To boycott or not to boycott...
on Honk if you Like Curry (India), 12/Oct/2010 14:02, 34 days ago
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So finally they are here. The Commonwealth Games (CWGs) have landed with all their opening ceremony pomp along with the scandals of snakes in stadiums, collapsed ceilings and bridges, paw prints on athletes beds and of course tales of corruption.I’ve been amazed at the amount of coverage in overseas press and comparison with organising a big Indian wedding, chaos until the last minute and then it all comes together. Well, having lived here for the last 11 months I’ve witnessed more chaos than ceremony and I’m not quite convinced Delhihas reached its desired world class city status or that everything was going to be ready in time, but it is.One of the reasons I was keen to take a VSO placement in India was to have the experience of living in a BRIC developing country that is on its way to developed status. The CWGs have been hailed as the event that would reinforce that India is on track for developed nation status, hand in hand with its 7.4% economic growth in 2009-10. Surely with all this growth, poverty must be reducing? Well, India ranked 67 out of 84 countries for having alarming scales of hunger in the 2010 Global Hunger Index, so guess not. Urban poverty is increasing at a disturbing rate, so living in Delhi you see poverty against the backdrop of contrast, slums next to shopping malls and migrant workers including female labourers building the so called world class facilities for the CWGs whilst their children play on the side of the road.In a country where out of a population of 1.2 billion, 830 million Indians earn less that Rs20 (28p) a day, is it right that I attend, support and enjoy an event that has cost India $6 billion when I’m here to do my bit towards fighting global poverty?I personally don’t agree with any country spending billions on a one off sporting event when there is no investment in sport at a grass roots level, in particular at schools. Let alone when that money could be used on basic education, infrastructure, healthcare or stop people going to bed hungry at night. Thereare more poor people in eight Indian states than in the 26 poorest African countries combined. Delhi has amongst the lowest occurrences of poverty in India, while at the other extreme, 81% of the state of Bihar’s population is poor. It’s ironic that many of the 100,000 labourers who worked forunfair wages to prepare Delhi for the CWGs were from Bihar.There are two sides to every story and Delhites will benefit from the CWGs even if the rest of India won’t. The opening of the metro has definitely made my life easier. I can now spend Rs12 on a journey rather than Rs60 in a rickshaw. The city is a lot quieter as most people have escaped and the alleged thousands of tourists have not arrived so the traffic is marginally better. The whole place is on lockdown this Thursday for the closing ceremony so we all get a day off work. But there also have been disruption and disease. Schools have been shut, shops and markets are closed and there has been a mass outbreak of dengue as the construction sites have been a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes. Last week I was with a fellow volunteer when she got omitted to hospital with dengue and sitting in the waiting room with a lot of other sick people I doubt anyone would have got enthusiastic about the CWGs.So, for the first time in my life I’m officially boycotting something. I roar in the face of Shera the mascot, who according to the official CWGs website is, “a ‘large-hearted gentleman’ who loves making friends and enthusing people to ‘come out and play’”. Well sorry Shera, I love your country but this volunteer isn’t going to come out and play.Highlights– being dazzled by bureaucracy – from banks to hospitals I’ve seen it all now and last week at a face/off with a bank teller whilst trying to explain to her what the principles of customer service are I got firmly told “well Madame, that’s just the way we do things in India”, the Axis ofEvil Supper Club tour continues – Delhi just has the best restaurants, we tried a good Iraqi the other day but it was out trumped by an amazing Afghani (melt in the mouth meat including beef), next on the list to try is Iranian food and can’t wait, being a fundraiser – it has to be No. 1 forjob satisfaction when the money finally comes in, my weeks started by going to pick up a fat cheque from a new donor and thanks to them my NGO can employ two new people to help with research and advocacy, keeping running – well I’m up to week 10 in my training, with five more to go I’m hopingI avoid any mosquito based diseases or injuries to make it to the start line.