friendly westerner who opens our eyes.
‘Bald and bankrupt’ is a YouTube channel run by an English gentleman who travels to different parts of the nation- interacts with ordinary citizens, tastes local cuisines, stays in low cost hotels and tells the story of what it feels like being at the heart of India. He has traveled to all sorts of locations- the Golden Temple in Amritsar where Sikhism teaches him of the open-heartedness of Indians, the Chor Bazaar in Delhi where he goes looking for ‘real Raybans’, a local saloon where he offers himself to an indigenous ear cleaning experience, the ghats of Varanasi where touts irritate him and the river wins over his heart to a refugee colony that makes his heart weep for the marginalised. He introduces the world to an India that is real and authentic-where people still open up their lunch boxes to strangers, where tea is the beginning of lifelong associations, where trust means more than money and where there is vibrancy everywhere. He deliberately evades the high-end malls, the multiplexes, the cafeterias that sell western snacks and offer free WiFi.
We appreciate ‘Bald and Bankrupt’ because he does not remain in an illusion that just because many Indians work in the Silicon Valley and the prime minister shakes hands with the important global leaders at financial summits, the country’s financial status is stable nor does he reduce India into an esoteric land of snake charmers and cow worshipers- instead he steps out of his comfort zone and sees India from the eyes of a friend more than an aloof visitor.
His body language and his lingo are all towards an effort to break the boundaries of racial supremacy and colonial indifference. His usual ‘ Jai Bhole Ki’, ‘Aure Kaise Hain Bhaisaab’ amaze the ordinary citizen but also make it possible to strike a conversation. He leaves behind hesitation and walks on Indian streets to find out the heartbeat of India. He prefers to capture an India that belongs to its origins no matter how chaotic and disorderly. We choose to speak of his channel because as a friendly European he is able to see much more, feel much more than we as citizens can often do.
Colonial rulers leave, colonialism continues
The white colonial man came to India with the burden of civilizing the ‘barbaric’ Indian who according to him had neither the light of modern English education nor the sophisticated and ‘civilized’ way of living that his white counterparts boasted of. From 1858-1947, the colonial rule in India robbed it of not only its economic wealth but also of its belief in its own worth- labeling its indigenous knowledge traditions as nothing but irrational fantasies, looking at the eastern religions as superstitious and anti-modern, reducing its agrarian orientation to a non-productive and primitive way of living and degrading all that the Indian civilization had been proud of. The introduction of the railways, the onset of the first pan Indian census survey, the adoption of modern, western education and the bringing together of large Indian provinces under the rule of the Crown collectively transformed the cultural fabric of India in dramatic ways.
Amidst all these dominant forces was the quintessential need to suppress, marginalise the indigenous Indian population and ‘control’ their ‘uncivilized’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘irrational’ calibres. India was utterly impoverished when the British finally left India as a result of a momentous freedom movement organised and upheld by the Indian common masses but what accompanied this economic estrangement was a sense of poverty, loss and despair.
The freedom struggle brought with it immense hope for the new nation, about creating a new nation-state that would have programs for the welfare of all people-establish educational institutions, health centres, industries, roads, housing, employment, introduce agricultural and land reforms , strengthen the country’s economy and enable its people to live a dignified life. Many successive governments have come to power in independent India but even today the common masses continue to struggle for even the basic facilities of proper housing, clean, drinkable water, sanitation, education, employment and healthcare.
When an outsider sees more than an insider
Among the innumerable villages and towns where people live in inhuman conditions that deny them the opportunity to live a dignified life – is a colony for the Hindu refugees who migrated from Pakistan in 2013 situated in the heart of the Indian Capital.
This refugee settlement is located in the North of Delhi where sewer water and garbage engulf the locality in a foul smell and unhealthy ecosystem. Here there are 100-150 families and a population of more than 600 people. They migrated from different parts of Pakistan in 2013 and ever since then have been met with indifference and hostility from the Indian authorities who have neither given them Indian citizenship nor assured that their colony has proper sewage systems, clean toilets, flowing water or electricity.
No wonder, disease and ailment are the story in every household in the neighborhood. Women can be seen washing clothes with the water that flows from a sewer close to the settlement, children of all ages pass their time without the light of education, the elderly stand at the risk of fatal infections as filth and dirt surround the neighborhood- the makeshift tents that the refuges live in are deprived of even the basic minimum that is required for a dignified existence.
Officials come and go but nothing concrete has been done for the colony so far. ‘ Bald and bankrupt’ traveled to the refugee colony last year and the plight of the people made him want to start a campaign and generate some money to have basic amenities like water pipes and portable water and toilets installed in the community. He spoke to the residents, visited their homes, shared their pain and learnt of their distress but he did not return unaffected. He posted a video on 17th January, 2019 when he went back to the colony and handed over a sum of about Rs 3,00,000 to the community head( collected through his campaign on his channel) for welfare initiates. This wonderful and inspiring gesture has captured our imagination for its sheer promise and ability to touch peoples’ lives. When authorities neglected their condition and pushed them to a life of indignity- a non-citizen worked for empowering their lives.