By Paritosh Chakma
After a string of success, now Danny Boyle’s "Slumdog Millionaire" is facing legal challenge because of its title. It is because of the title or that the guy who has filed the PIL in the Andheri court, local Corporator Nicolas Almeida wants a piece of accolade which the film is getting worldwide?
The PIL has alleged that the film has called Indians and slum dwellers “dog”. So, pious Mr Nicolas Almeida felt insulted by the film. Does he also feel insulted by the real plight of the slum dwellers whose life is in fact no better than that of ordinary street dogs?
I have seen the film but have never for a moment felt insulted as an Indian. That Mr Almedia feels insulted by the word “dog” is because of his personal interpretation of the meaning of “slumdog”.
One evening I invited some of my friends, if they were interested, to join me watch the latest hit in my PC. (The film was given to me by a friend). Hearing that we are going to watch a movie, my friend’s 5-year-old daughter also came into my room. As the movie started, I declared in excitement –“ Now we are going to see Slumdog Millionaire”.
Soon the movie started to roll. After a few minutes, the five-year-old nursury student asked, “Where is the ‘dog’?” We all laughed and she went away. In a way she was right.
At first I was also confused. I consulted my Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary for the meaning but found no word called “slumdog”. I think Mr Almedia’s understanding is also too childish and narrow about the meaning of “slumdog”. He too, like my friend’s young daughter, is busy looking for the dog or dogs in the film and he sees them in the form of the slum-dwellers.
Mere suffixing of “dog” does not mean a dog. The meaning could change and that is English, my friend. Take for example, the word "Underdog". Mr Nicolas Almeida may also be angry if he is called an "underdog" because of the suffix "dog". But an "Underdog" is no dog. According to Oxford dictionary, “Underdog” means “Person or country, thought to be in a weaker position, and therefore unlikely to win a contest, struggle, etc. Crowds supporting the underdog”
In similar way, "slumdog" does not mean referring one as a "dog", thereby insulting one's dignity and self respect. Mr Nicolas Almeida has suggested “Slum-dash Millionaire” as the film’s name.
Now, what is “Slum-dash”?
Even the great Amitabh Bachchan has criticized “Slumdog Millionaire” for projecting “India as Third World dirty underbelly developing nation” (which he later sought to disown). A section of the Indians are actually worried that the film has exposed too much of Mumbai’s dirty secrets, and for that matter, Rising India’s “shames” for all the world to see. Do these socalled patriots live in fairytales or they simply believe that dirty underbelly no longer exists in India because it is an emerging global economic superpower, an indispensable partner of the US, a recognized nuclear state and has reached the moon?
Too much jingoism will be harmful to India’s welfare and development if that turns a blind eye to India’s realities.
Slums do exist in Mumbai, the financial capital and so in other cities. Hunger, acute malnutrition, diseases stalk the rural and urban poor which is complicated by absence of access to the basic medical facilities and lack of will of the authorities to mitigate sufferings. ‘Slumdogs’ are everywhere.
We don’t need a foreign director to make a film on India’s slums to expose India’s shames. India’s shames have been rightly exposed by various ways and medium. According to World Bank’s estimates, India is home to one-third of all poor people in the world. India also has 828 million people, or 75.6% of the population, living below $2 a day. Sub-Saharan Africa, considered the world’s poorest region, is better - it has 72.2% of its population (551 million) living below $2 a day! Due to lack of basic medical facilities, one woman dies in India every seven minutes during childbirth, according to UNICEF’s “State of the World's Children 2009” report which further revealed that one million children born in India die every year even before they become 28 days old. But no one cared to complain about these reports. (And, why should anyone complain?) It could be because few people read these reports but when the damning things are shown cinematically people become aware of their existence. Seeing is believing!
Indeed, no one is denying that India is an emerging power in the global arena. India is not a case where it lacks resources that the socio-economic conditions of its citizens cannot be uplifted. Since 2001, India has offered $750 million for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, making it the largest regional donor to the country. In August 2008, after attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul, India pledged an additional $450 million to fight terror. India is one of the largest donors to the United Nations Democracy Fund.
Then, what makes a vast majority of Indians the poorest in the world and their lives horrible? To me it is the system to be blamed - our babus are too corrupt and the state governments’ inability to deliver. According to a joint study by Transparency International India and Centre for Media Studies, the impoverished Indians had to cough up Rs 9,000 million as bribes in order to avail basic facilities including healthcare, education, water, etc in 2007.
Since the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act came into force in July 2004, the Centre could not release whopping Rs 1522.90 crores to the states for the development of the tribals up to December 2005 because of the failure of the states to submit utilization certificates for the earlier allocated funds as required under the FRBM Act. If the unspent money within one and half years of the FRBM Act coming into force was Rs 1522.90 crores, one can imagine how much money meant for tribal development had been left unspent or diverted to other projects/sectors since India’s independence. Thereafter, the Planning Commission also took some positive steps by making tribal funds non-divertible and non-lapsable. But many state governments manage to find queer ways to non-use/misuse or divert funds. A report by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, tabled in the Jharkhand State Assembly in March 2008, found that the Jharkhand government used only Rs 85.55 crore out of Rs 183.84 crore it had received from the Cetnre during 2003-2007 under the Integrated Tribal Development Project. The unused funds were kept in banks and the interest it earned was used to repair official buildings. During 2007-08, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had to withhold grants under Special Central Assistance to the Tribal Sub Plan to the states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand due to their inability to furnish Utilization Certificates and unspent balances. No funds could be released under the scheme of Post-Matric Scholarship to the States/UTs of Arunanchal Pradesh, Bihar and Daman and Diu during 2004-05 to 2007-08 as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs did not receive complete proposals from these state governments, thereby depriving the poor tribal students of the much needed financial assistance for pursuing higher education. Out of 100 Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) sanctioned by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs under Article 275 (1) of the Constitution, only 79 of them were operational due to “lack of commitment on the part of States in taking proper and timely steps for the educational development of the tribal children” according to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment. During 2007-08, no student was assisted in Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh under the “Upgradation of Merit of ST Students” scheme.
Instead of blaming the film or foreign directors for showing India’s dirty underbelly, we should consider taking steps to improve the living conditions of the slums or elsewhere, do away with slums by providing suitable housing rights to the homeless, educate their children, and beautify our country by cleaning the filth, if we at all feel ashamed of them.
A state of denial will only aggravate the situation of India’s poor and helpless, leaving no room for finding solutions for them.
Instead of wasting his useful energy while trying to amend the name of a film, Andheri corporator Nicolas Almeida will do well by filing a Public Interest Litigation seeking direction from the court for delivery of more facilities by the state governments leading to improvement in the actual living conditions of the slum dwellers.
. Tribal welfare exposed - CAG targets fraud NGOs, detects funds misuse, The Telegraph, 29 March 2008
. Thirty-Fourth Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment on “Demands for Grants (2008-2009) of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs” submitted to the Fourteenth Lok Sabha on 21.04.2008