Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Remain Involved?

The Indian public is cynical enough to know what the rhetoric will be during elections. What exactly who will say. For example, the opposition will claim that the Congress will never bring in a strong anti-corruption bill and we should therefore vote for them and not for the Congress. The Congress will declare the opposition isn’t secular and we have no choice but to vote for them.

Fear mongering, bringing down the other side instead of showing what they themselves – each individual politician standing for elections (and their party) - plans to do for India and Indians.

Here's another possible action plan. Promise the moon before and ignore the promise after elections. Or couch the promise in ambiguous language that can be interpreted differently after elections.

What concerns me is that we know and accept this will happen. It's a given.

For just a moment take Anna's movement. We protested against corruption in politics; the politicoes were indifferent to our protests to rein their corruption in, they threw mud on team Anna instead - none of it really stuck I think because again the Indian public understood what the purpose of all that mud slinging was.

But we backed away. In this YouTube video, Shanti Bhusan says (starting at 53:00), "If the people continue to raise their voices in a peaceful and disciplined manner, I have very strong confidence that no political party will be able to disregard our demand."

But in the long haul it proved to be too darned difficult to keep going. I know that many of us believed that Anna and team were trying to bring in a draconian Janlokpal but we never, for one instant started believing that individuals in government (or the opposition) had suddenly become any less corrupt. The reason we all got together remained unchanged - we wanted to get rid of corruption in government. (Here's the latest disheartening example of corruption by Ram Jethmalani, a respected Indian lawyer.)

This post isn’t about the Janlokpal and whether team Anna were too rigid in their demand that it had to be implemented in all its entirety. It isn't about the government trying to subvert the issue through any means rather than by addressing it. It is about us - the Indian public.

Who can deny the pluses of the Anna movement? We saw that speaking out and demanding accountability with one voice, in unity, by following a uniform action plan and with dedicated leaders is effective. The incredible energy of 2011 will never go wasted. It taught us that a billion strong force protesting is so much more powerful than a billion lone individuals indulging in armchair politics and just letting off steam.

The biggest minus is that after a while we tend to give up. We aren't persistent enough.

If we don't remain engaged and involved, actively making the effort to right injustice, our inaction comes back to hurt us and our loved ones.

Let me move away from IAC and take the example of the people who migrate to our cities to earn a living but end up living in poverty and squalour. Their numbers are increasing by the day. The money slotted for improving their lot doesn’t reach them. Often, they don’t know where the next meal is coming from. There's discontent and unrest as a result. In the 80s - three decades ago, I remember reading a thousand migrants came into Mumbai each day. (I don't know how many of those were below the poverty line) Now many of them live in huge slums in our cities. Tavleen Singh said on twitter that if we are not careful, all our cities will become huge slums - and sooner than we think. I won't even go near what garbage dumps in our neighbourhoods, traffic congestion and noise pollution on our roads are doing to the air we breathe, to the health of our loved ones and to our cash flow. I've discussed that elsewhere. All these are huge injustices - issues that need addressing, and urgently.

Hum Tum - by Sankar Kanhar on Flickr
Let us just talk about the huge slum cities within our cities. Third and fourth generations have been born into those slums. And their numbers are growing. At the same time we all (slum dwellers and house dwellers) depend on resources,  like water and land, which haven't increased at all. Most of the poorer migrants see others, better off than themselves, having more access to these resources. They are completely disenfranchised. They are desperate.

When someone who sees an opportunity to exploit the situation, gives them reason to blame their misfortune on "others", they are more than willing to listen. Their resentment of these others - people with houses, someone better off, educated, from another community, someone who has a different mode of dress, women who work, don't work, the rich, the ones who speak another language, is carefully nurtured and encouraged by their leader. They feel, where once they were voiceless, they are now talking and everyone is sitting up and listening.

Their vote has begun to count as their numbers are huge. Politicians have jumped into the fray – each one promising them many things. The message is usually aimed against the others - the other language speakers, the better off, the ones with jobs, the ones who live in houses, the ones who follow different customs and traditions... The promises might even be reckless - we'll ensure quotas for you in jobs;  we'll make the use of "our" language - any one of the seventeen languages and hundreds of dialects spoken in India - compulsory)

"How does one make good on promises like that?" The truth is, their followers do not look beyond the promise. Bolstered by the strong front behind which they stand, they become strident in their own verbal rhetoric against the hated others. They don't have anything to lose and everything to gain. What would it take for their aggression and anger to boil over? Very little.

And yet we hesitate. As we wait in indecision and inaction, they become bolder and consolidate their position because of the backing of muscle, goonda and gun powered leaders. As I said before, when they are so pumped up, it doesn't take much for their desire to exact a price from the others to become a reality. That is when every Indian's physical safety is on the line.

To end I have only one question. How do we continue staying free?

free microsoft clipart
And the answer? By doing something we Indians have discovered we enjoy doing - making an effort to better the lives of somebody else; only, let us make that effort in unity and through well thought out action plans; perhaps by joining established NGOs on a larger scale than ever before; perhaps a group effort in our own neighbourhood; by digging deep to find that one hour a week; by not giving up; by doing it now rather than later; by remaining involved whatever the cynics say; by giving the people who live at the edge of society hope that there is a much better way than anarchy to improve their lot in life.

Or, there is a crisis in waiting. It is seething under the surface and if it erupts we'll end up making desperate individual efforts to keep our nearest and dearest or our jobs and livelihood safe and out of danger. It will very much be the luck of the draw as to who is spared and who is not.

This post was written for the Stayfree, Time To Change competition on Indiblogger.
If you liked it and would like to vote for it here's the link



  1. very thoughtful, concerned take. very inspiring post.

  2. Well written and very needful ideas. I'd like to add that the dis-enfranchised have one more reason to readily follow a hate campaign against the 'other'! It also gives them a sense of self-importance and power that is totally lacking in their personal lives.

  3. So very true CS. Their self worth needs affirming and nurturing. Great to have your input, thanks.

  4. It is indeed very important to bring the marginalised into the mainstream, not just the minorities, but also the very poor. I agree with the idea that they should be told that there is a more constructive way for them to achieve social equality than anarchy or hatred. Great ideas, Kayem. All the best for the contest.

  5. Good to see you here zephyr. What would it take for them to believe what we tell them as against what the person who would like to stir up trouble tells them? My hope is that our action speaks to them louder than our words.

  6. Unfortunately, any voices that are raised are muzzled through devious means by those clinging to power. This time it is our own people and not Britishers:(

  7. Too right Rahul. Have you ever known of a single living parasite that gives up easily? Second, I think the Indian public is too new at standing up to wrong doing from high places. But at least from doing unconditional "mai-baap" to these parasites, they've started speaking out angrily. The parasite know this source is drying up.

  8. A wonderful post on the psyche of Indians. It's pretty sad that we know beforehand that promises made by politicians were just for namesake. To stand up and raise our concern is what we should do, but its important that we don't give in to false promises. It's a very good suggestion that one must contribute by joining NGOs. The biggest mistake masses ever make is to lose interest, that further weakens the movement when media loses interest as well. We often forget that we are capable to drive media towards our cause.

    1. You said it Harish. It is hard but we've got to find that time - a little each week, but regularly and consistently. Thank you for your visit and input.

  9. Considering that India is the world capital of IT, me thinks that if we could integrate Indian IT into Indian politics, it shud bring about a lot of transparency into the system.. its sad to see that the Indian politicia is more interested in using Indian IT man hours to screen and condemn comments written on facebook when the same man hours cud b used to improve the efficiency of governance...

    How can we plug Indian IT into Indian politics????

    Grea tht u raised this up, KayEm..


  10. Thanks for your comment, R-A-J. I read a post that said internet banking would prevent them from taking bribes. Good idea but I was at once worried it would mean they'd somehow get access to our bank accounts. There'll be many "technologically challenged" people like me who'd need reassurance - frank discussions of all the pros and cons. I like the idea of IT for everything else they do / don't do, though. Now to convince them!

  11. From selfish to selfless...looking at the larger picture...to start thinking of us, rather than me....and above all respect, love, empathy for all.

    Will it be possible Khoty?

  12. We are a mixed bag, Purba. Some selfish, some not. And even the not so selfish have good days and bad. If we remain united in our action plan, whatever that might be, I believe we'll succeed in standing up to the rotters and parasites who exist in our society.