One of the most embarrassing aspects of Bengali culture has been the act of taking one's aging mother or aunt for "teerth" or trip to holy places. Not that it's a bad idea. But often it has been observed that while on visit to a place like Vrindavan, the son would make his mother sit somewhere saying he is just coming and would then disappear forever. The mothers, mostly being uneducated and with no means to go back, would end up spending their lives on the streets in these places. And the son would go back home and announce that he lost his mother in the crowd or that she passed away and he did her last rites there itself and came back.
Thus, streets of places like Gaya, Varanasi, Vrindavan have many homeless widows – a large proportion from Bengal (not that this tradition is completely absent in people from other states). This is also a reason why people of UP and Bihar look quite disrespectfully at Bengalis.
Nine years ago, a story in The Times of India, 'White Shadows of Vrindavan', made an NGO move a PIL in the Supreme Court for improving the pitiable condition of these widows abandoned by their relatives. As per a recent report in TOI pointed out to me by my father, who never misses a humanitarian story in any newspaper (this news went unreported by media completely; and strangely, even TOI didn't really promote it much), "It took 29 hearings, untiring efforts from advocate Ravindra Bana and the sensitiveness of a bench of [Supreme Court] Justices Madan B Lokur and N V Ramana to force the government to provide adequate housing for them [the widows] and increase the monthly grant from Rs 1,300 to Rs 5,100 from January 1 this year." The report further stated, "After giving relief to the widows of Vrindavan, the bench of Justices Lokur and Ramana turned its attention to other parts of Uttar Pradesh, and the states of West Bengal, Odisha and Uttarakhand. It asked the National Commission for Women to 'make a detailed inquiry and give a report to the SC about the condition of shelter homes for widows' in these states by April 22".
To me, this judgement is one of the biggest landmark judgements in the history of India. Kudos to the Supreme court for giving out the must humane judgement. These kinds of judgements change the history of a nation. The judgement undoes a huge malaise in our society. And more than that, it sets a benchmark against all kinds of crappy government arguments in the court to mislead the people of the country by giving figures of crores of rupees of investment in shelter for the homeless etcetera. We all know where those investments go and how they are siphoned off. So, the learned and humane Supreme Court judges threw those arguments and figures in the bin and in effect said that these women don't need government's fake investments... they need the money straight into their bank accounts. They will manage to find shelter and food themselves then.
If so many widows were to have money, there would be private players coming up in any case and making shelters et al. I actually think that in their moment of humanity, perhaps the judges themselves don't know the far, far reaching ramifications of this judgement.
This judgement comes in a country where the government has defined the poverty line as approximately Rs. 450 per head per month in rural areas and approximately Rs. 700 per head per month in urban areas. Assuming Vrindavan to be an urban area, that means that the government wants to say that Rs.3500 is good enough for a family of five to be above the poverty line and not to be called poor.
This is the government fraud meant to mislead the people and the world. Define the poverty line so abysmally low that obviously very few will fall below it... As they now state, only about 20% of India lives below the poverty line. At the IIPM Think Tank, we call it the destitution line and not the poverty line. Below this poverty line figure of the government, people are destitutes and not poor. How pathetic and how utterly shameful that even after the Achche Din government in power for about two and a half years, this shameful definition of poverty line given by its predecessors hasn't yet been changed.
Make the definition of poverty line the typical $2 a day (that is, roughly Rs. 150 a day, or about Rs. 5000 per head, per month; or Rs. 25,000 per family of five, per month) as defined by the UNDP and you will have more than double the above mentioned figure falling below poverty line.
Thus, the Supreme Court judgement has basically redefined the poverty line in India and made it at par with the globally accepted definition of being poor. This, to me, is just the beginning. By telling the government how to keep poor, homeless widows – that is, by giving them Rs. 5000 per head, per month – the Supreme Court has basically paved the way for every section marginalized by the society to knock at its door and demand basic dignity... not of just being able to survive but of being above standard definitions of poverty.
Every poor man deserves this right. Rs.5000 per head, per month at today's prices. Give this to every Indian Mr. Modi (in rural areas, you can make it 60% of this figure, that is, Rs. 3000 to begin with) and you won't lose the next three elections. Don't give it and someone else will give some election jumla – after all they are learning the tricks of the trade fast – and will take away this county in the next election, and we will remain where we are – a third world exploited country of political thugs and educated mafia that only wants to maintain status quo.
And if Mr. Modi doesn't do it, I hope another bench of learned Supreme Court judges do the needful. Soon.
N.B.: For about two decades, we at IIPM Think Tank have been writing on current topics. Many a time, a few days after we have covered some particular issue, others in the mainstream media have picked the same issue up; and a few days later, we have seen the same being implemented as if it was a normal process. Therefore, from hereon, I have decided to never write on a current topic, instead to pick a topic after it is old and the media and pseudo-intellectuals have let it pass (like the topic of today, which was reported in TOI dated 12th April, and even after three weeks, a Google search reveals that no one else has picked it up anywhere). This way, it will remain on record that we at IIPM Think Tank have always been and will remain to be at the forefront of change in the country.