Happy World Tourism Day

What was supposed to be India’s proud moment in the international spotlight has quickly turned into the country’s hour of shame. Instead of news concerning the unifying qualities of sport, Rwanda’s induction into the commonwealth, or any beneficial aspects of the games being hosted by India, the press has released headline upon headline regarding the corruption and mismanagement of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Those following the news have surely come across photos of the athletes’ village labeled “disgusting” and “filthy” and heard reports of, amongst other things, the collapse of a ceiling and a pedestrian bridge, the shooting of two Taiwanese tourists in a potential terrorist attack, the presence of stray dogs and human excrement in guest rooms, the lack of water in the toilets, two hundred doctors and medical staff not being given proper accreditation to work, the withdrawals of prominent athletes and threats of national teams pulling out, athletes having to wait eight hours to get into their rooms, and, most recently, a snake being found in the residential quarters. That the Chief Vigilance Commission has reported corruption on every level in the organization processes of the games should not really be of any surprise.

As my company and I shake our heads while watching all of this unfold on the television news, there is also an unspoken acknowledgment of the necessity of the shame of the games. And this has been concisely expressed in this Global Post article:

There has been a disquieting whiff of postcolonial satisfaction in the foreign reaction to rising India’s comeuppance. Yet a wholesale cancellation might just be the best thing for a nation that — while it can lay claim to tremendous promise — is still struggling to be great.

Many observers will be tempted to see this failure as a fable of false pride ending in just humiliation. But apathy, not hubris, is India’s fatal flaw, and a bracing dose of shame may be exactly what is needed to shake its incredibly capable, but politically inert, middle class into action.

The risk is that this shame will inject new life into the old argument that India suffers from too much democracy — a favorite hobby horse of this bunch. No, India is not China. But the Games fiasco was not the result of parliamentary gridlock or popular protest. The farce was scripted by cronyism, corruption and a complete lack of accountability — all aided by the Indian politician’s complete disregard for the voter’s disgust. Unfortunately, the most shameful are the most shameless.

Apathy, not hubris. The hope, then, is that Delhi’s, and India’s, incredible failures will jolt the nation out of its apathetic state and into action for some real, progressive change.

The lesson is not that a poor country should spend all its money on welfare programs, or that developing countries should be content to remain as guests, not hosts, at international events, or that dissent must be silenced to protect national pride. Just as India’s costly space satellites have benefited farmers, the Commonwealth Games slush fund, if managed properly, might have created university dormitories, a functioning sewage system or housing for the poor.

The lesson is that it is futile to create islands of cleanliness and modernity for the rich, if they are to be surrounded by a sea of poverty, sickness and filth. Life will only get better for the wealthy when it gets better for the desperate poor. Until then, as long as there is no respect for labor, no one will take pride in his work, and the wage slaves will just be waiting for the chance to sneak in and take a dump on a rich man’s mattress. [It’s true.]

Double points if he’s an elected official.

In the meantime, all of this really is shameful and a real shame precisely because we can see that “tremendous promise” all over the sub-continent. Particularly today, as I see large posters advertising World Tourism Day, there is a sense that even the best of advertising can’t pull the national image out of the pits. Still, for those of us currently living here in the Northeast, there is no denying the deep sources of beauty and greatness amongst the hills and valleys, past the heaps of garbage and waste, to the right of the corrupt minister’s office, beyond the rows of immigrants’ slum housing.

music: the chieftains and diana krall – danny boy

image: nohkalikai falls, cherrapunjee, megahalaya, india

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for posting (and quoting) the Global Post article. It’s a shame that India couldn’t (won’t?) pull through for the Commonwealth Games, but the apathetic middle class really do need a wake up call to get the country in the right path. I often feel exactly the same way about the Philippines, which I am naturally very concerned about but can’t really do anything but watch as one tragedy after another hits that country while the upper-middle class sit back and just don’t care.

    I guess the same thing can also be said for the once richest countries now too, USA and Japan. Sure, the situations there are nowhere as dire as India or the Philippines, but I’m honestly shocked and appalled at how the masses aren’t calling for American and Japanese politicians’ figurative heads to roll for turning the #1 and #2 richest countries into a joke.

      1. I wonder why our generation – who brought unbelievable technological advances in the past 10 years alone – is incapable of (or uninterested in) applying the same ingenuity and passion they’ve proven they have through Wikipedia, Twitter, etc. to make real social change. (And by real social change, I don’t just mean a K’Naan remix of “Waving Flag” featuring Justin Bieber to help benefit Haiti earthquake victims.)

        It could be disillusionment… but in which case, I would have to wonder what happened to cause people to be so disillusioned in the first place? If anything, the internet should have made people feel more empowered, non?

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