But is it only their governments that are to blame?
Since their birth, India and Pakistan have been blots on the human civilisation and on the tenets of humanism. They have indulged in wars, million internal mutinies, perennial sabre-rattling, blood-shedding over Kashmir and across the border. While one country calls itself the world’s largest democracy, the other struggles to be a middling one.
Their unending struggle to become more equal societies and the near-total control of their societal hierarchies on politics and power, has meant that large parts of their populations lead hand-to-mouth lives. Of course, some social changes have taken place in both countries over the last 72 years. From being overpopulated, underfed, underclothed, under-sheltered, undereducated and jobless, they are now poorly educated, poorly fed, poorly skilled and semi-employed. They can still be wiped out by floods, famine or drought. They can die of summer heat, winter cold or monsoon rains.
In elections after elections (be it national, state or municipal ones), the lack of roads, power, water, and corruption-free governance are regular refrains. Be it bijli-sadak-pani (electricity-road-water), garibi hatao (remove poverty), Naya Pakistan or national security—as we are seeing in India now—for most parts, governments in both countries have failed to give the poorest of the poor their rights as citizens. Often, these elected governments become the public’s enemy number one.
In such situations, large parts of the populace find organised religion networks as a solution to many of their problems. While elite cabals control governments, religion controls and mobilises the populace in these apparently-democratic nation-states.
The truth is actual fruits of economic and social growth rarely reach large portions of the populace. It is the top tier of both countries that benefit. The increase in income of Pakistan’s and India’s super-rich reflects this reality.
At least on the poverty question, a country that calls itself the world’s largest democracy must show results on the ground. Never does a tag mar India’s image as much as poverty alleviation does. Pakistan doesn’t make such claims, as it knows its limitations.
After seven decades of so-called freedom, if India and Pakistan have had Army rule, wars, farmer suicides, industrial unrest, the question that needs to be asked is: what is the purpose of electing governments? Do people need expensive charades like elections? Do we need a nation-state? Recently, comic Kunal Kamra made a point along similar lines. He said: “What’s keeping one from having a Tata or Ambani to the Prime Minister’s post?”
Can we still call ourself a democracy, if after 70 years we still struggle to deliver democratic goods and services to each citizen? Thus, Pakistan and India make for a combined 150-crore population disaster. But lest you misconstrue me, let me add that the poor of these parts of the world don’t quite accept their kismet (destiny). In India, there is a regular pushback from farmers and workers over government-mandated minimum wages, protections, and rights. The same is seen in Pakistan too.
The larger questions that need to be addressed are: why do citizens have to bear the cost of imponderables, of government’s farming and industrial policies, of international trade and the might of corporate power? Why is their situation forever suicide-inducing? Why do they have to lead lives that seem so close to death for generations? What’s the value of being born in these societies where life has no value? Why do poor people produce progeny into penury? (These questions apply to Pakistan’s and India’s upper classes and castes too.) What moral right do the rich have to multiply in poor countries? What gives them the right to have children knowing they will inhabit a violent, unequal, and unfair social system? Is it correct to only blame failing and corrupt governments that fail to handle over-crowded countries? What about the individual’s agency to abstain from the propagation of species?
Given the unending misery of the majority who are poor, is it correct to say that Pakistan’s and India’s populations are their strengths? Happy populations are well-fed, well-clothed, have access to education and healthcare, to say the least. They do not have to consider suicide over a failed crop or battle their ancestors’ land debt.
Sanjay Gandhi was an embodiment of radical evil with his population-control methods. But his action conceded the government’s failure over the population question. (Why did he go after the poor, why not the Lutyens’ well-heeled or Bombay’s super-rich?)
Few subcontinental politicos, parties or governments will admit that population is a problem. It’s a part of our hypocrisy and is too painful to admit our wrongs. And our organised religion cultures venerate propagation of the species, eschewing reason.
Thus, well aware of their past, present and possible future hardships, poor Indians and Pakistanis will continue to reproduce. Masses of old and young, poor, ailing and infirm will gather outside temples, mosques, churches, dargahs, shrines and stupas for alms. If God exists, why have they been kept poor? If governments functioned, would they be there? If this is life, why does it make self-elimination look so good? If one continues with this line of questioning, one may see that Pakistan and India are united in their disgrace. But is it only their governments that are to blame?