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“Juveniles accused of heinous crimes will be tried as adults”.  It was reported in the national media yesterday (23/04/2015) that – after considering recommendations to the contrary – the Indian government’s Cabinet Committee has approved the amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.

Under the proposed amendment, juveniles in the age group of 16 to 18 can be tried under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) if they are accused of “heinous crimes like rape, murder, dacoity and acid attacks”.  In the interests of justice and fairness to the adolescents involved in such crimes, the proposed amendment provides that the psychologists and social expert members of the Juvenile Justice Board will assess, in every case, whether the particular crime was committed as a “child” or as an  “adult”.

This socio-legal development  touching on the highly complex issue of how mature and self-aware a “child” of 16 to 18 years who commits a brutal crime might be, comes in the wake of the horrific Nirbhaya gang rape of Delhi.  In that rape, of the four males who raped and brutalised the young woman on a private bus on Delhi’s killer roads on that smoggy December evening,  one was a “juvenile”.  While the other three rapists were given the severest sentences by the court, the “juvenile” was let off with a mere three year sentence.

It is almost three years since that judgement, and in a few months time this young person will be free to once again roam the streets of Delhi.  Possibly he will still have intact  some pre-existing psychological proclivity towards extreme violence, including sexual violence.   Possibly he will still be carrying the scars of his involvement in that heinous crime that shook the nation.

Certainly, we as a nation have not been given any evidence of whether, during his incarceration as a “juvenile”, he was put through intensive psychological counseling and rehabilitation such that he is no longer likely to pose a threat to his fellow beings, particularly women.  It is possible that the timing of the proposed amendment has been positioned against the context of the imminent release of this young adult.

In the wake of the judgement on the Nirbhaya case, two factors brought the issue of the “juvenile” to the centre stage of the debate.

One was the role of the “juvenile” in the heinous crime.  From the accounts of the other perpetrators and, notably, the dying testimony of the young woman herself, the picture that emerged of the “juvenile” was that he had been the most daring of the four rapists.  It was he who had spotted the young Nirbhaya and her male companion as potential victims for some possible ‘fun’ , and lured them into the bus with the offer of a ride to their destination.  He had also gone on to participate fully in the beating up of Nirbhaya’s companion followed by the rape of Nirbhaya herself.  And finally, it was at his initiative that the gang of four visited on her that ultimate act of brutal violence, as a punishment that she would never forget for being out ‘alone’ at 8 p.m. – and that too with a man – which resulted in her death.   The other factor that drew the spotlight was the lenient sentence meted out to him, solely due his being a few months short of age 18 at the time of the crime.

The most impassioned arguments made against the “juvenile” status accorded to him under the law, were that any male who could rape so brutally as to literally break asunder a woman’s body causing her death, deserved to be tried as an “adult”.  Surely, an adolescent capable of such violent initiatives could not be considered a safe enough member of society for early release?  Further, he was almost close to the cut-off date for “adulthood”; was it not then resorting to legalese to use reported age to classify him as a “child”?

The child rights activists, on the other hand, took shelter under the U.N. Convention on the rights of the child to which the Indian government is a signatory. In addition to his age, they highlighted the “juvenile’s” background – his disadvantaged economic and social circumstances resulting in poor upbringing,  low educational status, daily exposure to the poverty and violence inherent in slum living in the city, etc.- and argued that he was himself a “child victim” of societal malaise and deserved the right to be protected under the law against a double jeopardy.

Perhaps it is time to take the debate beyond the homogenized frameworks of  U.N. charters and the ‘objective’ criteria of age – both valid goals to work towards – and take account  of  complex cultural landscapes as they prevail in particular countries.

In India, for example, age reporting is not sacrosanct.  Birth registration is still not mandatory, nor practised universally.  Age certificates are still treated casually as something that can be drafted and altered at will depending on expediency; all that it takes  is payment of  a little grease money or use of a little political influence. I have myself witnessed this happen, where the village Sarpanch asks parents requesting an age certificate for a grown-up child, what age they would like put on the certificate on which he/she will place an official stamp of approval.  Again, children born years apart might be reissued fresh age certificates with retrospective effect to show them as having been born twins, so as to facilitate a parent’s political ambitions and meet the government’s two child norm for candidates wishing to stand for political office.  This may be more true of rural India, and among persons belonging  to educationally backward backgrounds.  Among many rural populations, there may also be a strong cultural propensity to roughly ‘estimate’ a child’s age long after the child’s birth,  by the season of the year when the child was born, or with a family event such a marriage that happened “10 or 15 years ago”, or with a local calendar.

Much of the above might be more true of large areas of the northern Indian belt.  In this culture region, for many persons, the time to deliberately exercise the right to decide what their official age should be, is when their school leaving certificate is being finalized.  In the widespread absence of birth certificates, it is the school leaving certificate that is accepted as ‘proof of age’ across northern India.  It used to be a joke that I often heard in my younger days,  growing up,  and later working, in north India.  That families – not necessarily economically disadvantaged, but in fact socially ambitious – would decide what ought to be the official age of their child (especially a son) at the time of his sitting for the school final exam, such that he would become eligible to sit for a whole host of competitive examinations, particularly the civil services examinations – each with its specific age cut-offs – that are the gateway to coveted public sector jobs.

Against the background of the social contexts briefly described above, rife with anarchic and inchoate elements, it is possible to see how the pitch might be queered for any court trying to decide whether a person who says he is three or six months short of his 18th birthday ought to be considered a “child” or an “adult” were he to stand accused of committing a brutal sexual crime – rape, acid attack – or murder.

Yet another factor adds to the complexity of the debate.  This is the discretion that the proposed amendment  grants to the supposed “experts” who will have the responsibility of assessing whether the 16-18 year old accused committed the crime as a “child” or as an “adult”.  Will those appointed as “experts” be already schooled in the necessary rigorous professional standards, universalistic cultural values, and ethical norms to give fair and just assessments?  We already have the example of professionals in other modern institutions – police, lawyers, judges, to name just a few  – who could carry their culturally derived social prejudices into their professional roles, thereby adding fuel to the already present tensions in a society that is in a state of upheaval arising out of the clash of traditional social values and mores, with modernizing forces.

Finally, drawing from the last-mentioned factor, so much of what manifests as violence and crime by adolescents arises out of everyday social processes within which young people get caught up.  A decade or so ago, a friend of mine recounted a personal story.  It was the year that his son was studying in class ten of an upmarket Mumbai school. It had just come to light that four of his classmates who belonged to a friendship group had plotted and killed the mother of one of the group so that they could enjoy the cash that the lady reportedly stashed away in her home.  It took a year for the boys’ lavish spending habits to catch the attention of the crime detection branch.  When the appalled principal of the school called a meeting of all students and parents to introspect on what had gone wrong within the school community, several classmates of the criminal 16 year olds blurted out, in all their honesty, that perhaps the fault lay with parents not being strict enough with their children.  My friend – whose own son was the mildest sort of fellow – confessed to being shocked by the children’s analysis; he had just no idea that young people in fact wanted grown ups to put more boundaries into place, and not give them untrammeled freedoms whose consequences they were unable to handle.

The proposed – controversial – amendment announced yesterday  is seen by many who oppose it as a response to the visceral feelings of public anger arising out of the singular Nirbhaya case, rather than being grounded in a larger and well-informed philosophical framework.  The answer – if at all there are any answers in a grey area where only many questions abound – probably lies somewhere in between.

If we are to mature as a democracy that can take along with it the bewildering array of social diversities and cultural temporalities that prevail in 21 st century India, we will have to agree to allow for grey areas to persist as we grow in wisdom as a modernising society.  It is not easy to legislate in a manner that takes account of all the multiple contradictory trends that swirl around us.  Yet it is a challenge that cannot be avoided.  Tentativeness, and willingness to revisit issues, keep debates and minds open, and amend amendments, is probably the key.  Simultaneously, consciously building high quality professional skills in the areas of adolescent psychology, mental health, school and community level counseling, and legal aid – skills that could be called into yeoman service in multiple social areas – is a task that should have begun yesterday.

With one of the largest populations in the world in the age group 16 to 18 years, and a society seeing unprecedentedly rapid social and cultural changes to which this highly impressionable and volatile age group would perhaps be among the first to respond, the educational, psychological, sexual and, indeed, overall well being of our young people, free from extreme panic reactions by ultra conservative social and religious elements,  ought to be among our highest priorities.

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Listening to a rainbow

I first wrote the piece below on September 26th.  After an absolutely magical afternoon of wind, rain and rainbow colours in the sky.  Like the greedy person that I am, I had hoped that there would be more such afternoons, and perhaps more rainbows.  But nothing quite Iike that has come my way again.

However, I cannot complain. The days are becoming less fiercely hot and are often overcast with gentle grey clouds that induce a calm and even greater silence to the skies.  And the early mornings have just that light touch of chill to signal that autumn is at the door. Although I am an obstinate learner, nature is determinedly teaching me to be content with whatever comes my way.  It has also been a mellowing experience re-visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, this time to particularly follow it up with a reading of some of those who inspired his early thinking about living in alignment with nature …   Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman. …

So, joy following an afternoon of rain and rainbow was how I felt on September 26.

Unbeknownst to me, around that time, a very special person in my life Acharya Shri Goenkaji, teacher of Vipassana meditation, was allowing his body to yield to the inevitable cycle of life and death. Listening to his wise teaching last year at a course that I served, had helped me cope with the final stage of my mother’s life and her beautiful and gentle  death, with equanimity.  It is not even a year since my mother died and I have already lost this wonderful teacher.  I cannot but believe that that rainbow was telling me something.
———-
“A Rainbow to Fill Our Hearts and More”

Yesterday  afternoon, the weather changed suddenly.  From being hot and humid with bright cloudless skies,  there was a distinct drop in temperature of a few degrees.  The sun disappeared behind some very grey clouds.   And a brisk cool wind got busy.  We had assumed for the last couple of weeks that the rains had well and truly departed from our lives for this season.  But what was happening now spoke to us of other delights in store.

Within minutes the brisk wind had become a squall.  As some doors and windows – carelessly left unfastened assuming warm, still weather –  started banging, dying and dry leaves from trees around the house began whirling their way into the courtyard and into the sparkling water of freshly cleaned and filled pool.  Soon enough, what started out as a few giant drops developed into a heavy shower.

The newly-wet earth let out a mighty fragrance.  A luminous and unearthly light bathed the landscape.  And we could do little else but lift our faces to the sky and gratefully feel the water cascading down our bodies, and gawk in wonder at what was happening.  Standing on the roof, it was easy to feel one with the obvious delight of the swaying trees,  the gratitude of the shrubs for getting a natural cleansing,  the spirited drumming of vertical lines of water on the courtyard and pool, and the sudden wetness all around after weeks of dry earth and fading grass.

Within an hour the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started.  But there was a still greater treasure in store.   Strong and glowing, girdling the expansive sky above us, stood our first rainbow of the season.  Like a benediction.  A canopy that we wanted to snuggle under, never to leave.  Some grey but spent clouds still covered half the sky swallowing up about a quarter of the rainbow.  But it didn’t matter.  Our day was made.  Our hearts were full.  And it prompted us to think of all the good and bad  in our lives –  all the human and non-human beings of the world, all the known and unknown beings, all the friends and loved ones and the not-so friends and not-so-loved ones, all those near and distant – and to wish for them the same happiness  and peace and joy in nature’s wonders that filled our hearts that evening.

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During the week that the country was outraged  by the gang rape case in metropolitan Mumbai,  the national newspapers were perhaps barely reporting that the rule of law  was  being systematically  undermined in yet another fashion in  a tier two state capital, this  time in the guise of the benign cause of student empowerment.

Rajasthan University recently concluded its student union elections.  For weeks preceding the date,  electioneering  panned out far and wide, way beyond the city of Jaipur the apparent home of  the voting constituency.   Giant colour posters of the candidates prominently displaying their caste surnames were visible everywhere in the city and rural hinterland, both as static hoardings and on moving local and inter-city buses, jeeps and autos, blatantly  demonstrating  big buck support for those  in the fray.

Then came the elections.  Voting, counting, and post-election declaration of results all took place amidst violent political and caste battles between supporters of the rival candidates in and around Jaipur city.  Public buses  and trains were burnt, cars stoned, inter-state highways occupied, and persons attacked.  In the midst of daily local newspaper coverage of the raging  lawlessness, the “winners” of the election were declared by the university’s  vice chancellor.  The bizarre  picture  of the group  flashing wide smiles and victory signs adorned the day’s front page, in complete disregard for the ethics of the circumstances under which the university has acted as a nursery for these budding politicians.

For whom was this a victory?    For the cause of higher education, that is the raison d’etre of any university including the Rajasthan University?   For student governance – or misgovernance in this case – that these expensively and violently elected representatives will engage in for the rest of their student tenure?  For the big political parties which, financially and institutionally and through cadre support, backed these candidates in the expectation that they will before long  arrive on the national stage as seasoned politicians?   For the  rival  caste groups that are looking to these  politicians-in-the-making to carry their particular causes into future electoral processes, both state and national?

Is it surprising then that this is the kind of political leadership we have, and are likely to get in the future?  Is it surprising that all our political parties have closed ranks in the face of  the Supreme Court directive that all elected politicians  who are charge-sheeted for criminal activity should immediately resign from their posts as representatives?  Should not political and electoral reform if they are to succeed  begin in these nurseries, rather than wait for youth politicians to mature into violence and lawlessness co-terminously with their maturation as national level “representatives”?

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The previous blogpost (“Of questionable dreams and violent youth”) about “educated” male youth turning violent when denied government jobs raised some questions about what education might mean for young males in rural and small town India.  

 This story explores yet another facet of the social dynamics of male education in this same locational context.   

 C.M. Jatawa is “educated”.  Which means that he has done 10 years of school.  He  works as a village level organizer for one of the major national political parties.  Basically, this gives him the licence to look important and spend his time visiting important local people like the Sarpanch (elected chief of the Village Council),  the Patwari (government revenue official at the village level), and possibly various  government functionaries and political workers of his party at the district level.  He uses the visits to generally sit  around in their offices and become privy to the matters they attend to, to be welcomed into their homes including  for special family celebrations like marriages, etc., and generally become a familiar presence in the area as a fixer and conduit. 

 Jatawa likes to be addressed as “C.M.”.  C.M. is the accepted acronym in the corridors of political power in India for the Chief Minister of a state, and the title gives Jatawa a great kick, causing him to strut around like a political leader in the waiting.   Part of the accessories of such a self-important self image is that  C.M.  likes to sound vague about “small” things.  In other words,  he conveys that he is a man who is on to big things and has no time or inclination for inconsequentials.  This came home to me when we ran into him recently in the village.   

 C.M. is one of six brothers.  They are jats, an intermediate caste in the Hindu caste hierarchy, whose traditional vocation has always been agriculture; they are known for their skill and industry as tillers. C.M.’s family used to be  tenants of our family in the feudal era of big landlordism; they have since Independence and land reforms  become land owners and now till their own land.  The six brothers own and till their land in common – a well tended green expanse – and also jointly own assets like tractors, tube wells, mechanized threshers,  a common granary, a workshop etc.  The homestead is a huge compound consisting of six large independent houses in a row that are  not individually walled in.  But each house has its own kitchen, so the daughters-in-law are the mistresses of their own homes.  Among jats, both men and women of the family work together on the land.  The women of the Jatawa extended family are no exception to this.  They also socialize together, the children play together, and the family’s patriarch and matriarch sit on plastic chairs under the trees along the front of the houses, looking  inquisitive, important and relevant.

I happened to visit the Jatawa homestead one day, in the course of a camel cart ride through the farms in the area along with a visiting friend.  We were invited into the compound, entertained with chai, and introduced to all those who happened to be present, with their relationship status clearly spelt out.  We admired the babies, asked after the schooling of the children, oohed and aahed over the gleaming kitchens that the women proudly led us to, watched the thresher reduce residue stalks into finely chopped cattle feed, and generally showed our appreciation for the neatness and prosperity of the place.  My friend also took lots of photos of the family on her digital camera, much to the enjoyment of all.

Just before we left, one of the women – the wife of the eldest brother – showed us a small skinny boy who looked five but who she said was actually ten years old.  She showed us his spindly legs and asked us what could be done about the fact that he could hardly walk and  almost not run, because his legs were too weak.  Due to  these reasons, the boy was irregular in school attendance and also did not play with other children.

It seemed to me an obvious case of severe Vit. D deficiency.  “Would you help?”, she asked, “it is after all the question of a boy’s future.”  I had half a mind to ask her what she thought of girls’ futures, but held my tongue.  I was a guest and had to know my limits.  I assured her that the child was treatable and promised to give them a letter of introduction to a good pediatrician in the city whom I knew, in addition to advising them, if they wished, on diet and exercise and general care of the child.

Within a few days, the parents came to visit with the child and left with the promised letter  to the doctor.  I also asked them to phone me from the doctor’s clinic so I could speak with the doctor to learn more about the case and help with follow up.  I felt that being illiterate and quite clearly also totally lacking in health literacy, the parents might not be able to report back to me cogently.  A couple of days later, the doctor called me; he confirmed that it was indeed rather severe Vit. D deficiency and told me what line of treatment he had put the child on.  It was a happy end to the first part of the story. 

I had been meaning to visit the child to find out how he was progressing with the new treatment.  In the interim we ran into C.M.  On hearing that he was one of the six brothers and that he lived right next door to the child, I asked him how the child was doing.  His face and voice changed immediately.  From looking respectful and animated about making his acquaintance with us, he allowed a veil of indifference to descend over his face.  His voice became vague and began trailing off… “Child?  What child?  Whose? Was there a health problem that you found in my family?” Then with a self deprecating laugh,  “Where do I have the time to take notice of such things.  I am so busy…” 

Realising by then that we were quite familiar with his family background, his voice suddenly changed to a brisk, “Actually I have something important to attend to.  Could I take your leave please?  I will come back to see you in a few minutes.”  So saying, he  made his getaway and of course,  never returned.    

 My husband and I looked after him stunned.  Here was a very close relative of the child in question, a member of the same family, who lived right there.   Here  was the youngest of six brothers and the only “educated” one among them. Clearly, the otherwise illiterate family had invested in his education because he was a male, and because by virtue of his birth order he was simply the luckiest of all his siblings to be able to reap the advantage of the new social wisdom that children ought to be sent to school.  And the extended family was still investing in him.  They had not only supported his entry into politics (probably with the hope of harvesting some long-term benefits for the family),  but were continuing to  support him by taking care of his wife and children, since he was making no contribution to the general kitty through cash or labour.  

But what was the response of this  “educated” male, who the family must  have hoped would lead them to a better future?   C.M. was too busy turning his so-called educational advantage  towards his own self aggrandizement and political future.   While riding on the shoulders of his extended family for all his needs, he had atomized himself totally when it came to the benefits,  ignoring his obligations towards the larger collectivity that was supporting him. 

In this specific instance, he had not bothered to allow his education to be an asset to his extended family, by giving a thought to how he could help his  brother and sister-in law in the matter of their health-disadvantaged child.  Over and above that, he could not even bring himself to, at the very least, respond to the show of interest and active support in the matter from us, total outsiders to the family.     

Even granted, that he saw himself as a politician in the making, isn’t this concrete evidence of political indifference at the ground level to matters relating to local health isues and preventable disability among small children?   What good for the community can be expected to come out of C.M.’s entry into politics?

 What does all this say about “male” education?   

 If one were to extend this argument further, policy interventions such as the NAREGA (the government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) are predicated on leveraging one member of every family to the hypothetical benefit of the whole family (under NAREGA one member of every family is entitled to 100 days’ wage employment in a year) .  But the institution of the family even in rural India– and in rural Rajasthan, which might well be one of the last bastions of tradition – is changing rapidly.  It is now each man for himself. Advantages accruing to one male member no longer trickle down to the rest of the family.

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On Friday May 18, in a little town on the outskirts of the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan, the federal Indian Government’s 123 Territorial Army Grenadier was conducting an open recruitment rally.  More than 15,000 young men reportedly attended the rally in pursuit of a secure government job.  By the evening of that day, the shortlist of recruits was announced. Those rejected ran into tens of thousands.  Almost all were rejected on “medical grounds”. 

Instead of returning home, the rejected candidates proceeded to go on a rampage to vent their anger against everything and everybody in sight. Private vehicles and citizens, police vans and personnel, railway trains and passengers, petrol stations and their attendants, schools and classrooms, all became targets for the several hour long violence that ensued.  Road vehicles and passenger trains were set on fire, train and bus drivers and related transport personnel were beaten up, railway carriages and passengers were pelted with stones, passers-by were stopped and assaulted and their vehicles confiscated for their combustible contents which were then used to set fire to public property, and passing trucks were commandeered for the rioters to move further afield and continue their acts of arson, including smashing the windows of a school and attempting to set fire to classrooms.  Pictures in yesterday’s newspapers showed the rioters to be aggressively-charged young men, waving fists and jeering, and generally looking uncontrollable. 

The state government’s analysis of the situation is that it was a mistake to permit such a large number of applicants to congregate, and to have been unprepared with sufficient number of police forces for crowd control.  Newspapers have not gone beyond offering graphic descriptions of what that little town witnessed.

But there are larger questions that this dreadful incident raises. 

What is it about the nature of the recruitment policies that they first permit applicants to participate in numbers that are grossly in excess of the demand, and then  reject them wholesale, invariably on so-called “medical grounds”? 

What is it about the police, military and law enforcement agencies in general in the country that attracts so-called “educated” young men from rural and small town India in such large numbers to aspire for jobs in them? 

Since these jobs call for not more than 10 years of schooling, what is it about being “educated” and “being male”   that gives these youth the feeling of entitlement to aspire to such jobs and go on a rampage if denied them? 

Finally, can ordinary citizens feel safe in the hands of  agencies composed of potential recruits such as these?   

Quite clearly, jobs in the police and related agencies fulfill two deep-seated and related hungers in the Indian context.  The power to instill fear that goes with proximity to the State.  And the  potentially unlimited illegal income over a lifetime that access to State power gives to an incumbent.  It is for these reasons that law enforcement agencies and related recruitment policies and procedures are so politically manipulated, so full of corruption and lack of transparency, and so rife with intimidation by those holding the reins of office.  Persons who successfully wade through this minefield of obstacles to acquire such jobs then feel entitled to begin their careers with initimidating citizens, extorting monies from every encounter where citizens that have the misfortune to have to relate to them or, if neither of these is possible, at least place needless roadblocks to a citizen’s pursuit of straightforward tasks which require some minimal coordination with the police. 

Ashish, a native of Uttar Pradesh, came to work for us through one of his fellow-villagers who told him about a job possibility with us.  Within days of his joining us we learnt that this was just a filler, since Ashish’s true aspiration was to become a police constable.  As someone from a farming background who had done high school, Ashish believed that he now deserved nothing less than a government job.  And that of all government jobs, one with the police would make him rich soon.  “How would you become rich?”  I asked him innocently.  “By taking bribes”, Ashish smiled.  He didn’t even imagine that I might be horrified by his reply.  He told me how his main problem was that he did not have the Rs. 200,000 for a bribe that could fix the job for him. 

Ashish’s story would be funny if it wasn’t also so tragic.  He had already applied twice when two major recruitment drives were publicly announced.  And he had been rejected both times on “medical grounds”.  Ashish is a very healthy 22 year old, over six feet tall and muscular, and a huge eater.  Every morning he would wake up at 4 a.m. to go running.  He told me earnestly that for years he had been practising “daud” (running) – the main physical test for police recruitment – and that his timing was excellent.  However, he was failed after the test.  When he went  – to whoever – and asked why, he was told that he had been rejected on medical grounds.  They showed him a thin  inch-sized scar on his inner wrist and said that that disqualified him. 

Undeterred, Ashish applied a second time, and practised his daud for months before the test.  This time, again, he was declared unfit on medical grounds.  They told him that it was because he had wax in one ear.  Ashish went promptly to a specialist Ear Nose and Throat doctor in a nearby town and paid Rs. 500 to have his wax status checked;  the doctor pronounced that he had no wax in his ears at all.  When he went back – again, to whoever – with the doctor’s report, he was told that the recruitment decisions had already been made,  and that he could  apply for a third time if he wished. 

Ashish had come to us after applying for a third time and was basically waiting for his test call.  Every morning he would go running for two hours.  And every evening he would come to me with a shy smile as I sat in front of my computer,  to see if I would track his application number on the Uttar Pradesh Government’s website.  I was more than happy to help, even if only to understand how these government recruitments worked.  Imagine our joint horror when   the website claimed that his application  number did not exist at all.  Every day we would try again, and also punch in a few numbers preceding and a few numbers following the number that he had been officially given, just in case “they” had slyly manipulated numbers so as to drop him off.  Or even just been plain inefficient in feeding in the number in question.  We even tried random permutations and combinations.  None of them “existed”.  The website  announced that several hundreds of thousands of application forms had been given out for just a few hundred jobs.  “Sold” would have been a more correct word; with each application form costing Rs. 750, the state government must have made a killing on that alone.  And who knows whether Ashish’s form was a genuine one or a counterfeit one – with a fake number – printed by some insider wanting to make money on the side? 

Every evening after our futile little exercise Ashish would bravely keep his smile on his face, but his eyes would fill with unshed tears as he turned away to leave my desk.  For all his huge presence and dreams of making it big, he was only 22 years old. It was hard to believe that he already had the responsibility of  a wife and new baby, back home.  By now I was too heartbroken for Ashish to ask any more questions about the middlemen that he might have bribed along the way to acquiring each of these three application forms, and how much debt he had already run up. 

But most depressing of all was that even as sweet and relatively innocent and young a person as Ashish thought that it was perfectly normal to aspire for a job that brought in several times one’s salary in the form of bribes.  Who knows whether he, too, may have retaliated violently if he had been part of a faceless mob rejected on spurious “medical” grounds?

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