I live on the same road as a prominent and well-respected school. The school buses which make the lives of us residents miserable all have huge messages about environmental awareness painted on the sides. But whenever you walk past the students, the first thing that hits you is their complete lack of concern for other people around them. They push, shove and hog every available bit of pavement, main road and by-lane. Even worse is their terrible addiction to littering. They buy foodstuffs from the shops and chuck the wrappings on the road, completely visually challenged to the dustbin standing next to them in silent admonishment. They throw bottles and wrappings from their bus and car windows. Needless to say, none of their chauffeurs know how to park or how to drive through hordes of school children.
I would hazard a guess that not all these children who cannot follow simple rules of courtesy and civic sense are related to Congress politicians, the main corrupters of Indian society according to our anti-corruption activists. But they do represent a particular Indian attitude where anything goes if you want to get ahead. Rules are meant for other people if they are to be acknowledged at all.
This is very evident when you have to catch a flight for instance. Notice how few people can enter a bus and move to the ends. No, everyone has to stand at the door as if the plane or the airport will run away without them. If the announcer requests that seat numbers 25 to 37 board first, numbers 1 to 24 will run to the aerobridge before everyone else. If you have flown more than once you know that your seatback must be in the upright position, tray table fastened and mobile phone off. Yet, the cabin crew has to walk up and down requesting people to follow these instructions. If navigation is affected by mobile phone usage, then a clear sense of responsibility ought you to stop inconveniencing everyone else. If all airlines are lying only to inconvenience mobile phone addicts, please file a case against them.
Watch how cars stop at a traffic signal. Not a single driver in India, whether they were educated at Harvard or an Indian village patshala, apparently knows that you have to stop your vehicle before a zebra crossing, as a consideration to pedestrians. The only concern for the driver is how to beat the red light and get across first.
Yes, a lack of civic sense or common sense is not the same as bribery. But it is a form of corruption. Every simple law which is broken or wilfully ignored becomes a meaningless law. The more laws you break the less you respect the system. The less you respect the system the less effective the system becomes. Eventually, sooner or later, you reach the level of corruption and bribery that we are now at.
There is a chicken and egg argument here of course. If you have to pay a bribe to get a death certificate for a loved one, how much respect would you have for the system? The bribe may be snatched out of your unwilling grasp, but it is still possible to follow those rules which do not require money to change hands or where the government is not directly involved.
The terrifying cliché is that this is our country. No matter how badly our politicians behave, we have very few excuses for our own transgressions. Nothing happens in isolation after all. Part of the reason the black money market flourishes in India is because so many people just don’t like to pay taxes. But they want the same amenities and services as the people who do.
In every new Rs 5,000 lakh crore money-making scam that emerges, there are more than those wicked politicians involved. There’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona