We had a course called Business Government and Society - BGS which introduced P. Sainath’s “Everybody Loves a Good Drought” I selectively read the chapters and articles on issues in Tamilnadu, was surprised to learn that he had been to Pudukottai, very near Trichy. He had walked so many miles deep into rural villages. I remember the cattle breeding disaster, where a local breed was threatened close to extinction due to artificial insemination with a foreign breed. He brought to light, farmers suicides, esp. plight of farmers in Vidarbha and many other rural stark realities.
One of my professors told that in a remote village she actually saw a small pox infected person. The government officials would not acknowledge it, since they had proclaimed that small pox was eradicated on records.
And in the second year, he came for a lecture in the auditorium. He was full of data points of the HDI, key figures on health and education and other social indicators comparing India with sub Saharan African countries. He was telling, how his living expenses were coming down, while that of his bai (maid) was going up. Airfares (in 2010 not now) were getting cheaper, while the cost of staples like rice, wheat, dal, oil, vegetables and fruits, emergency trip to hospital were skyrocketing.
He finished his speech with Nero burning prisoners to provide lighting for the dinner feast. Of a similar feast in India that spread over many days in the midst of acute famine all around. He said, it was hopeless to think about the emperor, but what happened to the conscience of the invited guests. I was and still am shocked to learn about Nero.
In 2009, he refused a Padma award. He has not accepted a single government award, a government whose dismal policy implementations have harmed the rural people.
Just prior to that term, my CCS (Contemporary Concerns Study) was on Sustainable and Inclusive Healthcare for people at the Base of the Pyramid. Wish I happened to listen to him, before my CCS. He didn’t make statements out of the blue; he substantiated each of them with facts and figures. There would be some who would not agree with his brusqueness. I was just bowled over by his talk.