It seems bizarre that in a country supposedly so self-sufficient that it can all but do away with the need for imports and manufacture its own infrastructure, we have had disastrous annual floods in practically every corner over the last five years.And all we have to show for it are, not emergency evacuation plans, not overhauled systems of floodwater drainage, not a crackdown on illegal or dangerous construction that could compromise the safety of vulnerable land, but a glut of laudatory media pieces, saluting the “spirit” of the places that have been devastated by flooding.
The problem is: we must despair both for humanity and religion when such incidents become newsworthy. The problem also is: we must despair for development when, despite warnings of impending rainfall, despite similar ordeals undergone elsewhere in the country, no lesson is learnt and a flood occurs anyway. “Development”, in the heads of most people – particularly those who run for office – is synonymous with high-rise buildings and energy consumption. With scant regard for the resources we are depleting from the land, we have drawn – and then overdrawn – on all that it has to offer. We build castles in the air, and dig their foundations deep into the ground. We cut down forests to create “biodiversity parks”. We live from election to election, digging up roads and laying them again without improving the drainage systems. Our countermeasures against natural disasters are simply stopgap arrangements. It appears we can never foresee excessive rainfall, despite encountering it every year. We can never build roads that will withstand the slightest disturbance over the expected limit. We can never chalk out emergency plans that can be executed at short notice. And, best of all, there is no need, because the “spirit” of a place will endure. Exhausted volunteers smile for the cameras at a job well done, and we forget that there should have been no need for their services in the first place. If the governments did their job, if people and industries were not allowed to consistently skirt rules in order to satisfy their greed for land and money, if politicians thought about genuinely improving the place of which they have charge for the term instead of channelling its resources for their personal gain for as long as they have control of those resources, there would be no need for us to celebrate the “spirit” of a place in the aftermath of excessive rainfall. By definition, a “natural disaster” refers to something that is entirely unforeseen, fury unleashed on people caught unaware. An annual ritual cannot be a natural disaster. Terms such as “untimely monsoon” have become so commonplace that we are immune to the nonsensical nature of their semantics. Perhaps we have regressed to such a state of selfishness that we find something remarkable about people carrying on their shoulders the animals they have raised as they leave their destroyed homes; that we find something newsworthy in religions accommodating each other; that we draw comfort from people helping each other with time, money, food, clothing, and shelter; that kindness is celebrated. Every year, we circulate viral images that we consider evidence of heroism – the photograph of soldiers from the Indian Army improvising a bridge by lying across the skeleton of a broken bridge so that pilgrims could be rescued during the Kedarnath floods of 2013 comes to mind – but these are, in fact, evidence of ineptitude. When our governments at the state and centre have to shrug their shoulders at “acts of God” every year, there is little to be proud of, other than our propensity for creating hashtags and headlines that can spin state apathy into self-governance.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
V S Naipaul: The man the world loved to hate
The legacy of Karunanidhi
"Rapistan": There are no safe places
The "most dangerous country" poll should not make us defensive
The illusion of secularism
When hooliganism is state-sanctioned
Tarun Tejpal case: When the media plays jury
Karnataka: Death of democracy
India shining as ecosystems die?
Tamil Nadu: The land of the lawless
When death does not deter
Power play at a time of crisis
A country in denial
The gods have left the temples
What cricketers' reactions to ball-tampering show
Even Chhota Bheem knows our data was never private
No Confidence Motion: Why is the BJP nervous?
Do we really have the right to die with dignity?
Democracy has no place for mobs The Sridevi South India lost