Friday 5 December 2008

It's not just the Terror Attack...

Like in our personal life, I wonder why failures and life-threatening incidents make breeding grounds for change. Proaction is a rare trait. But as a nation, like many of us, we are extremely reactive. Also our reactions seldom treat the root of the problem. We are a nation that believes in quick-fix. Of a people who certainly don't believe in win-win and collective victories. Take for instance, the rickshaw wala at the airport who will refuse to take you to your destination on 'as per meter' charges. His immediate craving is self-rewarding. There is no foresight that a trustworthy nation is a tourist's delight. That the long-term demand will outweigh his selfish motive by an exorbitant measure. And this attitude is pervasive across the socio-economic spectrum. Identify with that exporter who sells imperfect goods for a one-time windfall gain? Or the youngster who, on breaking a signal, looks behind and says with nonchalant ease "Chill guys, I'll handle it!"? The problem obviously is with how it is handled. I've done it so many times. And now it's part of my instinct. To bribe, to escape unscathed with only my self in mind. And yes, I know "That's the way it is!". But like we do with our personal inadequacies and failures, we accept the public ones too. From "That's the way I Am" ... we've moved on to "That's the way We Are". The way we become numb to our private consciences, the public conscience goes for a walk too. The harsh truth is that we seek only self-rewarding victories (even at the cost of public loss). We will hound our maids to clean the rooms but not say a word to the reckless taxi driver who leaves his mark across the city landscape. They say good judgement comes from bad experience. For India, they should've been more quantitative. You see, we're good at numbers. Someone is testing our math in a way we never wanted.

I am an optimist but an optimist often loses his grip on reality. The reality is that this is not only about terrorism. It's about our collective character. We may invest in our armed forces but the question is - "Will we look at this chink in our armour?"


  1. Yeah.. u r right. in fact we forget all these things when we are hit by a big calamity, but after sometime, the selfishness prevails again... but are we asking for a perfect world? that i am afraid wudnot b possible... wat say?

  2. You are right, but I think you are being too judgmental of people. Lets look at one instance, the rickshaw-wallah who rips off the tourist...

    1) He (she?) may or may not be educated enough to even understand the long-term effect. If you have been living a life at the very bottom of Indian economic society, its hard to fathom how a rich tourist thinks, forget thinking about how he/she will benefit when the whole tourism industry improves.

    2) Even if the rickshaw-wallah understands the benefits, there is no guarantee that the individual will see ANY of that gain. The rational decision to make is to rip off the tourist (who has no choice) since you are not going to be held accountable, and you might hypothetically lose a VERY small part of a very marginally increased pie.

    3) Finally, even if the rickshaw-wallah is a "good person" with a "good conscience", because you can easily justify that short term gain as the moral thing to do. For one thing, a significant portion of that money is going back to their village, where it will help the village economy, feed his family that depends on a good crop for survival, in case of a drought, and send his kids to a decent private school (not a crappy govt. one), where they learn english and a trade, so they dont have to struggle like he did. Also, the gain to him is FAR GREATER than the loss to the tourist, because that small amount means a lot more to him than the tourist.

    4) There is no social net in India. That Rs. 100 that he cheats the foreigner out of can keep him going for 7-10 days. If he falls really sick, for 7-10 days, the loss of income might be enough to even kill him.

    These arguments apply a little less to the teenager who bribes a cop on being caught driving without a licence, however, there are very good rational reasons for the teenager to bribe the cop, including the fact that the cop WANTS the bribe, and is going to make life miserable for you until you give it to him. He does not want to take you to jail and waste time he could have otherwise spent earning bribes from other folks like you.

    So what is the solution?

    In the first case, 1) Educate, 2) Provide a social net so a person who loses a job, or falls sick, or his crop fails, does not starve to death, or commit suicide because the landlord is extorting money from him.

    In the second case, impose penalties on the cops for accepting bribes. Improve hotlines that people can call into. Alternatively, in certain cases (like restaurants, etc) have multiple restaurants band together (I heard one group of restaurateurs are actually doing this) who refuse to pay those bribes together, and support each other. Also, streamline our laws, so policemen cannot catch people on technicalities, impose far stricter rules on arrests, such as the miranada rights in the US, and also speed up the judicial system by:

    a) Increasing payments for judges, so more people become judges
    b) Allowing out of court settlements in minor civilian cases, to reduce the judicial workload.
    c) Introduce a ticketing system like in the US, so a policeman does not have to haul someone all the way to a police-station to be thrown into jail. Instead, they give a ticket, which the civilian can later challenge, (in which case the police person will have to provide proof, from cameras mounted in the police car, etc...) or just pay the fine. If you remove the jail component, and the harrassment component, I bet people will be willing to pay more than double the amount in a legitimate fine, rather than bribing someone.

    In an ideal world, people will ALWAYS do the right thing. However, we don't live in an ideal world. People's first loyalties are to themselves, then their kin, then their friends, then their community... and somewhere after that their country, and humanity as a whole. Accepting that, it is important to try and adjust laws and procedures so that the right thing to do is also the close to the best thing the individual can do for themselves.

    Instead of complaining about why people aren't a certain way (they are not going to change to becoming selfless, (several millenia of evolution is working against that) its best to tailor our laws based on people's actual personality, and not an ideal of them.

  3. Wow... that was a long post. Did not realize how much I typed there Anuj.... sorry about that. Did not mean to hijack your blog...


"The person who writes for the intelligent and smart like you is always sure of a meagre audience" - Anuj Gosalia