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Know your country: Traditions take a backseat in Rajasthan, gender bias remains a challenge

Know your country: Traditions take a backseat in Rajasthan, gender bias remains a challenge

Know your country: Traditions take a backseat in Rajasthan, gender bias remains a challenge
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By Vijay Kumar Gaba  Jan 20, 2020 6:33:27 AM IST (Updated)

Rajasthan was once known for enchanting landscapes and magnificent forts. Today, the state is known for the human factories in Kota, anarchic Karni Sena, nuclear blast site in Pokhran, and exotic tourist destination for the rich and foreigners.

This is the sixth installment of a series that CNBC-TV18 is launching known as Know Your Country. Helmed by our columnist Vijay Kumar Gaba, it is based on his observations about India and its people during his numerous travels across the length and breadth of the country. The sixth article is focused on Rajasthan, its traditions and culture and the economy. Follow the series here

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Rajasthan (the land of kings) was once known for the valour of its people, enchanting landscapes, magnificent forts and palaces, colourful dresses, food and quintessential Marwari businessman. No longer seems to be the case. Today, the state is known for the human factories in Kota, anarchic Karni Sena, nuclear blast site in Pokhran, and exotic tourist destination for the rich and foreigners.
In my journey through Rajasthan, I drove through 15 districts of the state -- Bharatpur, Alwar, Sikar, Jaipur, Tonk, Bundi, Kota, Bhilwara, Ajmer, Pali, Barmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Churu, and Jhunjhunu.
After speaking with over 800 people across 15 districts, I feel that the generational abyss in this supposedly traditional state is widening at the fastest pace in the history. The young and middle aged who cannot exploit “history and culture” as a profitable occupation are totally disinterested in carrying further their tradition; whereas the old still take pride in their rich heritage. Consequently, the rich tradition and culture are condensing to the palaces and forts aesthetically converted into heritage hotels, and decimating from the common man's life. The few rich people however would like to promote traditions with their young ones as a hobby and mark of distinction.
I realised that the common people are usually concerned with their roots (history, culture, tradition) only to the extent it could be sold to “tourists”. My efforts to find common people, who would wish to keep the traditions alive because they take pride in this, were mostly futile. I did get some glimpses of glorious past in a few wedding and religious ceremonies, but the discomfort of the people was too conspicuous to ignore. If we speak in words of famous American author Mason Cooley “Preserving tradition has become a nice hobby, like stamp collecting.” It is no longer a way of life.
Private coaching is big business in Kota
The historic city of Kota (normal day temperature above 45C in summers) was buzzing at midnight. Situated at the bank of river Chambal, this was once the capital city of brave Hada Chauhan kings. Even post-independence, the city’s economy mostly depended on mining, silk and cotton textile, cement, chemical and agriculture and related industries. Kota stone and Kota sarees were famous all over the country.
But in the present day, the economy and culture of the town is mostly centered around numerous "factories" preparing aspiring young minds for "professional" examinations through an unrelenting mechanical process.
Walking through the streets of the town one encounters a multitude of pale faces, wet eyes and sobbing throats - students aged 12 to 18 involuntarily sacrificing their youth at the altar of the aspirations of their parents. I heard one very respectable “coach” lamenting, "Most aspirants are victims of their parents’ dream and are likely to grow into “frustrated, useless, unproductive and reluctant workers”.
Nowadays it is common to watch, hear and read stories narrating how a child born in a very poor family landed a good job or succeeded in competitive examinations. Ostensibly, the objective of such reporting is to highlight the social awakening and to motivate millions of others who are facing similar types of socio-economic challenges. Unintended consequences are a rise in fear psychosis in a section of the society that is unnecessarily feeling threatened by the rise of the downtrodden. The business of private coaching is growing exponentially, almost to the level of nuisance. In middle and lower-middle-class families, the tuition fee expense competes with kitchen expense.
In the past few years, the number of student suicide cases in Kota has risen almost at par with farmers' suicide cases, but no one is crying for these children as they would normally do for farmers committing suicide. By spending one day in this town one would learn that the blockbuster Bollywood movie 3 Idiots was highly overrated as a movie with social message - students have learned to take a leak at the teacher's door, drink alcohol, commit suicide, and make fun of a language but parents have certainly not learned to let children live their life.
Rani Sati, Karni Sena and Bangkok
Rani Sati or Dadi Ji is inarguably one of the most revered personalities in Rajasthan, especially amongst the Vaishya community. There are numerous temples in the state that are dedicated to the women who performed the act of Sati in Rajasthan, but Rani Sati temple in Jhunjhunu district of the Shekhawati region is perhaps the most revered one. Rajasthani people from across the world, especially the newlywed couples, come to pay obeisance to Dadi Ji. There is absolutely no concern for anyone that the act of committing Sati or glorifying Sati is against the law.
The extreme right-wing organisations like Rajput Karni Sena, who gained tremendous media popularity during the release of Bollywood movie Padmavat in January 2018, apparently fight, many a times violently, to protect the honour of Rajput women. But the gender inequalities in the state are amongst the worst in the country. Rajasthan is one of the few states where the child sex ratio (number of female children aged 0-6 years for 1000 male children) witnessed a decline from 909 to 888 between 2001 and 2011.
During my journey I befriended a high profile banker couple, working with multinational banks in Mumbai. They were on a pilgrimage to Rani Sati and Bala ji (salasar) temples. The husband had degrees from IIT-Mumbai and IIM-Ahmedabad and the wife was an alumni of XLRI-Jamshedpur and UCLA. They had aborted a girl child after an illegal pre-natal test. The girl was forced to abort the second girl child. They went through an IVF procedure in Bangkok which guaranteed a male child. The present pilgrimage was a thanksgiving endeavour for the successful delivery of a male child, aged 3 years now.
I totally failed to connect these three dots. The readers may please help themselves.
(a)   Income inequalities are rising to frightening proportions in Rajasthan. The drive to modernisation is depriving the common people of their key source of income, i.e., traditional arts and handicraft. There are numerous NGOs and interest groups who are working to revive the cottage industries of traditional arts and other products, but the impact of these efforts is miniscule, so far.
With the decline of traditional arts and handicrafts, the poor are mostly becoming construction labourers. Many of these labourers are illiterate and exploited by the cunning "contractors" who herd them to large construction projects in other metropolis.
(b)   In the past two decades, the infrastructure has improved significantly in the state. However, most of the development might be the consequence of central schemes like highways, rural roads, water canal, and oil and gas exploration. The industrial development due to private enterprise is limited to a few industrial estates and food parks enjoying tax concessions.
(c)   The employment deficit created by diminishing illegal mining businesses and automation in textile and agro-processing (mainly edible oil) has been met by the real estate sector and MNREGA. The slowdown in both in the past 5 years has hurt the poor people most.
(d)   The traditional culture of ‘self enterprise’ is consistently on the decline and traditional Marwari kids are taking to “professions” rather than businesses. Usually, people are happy taking up banking and management jobs rather than engaging in family businesses. The startup culture is perhaps limited to the poshest areas of the capital city of Jaipur.
(e)   The agriculture sector has diversified from the traditional ‘desert’ crops like guar, aloe, barley, millet, fenugreek, into the crops with better earnings potential like olive, palm, mustard and garlic.
(f)   After UP, Rajasthan is the second-largest producer of milk in India. Like Gujarat, it has a strong cooperative culture in the dairy sector with more than 13,000 operation dairy cooperatives. However, the cooperative culture has not yet spread much into other areas like cottage industry and financial services.
(a)   Unlike neighbouring Gujarat, the religious divide is not very conspicuous in Rajasthan. However, society remains deeply divided on caste lines. Politics remains the art of managing caste balance rather than focusing on development.
(b)   The gender bias continues to remain very high, perhaps the highest in the country.
(c)   If we ignore the conventional classification, culturally, the Rajasthan society could be divided into four distinct parts -- areas bordering Haryana and Punjab; areas bordering UP and MP, area bordering Gujarat and areas bordering Pakistan. Each area has a distinct social flavour and culture.
Vijay Kumar Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation. The views are personal. 
Read his columns here.
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