A Tale of Two Disasters
By Sanjay Pinto

Calamities bring out the best and worst of humanity. An eight year old girl broke her piggybank that she had saved to buy a cycle to donate eight thousand rupees to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. A young lady parted with money rustled up for her surgery. A college student who had made news for selling fish to foot her education expenses handed over a lakh and a half for the cause. The have-nots brought tears to our eyes with their spirit of giving.

Cut to criminals camouflaging their own bank account details in appeals for donations to the CM’s Relief Fund. Or a political functionary posting an audio file on whatsapp asking people not to donate money on the score that the affected residents were rich and didn’t need help. Or a fake army jawan criticising the Kerala Government. Or party workers allegedly pasting their symbol stickers on relief material sent by Good Samaritans. Even in times of acute suffering, there are those who are out to make a quick buck or play cheap games.

Remember the time two young women in Mumbai were arrested over a facebook post  on public inconvenience over  the death of a political leader? Or cases filed against activists who protest peacefully? But during a natural disaster, which, in a sense, is like an emergency in an area, how stringent is the action initiated against trouble makers and rumour mongers?

The fishermen of Kerala proved to be God’s Own Angels, jumping into rescue efforts with their boats and refusing to accept money from the government for their work. The sight of people lining up to thank them mattered more than a dole of a few thousand rupees. You don’t need a cape or a uniform to be a super hero. Bureaucrats worked flat out and even delivered motivational speeches to keep the morale of their subordinates high. The Army, Navy and Air Force, as always, were our saviours and our pride. A simple ‘Thank You’ message painted on the terrace of the home of a marooned pregnant lady who was rescued by a Navy officer and who later delivered a baby, was a reward in itself for the brave commander. Yet, we will cite financial constraints when it comes to meeting the demands of our armed forces and reportedly give them a lakh crore less than what they asked for. Nothing prevents our elected representatives from giving themselves fancy hikes whenever they please.

The Malayalam TV Channels that steered clear of the ‘Breaking News’ frenzy, replacing it with ‘Good News’ and meaningful campaigns like ‘Open Your Hearts, Open Your Doors’, will not be celebrated. But rabble rousers will top the TRPs. And sections of the media will still be labelled ‘presstitutes’.

We will sanction hundreds and thousands of crore rupees for the installation of statues, for publicity, for brand building and pet schemes to score political brownie points. But in times of natural disasters, we will end up releasing funds in a piece meal fashion.

There will be no restrictions on political parties getting funding. But if foreign powers offer aid (the UAE ‘largesse’ for Kerala is still a mystery) a sort of ‘dog in the manger’ stance will be adopted.

Whether it was the Chennai Deluge of 2015 or the Kerala Floods this year, the response of civil society, the spontaneous volunteering, the missionary zeal of NGOs, the initiative of citizens, who used the social media like a control room to put out SOS calls for rescue, streamline despatch of relief material and the sheer generosity of the average Indian,not to speak of professionals striking barter deals with companies for the cause, made me feel so proud to belong to this country. But the narratives playing out also made me wonder how on earth there can be ‘educated’ people who can curse others, attribute the calamity to eating beef or link it to a controversy over temple entry, or paddle some weird ‘scientific’ theory.

The two sides of India. Stark, as ever. Washed ashore when tragedies strike. 

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)