Is a life worth Rs. 70,000 only?

Maverick: Those damned villagers ruined the car
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, April 17, 2007

Imagine you are a villager and have to depend on a daily wage. The sole earning member of your family has been killed. You are handed just enough money to last you four years if the normal daily income is Rs. 40. Is this justice?

Is justice about killing seven construction workers due to rash driving and getting away with a six-month jail sentence and a Rs. five lakh fine, most of which will be distributed to the family of those who were mowed down?

Is justice about “Man may lie, but circumstances never,’’ as the judge Ajit Mishra stated while letting off the accused, Alistair Pereira?

Is justice about the judge being aware that something was wrong but blaming it on bad police investigation and even worse prosecution? This is what he said: “One thing is certain... there was an accident by the car and seven people lost their lives. A chemical analysis report speaks of alcohol levels in blood but the prosecution did not examine any witness who said Pereira had consumed liquor.’’

Is there a law where the prosecuting lawyer can be sued? And the police? Why was this case wrapped up in five days and only six months after the accident?

Why did no political party visit the site at the time or offer any compensation? The workers had refused to claim the bodies because they had no money for the funeral.

These horrendous realities are bad enough.

I was shocked to read the headlines scream out in the papers then: “The Church speaks out – We’ll leave no stone unturned to ensure that the culprits in the Bandra case will not go scot-free...”

Since when did the Church become the custodian of justice in criminal cases? It is true that all those in the car were Catholics, but how does that make them better or worse?

A spokesperson for the archbishop had said, “But drunken driving is also a serious offence and a sin”. If the culprit had confessed, then would the parish have come to his rescue? Would he be forgiven by the Church? Does that change anything?

Joe Dias of the Catholic Secular Forum, a community group, took this even further, “Unfortunately, incidents like these will feed the stereotype of Catholics as alcoholics.” This is ridiculous. Drunken driving is a huge social problem, especially in metros. The Catholic Church seemed to be only concerned with its reputation. What stereotypes? True, Hindi films show Catholics enjoying their tipple, but that too is changing and for those labourers these stereotypes hold no value.

Who are they? The emphasis tends to be on the ‘youth of today’. This is a typical urban obsession. We know little or nothing about the labourers. Most work in farms in their villages and come to the cities after the harvest because there is nothing to grow. For all the talk about the Rajus in the interiors who are learning computers there are many more who have to do without electricity. And why does upward mobility always have to do with the metropolitan version of it? These people are considered outcastes and illegal immigrants when they come to the cities even if it is to build homes for us. Yet, there is no attempt to link our lives with theirs. Where are their roads, their transport, their hospitals?

They work in rich people’s houses where they barely get a decent salary. And they have to mimic the burra sahib fantasy of “Bearer chai lao”. In homes where food is cooked in desi ghee and tea isn’t Earl Grey but good old masala chai, this becomes a complete caricature.

Now we have a supposedly renaissance query thrown at the finalists of a beauty pageant: “If you had to convince a rural woman to compete in the Miss India pageant, what would you say to her?’’ The contestant who won the top honour had said, “I would first remind her that she has every right to such privileges as a Miss India would have. If she wins she could go back to her village and the improvement she would bring about would make the achievement of the pageant irreplaceable.”

I find the question itself disgusting. It means that rural women are seen as creatures from a different planet and have no place in such a contest anyway, which is why they would need to be ‘convinced’.

As for the reply, what rights does a pageant winner get except to realise some ambitions that are elitist to begin with? The rural woman could go back to her village. Of course! Are we being told that the ‘improvements’ she brings about would be due to walking on the ramp in designer clothes and giving rehearsed answers?

Are the hungry predators eyeing the villages? If you want development then educate them. Education does not mean learning to walk like you are holding something between your thighs, learning to talk as though you are at a school elocution competition, and looking like a million bucks which is roughly what it costs to get you to look that way. Please leave the rural woman and man out of the flashy drama.

And this also means their life is not worth 70,000 bucks each. Alistair Pereira’s killer Toyota Corolla cost more than Rs. 5 lakhs.


  1. blog
    UR quite sensitive soul!

  2. Given the fact that one cannot do much, this the least I can be without havign to flaunt my insaniyat...


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