vol-LXXVIII : November 1, 2010

Dear Colleagues

I am trying to maintain the tradition of monthly random reflections; here is another one:

1.  The dramatic conduct of 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi this past month has been a major catastrophe for ‘shining India’. The sports infrastructure couldn’t be developed in time; the tickets couldn’t be sold; the galleries remained empty of spectators; young volunteers were perpetually harassed; the cycling competition at Cannaught Place was seen by policemen alone; the host welcomed Prince Charles and ‘Lady Diana’ at the inauguration. Anything that could go wrong, did. The most atrocious thing done by the government was to send off beggars and street children in far away camps; the hutments of Delhi’s poor were covered with banners of the Games; and, thousands of vendors were asked to stay at home. What is the cost of the Games for the poor and the excluded of Delhi, and India?

2.  Once again, Gandhi’s birthday came on October 2, and went away. International Day of Peace and Non-violence was celebrated with passion around the world; in India, boring rituals were carried out by numerous government departments and ministers; millions were invested in advertisements to eulogise the ‘spirit’ of Gandhi once again. Yet, state and militia violence against the citizens of India continued unabated; youth in Kashmir and tribals in the eastern districts of India continued to be dealt with violently. Peace eludes India, the land of Gandhi!

3.  While massive arrangements were made in Delhi to arrange a wide variety of cultural events to coincide with Commonwealth Games, the participation of ordinary citizens was non-existent. In contrast, Mussoorie in the hills of Uttarakhand hosted a Writers’ Festival where children and citizens were enthusiastically interacting with the world of stories, poems and narratives. Delhi is not the center of creativity, despite its ‘capital’ status!

4.  The United Nations had honoured the contributions of volunteers in 2001; it is about ten years since then. The spirit of volunteerism is universal, and associated with the very essence of humanity. New forms of volunteering have been emerging; the virtual world of volunteering is becoming as robust as the virtual space for civil society discourse. Corporate volunteering has become a growing phenomenon in many countries around the world. In celebrating the decade since then next year in 2011, it will be useful to remember that unknown citizens volunteer in their neighbourhood daily to build and nurture the bonds of relationships that act as scaffoldings for our societies.

5.  Last week has witnessed widespread publicity about Micro Finance Institutions in India. The Government of Andhra Pradesh (the home of most vibrant microfinance industry) has promulgated a legislation to regulate MFIs, specially with respect to interest rates and methods of recovering payments. It is important that this occasion is used to generate a systematic understanding of costs and benefits of financial inclusion of the poor, the myth and implications of unrealistic expectations of 99% recovery rates, and the real meaning of market-driven social business and social entrepreneurs.

All the very best and happy Diwali!


Rajesh Tondon