Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Towards a better tomorrow

Just read “A Renaissance of the Indian Institutes of Technology” from The Hindu. If you missed out on reading it, read it here. It is a brilliant article analyzing and exploring the way forward for this country.
The whole piece is centered on one primary theme -
“Civilizations rose when "creative minorities” devised solutions to reorient an entire society in response to extreme physical or social challenges” – the conclusion drawn by Arnold J. Toynbee in his 12-volume treatise on the rise and fall of civilizations (A Study of History, 1934-1961);
The author, an IITan himself makes a case for the IITians to don the role of the creative minorities and outlines a whole range of ideas to go about it. From revamping the present admission models to restructuring the curricula to enhancing the educational environment he makes an in depth analysis of the various flaws currently inhabiting the system and proposes some novel ideas to go about in dealing with them.
What I most liked about it was the points he put forth in dealing with the urban slum dwellers apart from the poor. It was not until I read books like, Shantaram and City of joy, that my outlook on the slums changed. The amateurish mind that I had, I used to think the only way forward for urban development was outright eradication of the slums. I viewed them with a certain disgust and repulsion. And it used to be the single most parameter with which I evaluated the city development. A developed city in my mind was one where there were only neat buildings and tidy roads, with no one dirtying the rivers and living by its shores. The only way I saw it then was to have the slum dwellers relocated.
After reading those books, my entire perception on slums changed. Though I still don’t have first hand experience of visiting any slums, my views radically changed. I can now better empathize with them and am in a better position to understand why they can’t remove slums all of a sudden. That’s where the heart of the city is. That is where if any, you can see some selfless acts of people; where you get to experience love in wholesome purity for there is nothing anybody can gain out of anybody there. They are a deprived lot in terms of riches but in terms of humaneness, they are very rich. The unity they display at times of calamities is truly amazing.
If we have to help them in some way, then it is first to better their living conditions. And that need not always be a complete relocation. It could also be by modifying the existing one. If we can address their existing concerns on a priority basis, at least the most basic ones – that would be of great service to them. The first and foremost area of concern would be sanitation. This is their primary curse. Living on polluted water and ill possessed to get clean water, they become easy targets for all sorts of diseases.
The article pitches for innovative tools and methods to raise the standards and living conditions of the poor. And it also talks about developing methods to improve the hygienic conditions of slums as well. If implemented, I am sure this will bring about a world of a difference to the slum dwellers all over. Like MIT which as they have rightly said in their website, “... Has a long tradition of working on practical problems affecting the society and the economy”, it’s time our academia too brought forth such practices into being. And the creative minorities need not be confined to the IITs alone. I am sure there are equally, if not more, bright minds else where as well. It is only the initial push that is missing.

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