I have been thinking of writing this article for quite some time. Two things precipitated my decision.
First, the occurrence of our blog provided a platform for putting forth my idea on why we have entered the 21st century as a bunch of indifferent go getters blinded by everything other than our ruthless ambition and self centred attitude.
Secondly I was reading the book by Edward Luce – In spite of the Gods- The strange rise of Modern India (I shall write a review for this book shortly) and it provided the right context and food for thought to delve a bit more on the subject.
So what is plaguing India now? What is it that is holding the country from lifting the millions from poverty, provide basic education, health infrastructure, drinking water and innumerable other things which we should take as basic requirements of life?
Is it the population? Is it the corruption? Is it the inequitable distribution of wealth? We can also blame the politicians, the caste system, the religious fundamentalism, the lack of reforms right to the grass-root level and so on and so forth.
My point is the single biggest culprit is our apathy, our lack of concern or interest or pure indifference (which we have managed to give a real art form) to any thing which doesn’t affect us or our near and dear ones directly. We tend to forget that anything which goes around comes around and that we have no one to blame but ourselves when the cocoon breaks and we are exposed to a situation where we are the victims and not the bystanders.
After the Mumbai terrorist attack there was a huge outcry and suddenly the indifferent, well fed and pampered, global Indian seemed to wake up from the slumber and take some time out from his normal gym-ing schedule. The message was loud and clear. There will be participation from us (I do not deny that I am not one of them). I got an SMS and mail from my friends asking for participation in the peaceful protest march. I was happy. Indians have this great ability of unifying under crisis. People have finally stated caring. The participation was indeed large and though there were mostly college students and NGOs, it was a good beginning. There were lots of interesting sloganeering mostly in English about reclaiming the country back from the corrupt politicians. The most interesting one “DESHMURKH- A FILM BY RAM GOPAL VERMA, STARRING -YOU KNOW WHO”, referring to a stupid mistake by a politician of allowing a film maker to accompany him for post attack inspection of the site, a mistake which eventually cost him his job. The media heralded this as a new ear of awakening and redemption (not to undermine the role of Media today which in few cases is playing a very instrumental role of being the conscience of a generation. I really like the efforts by few channels like CNN IBN and their Citizen Journalist programme which encourages citizens to speak up for their right). There was also significant criticism from a few individuals. I was particularly irritated with few columnists who pointed out that sloganeering in English only meant self gratification and had no real effect in the larger scheme of things. I felt bad as they missed the spirit behind the efforts.
Fast forward four months. Don’t think things have changed too much. The more things change in India, the more they remain the same. I also understand that it is difficult for individuals to uproot themselves from their normal day to day life and start some thing afresh. Not every one can be Mahatma Gandhi with the conviction to right everything which has been wronged against him and in a way that it builds up mass participation. So what do we do? I will take a detour here.
Studying Scandinavian and a few European societies lead us to an extraordinary piece of statistic.
Belgium a country with 10 million populations has around two and a half million people involved in various volunteering activities. The nature of volunteering is mostly around community development. There is a strong sense of respect for those who are involved in such volunteering activities. Similarly in Scandinavian countries, a lot of importance is placed on the ‘Social Capital’. A large involved of a diverse group of individuals in the overall development of the society leads to mutual trust and less apparent divide. Of course there are certain other factors which make the Scandinavian countries high in social development index, which include a more equitable distribution of income, higher social security net and more manageable population to deal with. India is a more heterogeneous, more diverse population and with a bigger baggage of poverty and social evils to deal with.
So what is the way out? Involvement.
We can no longer be an indifferent set of people pushing our agenda all the time and behave like nothing matters. I recently came across this quote – India only grows in the night when the government is sleeping. And this situation will continue for some time now. The task is now in our hands. And we don’t need to leave every thing for a bit of involvement. And by that I mean our comforts can still be ours. What we need is to accept the fact that our comfort lies in our food fortune and not because we deserve it. We need to give back to the society for the most selfish reason we can think of – for our own existence as a human race; for when ever the difference between the have and the have-nots have reached a threshold point there has been a conflict. Efforts at teaching a child or enabling him with English so that he can be part of the workforce, doesn’t take too much time commitment. The only commitment required is being sensitive.
In India things are never as good or as bad as them seem (In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce). I think nothing can be further from the truth. India is a like a giant rolling wheel, a juggernaut, and things take time to happen. The attitudes of people can’t be changed overnight. At the same time things are not hopeless. There are thousands who are trying in their own way to bring small changes, making the wheel turn through small angles. What we have to see is if we are part of that group or not.