Modi's rising rhetoric is now being emulated by his lieutenants including Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and most recently Information Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore. Rathore is reported to have claimed that Indian forces have struck deep inside Myanmar and this Indian action has sent a "message" to Pakistan. Indian military and Myanmar have both denied there was any cross-border attack into Myanmar.
|World's Dirtiest Cities Source: WHO Via Quartz India|
As I was reading the news of Hindu Nationalists' saber-rattling, I started to wonder who is India's real enemy? Is it Pakistan? Or China? Or is it India's domestic problems of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, lack of clear air and access to clean water and basic hygiene that result in tens of millions of deaths each year? Do the Indian leaders not know that their country is home to the world's largest population of poor, hungry and illiterates? Did recent heatwave deaths of over 2000 Indians not remind of India's extreme vulnerability to climate change?
13 of the top 20 most polluted cities are in India and 3 in Pakistan? Do they not know that New Delhi is the dirtiest city in the world? Have they not seen data showing hopelessness is driving 30 to 40 Indian youths per 100,000 to suicide, among the highest rates in the world?
As these thoughts were running through my mind, I came upon a recent New York Times report titled "Holding Your Breath in India" filed by the newspaper's New Delhi correspondent Gardener Harris who has been living in the Indian capital for several years. Here are some of his observations:
1. We gradually learned that Delhi’s true menace came from its air, water, food and flies. These perils sicken, disable and kill millions in India annually, making for one of the worst public health disasters in the world. Delhi, we discovered, is quietly suffering from a dire pediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air.
2. The city’s air is more than twice as polluted as Beijing’s, according to the World Health Organization. (India, in fact, has 13 of the world’s 25 most polluted cities, while Lanzhou is the only Chinese city among the worst 50; Beijing ranks 79th.)
3. For much of the year, the Yamuna River would have almost no flow through Delhi if not for raw sewage. Add in the packs of stray dogs, monkeys and cattle even in urban areas, and fresh excretions are nearly ubiquitous. Insects alight on these excretions and then on people or their food, sickening them.
4. Very high levels of air pollution hurt children the most. But it's not just children. Many adults suffer near-constant headaches, sore throats, coughs and fatigue. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, had to leave the city for 10 days in March to cure a chronic cough.
5. It’s not just the air that inflicts harm. At least 600 million Indians, half the total population, defecate outdoors, and most of the effluent, even from toilets, is dumped untreated into rivers and streams. Still, I never thought this would come home to my family quite as dramatically as it did.
6. Most piped water here is contaminated. Poor sanitation may be a crucial reason nearly half of India’s children are stunted.
7. So many of our friends have decided to leave that the American Embassy School — this city’s great expat institution — is facing a steep drop in admissions next fall. My pastor, who ministers to a largely expat parish here, told me he feared he would lose 60 percent of his congregants this summer.
Hindu Nationalists led by Narendra Modi need to recognize that their biggest enemy is widespread deep domestic deprivation of their people. They need to join hands with Pakistan and other neighbors to focus their energies and resources to provide decent living standards to their people. They need to understand that there will be no winners in any war they launch against Pakistan. Instead, all of the people of South Asia region will be big losers. The sooner they realize these facts the better it is for the people of South Asia.
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