March 20, 2007

life in general: "the ripped chest" book

Back in 2002, during the mass murder and destruction of Muslims and their properties in Gujarat, I, like many other Indians, were deeply distressed at the horrors being carried out in Gujarat.

I was doing a lot of reading on the goings-on at that time and among them was a write up by Harsh Mander titled 'Cry, the beloved country'. It was as insightful as some other write-ups that I had come across at at that time.

Over the last four years I have read more about Harsh Mander's work -- both before and after 2002. I am convinced that his works are worth being read and that he is personally a honest and courageous person. One thing though -- I think Mander sometimes fails to highlight the shades of grey among the people whose causes he takes up.

Harsh Mander was among the very very few civil service officers (he quite the IAS 2-3 years ago) who courageously and unflinchingly implemented his powers as an IAS officer upholding the legal rights of common citizens without fear or favour.

His books 'The Ripped Chest: Public Policy and the Poor in India' and 'Unheard Voices: Stories of Forgotten Lives' are worth a read.

I present below some excerpts from Harsh Mander's book 'The Ripped Chest - Public Policy and the Poor in India' that is published by Bangalore-based Books for Change ( and the first edition of which came out in 2004.

from Preface (pages xvi-xxi):
"...India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world. It also has a colossal and still burgeoning interventionist state, whose stated goals and political imperatives impel massive, diverse and multi-faceted demonstrations of public programmes to combat poverty.

Despite some conspicuous successes, the manifest cumulative failure of a half-century of these state efforts to overcome, or even significantly dent, the base of poverty in India is what motivated the investigation that underlies this book. It is written also against the background of the threatened retreat of the state worldwide from its most fundamental responsibilities of ensuring equity, justice and decent living standards for all its people.

The first section attempts a critical appraisal of the dominant neo-liberal notions of 'good governance' in contemporary social science literature. These lay stress on a reduced role of the state that facilitates, nurtures and shares power and responsibilities with a relatively unfettered private sector; liberalised markets; competitive provisioning of public goods by both the public and private sectors; the rule of law, which protects the right to property and the sanctity of contracts, prevents crimes against property and person, and ensures stability and predictability necessary for private investment to flourish; transparency and accountability. If we unbundle these beliefs, they are premised on a number of axioms. The first of these is the structural adjustment policies that liberate the market, rein in government spending, secure macro-economic stability, and liberalise trade and investment, would always lead to enhanced economic growth..."

...more to follow soon...

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