Growing up

Mahi’s falling into a well and her subsequent death was unfortunate. So was the fire at the Mantralaya or the woman who hurt herself while riding pillion without a helmet. But why do the media keep insisting that the government should do something about it?

How can a government physically stop an unaccompanied child from falling into an illegally dug bore well? Fire corridors and open spaces were blocked at the Mantralaya by people using the building, in this case government officers and ministers themselves. Even without making helmets and seat belts mandatory most people know that these are for their own safety. Why should any government insist on it and fine you for not keeping yourself safe? It seems logical that we should take responsibility for our own health, safety and hygiene.

But we don’t. Think about all our little misdemeanours through a normal day.

Onus is on us: Why do we need the government to tell us that we must ride safely or not litter

When I shifted from Mumbai to Delhi I thought the driving here was atrocious. People changed lanes without signalling, broke red lights and rarely gave way to old people or those who have right of way. Now it is standard in most cities, including Mumbai which was at one time more disciplined. On my last few trips to Mumbai I have sat in autos and taxis that have routinely broken red lights, stopping only because I insisted. It is as if some monster is let loose within us the moment we sit behind a wheel. Even the chap who doesn’t have much to do after reaching office or home, will speed and break rules.

There are thousands of complaints about TV programming, how it is bad, harms children and so on. Yet most parents rarely switch off the TV if their child walks into the room and they are watching a show that the child should not.

How many times have you seen someone throw a piece of paper, a wrapper or a juice carton on the road without bothering to find out where the bin was. And if the person is in a car, chances are he won’t think twice before rolling down the windows to do that. It simply doesn’t occur to him to keep those wrappers in the car and bin them when he reaches his destination. There are dozens of such things — toilet manners, forming a queue, waiting till people alight from a train or elevator — that many Indians simply ignore.

Clearly these aren’t things that any government anywhere in the world can fix. There are traffic rules, fines and policemen at most signals. But we choose to break rules even whilst our children are sitting besides us.

No amount of littering fines and beautification drives can save a city whose citizens treat it like a garbage dump. Whenever I see someone spitting or littering I always think of the maniacally false pride we display in our motherland while playing a cricket match. Then the flags are out and painted on cheeks and hands. It is amazing why that pride doesn’t surface just before we open our mouth to spit on the roads that are part of the same motherland.

The best insight into such behaviour that I have come across is from Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO, Future Brands and one of the best observers of consumer behaviour. He said this to me in an interview (for afaqs!) — “We (Indians) are very good when it comes to dealing with the collective we are born into — which is the family and extended family. We will do a lot for them and look after their interests. But we have an inability to form community maps — as neighbours, in traffic. As a driver I fail to understand or respect that if I drive in the wrong lane and jam up the level crossing I delay everyone. As long as I get to go first I really don’t care.”

And that really is the nub of the whole thing. We don’t care. But we expect the government, outsiders and everyone else to. And the media, which panders to us as consumers, feeds this attitude. It makes us believe that we are right to keep demanding our rights. But till we take responsibility for our actions, how can we expect the government to do the same. Good governance and citizenship go hand in hand. That is why they say; ‘people get the government they deserve.’

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at 

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