No magic pills for most of our complex problems
Columnist and novelist Sidin Vadukut posted this query on Twitter earlier today:
Did any other country have a female infanticide problem that they overcame in the last, say, 50 years or so? If so, how?
I do not know if there is any country which overcame a female infanticide problem in the last 50 years but the question did trigger a thought. Each country is different and what worked in a country might not work for another country. Even what worked for a country at a certain time may not work at another time. This doesn’t mean that one can’t learn the lesson from another country or another era but one must know that there are no templated solutions to such problems.
But that is not the real question here. The real question is how does India overcome a problem like female infanticide. Before we go any further, the question begs another question: what is the time-frame in which you expect India to overcome this problem? Immediately, in 20 years, or in 100 years. That would decide the strategy you need to eradicate the problem.
The immediate way to solve the problem is to enact a law against female infanticide and prosecute anyone who violates the law. Because all politicians are interested in immediate answers, this has been done in India too. But India’s policing and judicial system is nearly broken and the law is followed more in its violation than in its compliance. Fixing India’s police and justice system should then be the starting point of any plans to immediately solve the problem of female infanticide. But police and judicial reform will need a lot of time to be effective. This is the paradox of instant gratification in public policy where you need time to achieve the immediate. In other words, there are no immediate answers to the problem today unless we can first enforce the rule of law in this country.
But deigning female infanticide illegal will not be enough. After all, it is embedded in the mindset of the people — rich and poor, urban and rural alike. The intermediate solution is to produce a new generation which is educated to imbibe these modern values and understand the heinous nature of the act. In a country where functional literacy is hard to achieve, how do you focus on quality education. Unless we are able to educate a new generation out of regressive ideas, we will struggle to effect any worthwhile change in the next two decades.
But forcing people to act solely out of the fear of law or educating them out of regressive ideas is not enough. For a long-term solution, you need social change. This is easier said that done. It is the hardest to achieve and takes generations. There are many triggers for such social change but the most potent among them is economic growth. Economic growth changes incentives for personal and communal behaviour, thus catalysing social change. Social change can also be triggered by a charismatic leader like Gandhi who leads by example, and by community and religious leaders espousing progressive values.
There are no magic pills for any complex problem and female infanticide is no different. We need rule of law, education and social reform to eradicate the problem in the next 50-60 years. These three actions — the immediate, the intermediate and the eventual — are not as disparate as they seem. They are connected by one simple thing — politics. For the leaders, it has to be about political action. For the people, it has to be about political engagement. This is not politics in the limited sense of an abhorrent activity as we have come to understand it today but in the larger sense of the word. This is politics the way Max Weber defined it (and which Pratap Bhanu Mehta often reminds us of):
Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth – that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today.
Many of you looking for instantaneous solutions must be terribly disappointed after reading this. Can’t we do something which fixes everything in India in one week or one month or six months — an anti-defection law which fixes political depravity or a Lokpal which ends corruption? Let me ask you a question instead. Have you ever dreamed of running a marathon next week or next month, after having lived a slothful life for thirty years? No, because it needs practice, time and passion to run 26.2 miles which those who don’t run will find futile and boring.
Politics is no different. It also needs time, commitment, hard work and passion from each one of us. And the ability to stick to doing what others believe to be boring and futile. Results will take time. But there are no easy alternatives. In fact, there are no alternatives.