Lindsay Pereira: The things that saved us in 2017
People died, the economy was hit, but despite our government's best efforts to ruin it all, the year had a lot of good things going for it
Locals opened their homes to strangers when public transport failed in the August rains. While some offered shelter, others took to the streets carrying flasks of tea
It's a lot easier to talk about things that go wrong these days, in a country that encourages anger, actively promotes hatred and celebrates bigotry in a manner that Germany would have undoubtedly approved of in the 1930s. It's normal to sit back and watch in horror as elected leaders drag each other through the mud, naming and shaming each other on national television without a thought for children watching, not caring about the poor examples they set, obsessed only with their desperate need to hold on to power at all costs.
This was an awful year for a lot of Indians, for all kinds of reasons. It began with millions of us waiting in line outside banks and ATMs - two whole months after November 8, 2016 - for access to our own money that was denied to us without a single reason that made sense. A year after the mysterious exercise that was demonetisation, we are nowhere close to arriving at a consensus on what exactly it accomplished, who it benefited, or why we accepted it in blind faith. People died, businesses were ruined, the economy took a hit, but no one was punished.
It got progressively worse, from attacks on people for their religious beliefs to attacks on our eating habits, murders of those who dared to fall in love or criticise politicians, to a recent series of threats to anyone daring to celebrate Christmas - a festival that, I'd like to point out, doesn't cause noise, water or air pollution, doesn't threaten lives, and doesn't involve drunk men dancing to item numbers on the streets.
Everything good came from common people who had absolutely nothing to do with the political establishment. For every politician who asked us to treat other communities with suspicion, there were Indians who rejected bigotry and embraced each other anyway. The entire state of Kerala, for instance, came together to ensure safe passage for a month-old baby being transferred by ambulance from Kannur to T'puram - a journey of 500 kilometres. According to reports, the ambulance's location was posted online, enabling residents to keep track of its movements and clear traffic. No one asked about the baby's gender, caste or religion. In a country where traffic is cleared only when a minister condescends to visit, it was beautiful.
In August, the Supreme Court declared that the right to privacy is fundamental, challenging the Constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme and also highlighting the fact that sexual orientation is part of that right, as is the right to choose one's food habits. The Court also amended an earlier order, saying that people need not stand up at a cinema hall to be perceived as patriotic, slapping down those who shove their version of nationalism down the throats of everyone else. It was a reminder that our Courts continue to do their best to protect us from political parties who will stoop to the lowest possible depths to ensure a win during elections.
Closer home, the Mumbai Police stepped up on a number of occasions, from going out of their way to help people stranded during this year's routine monsoon-related trauma, to saving an abandoned newborn child. The cops did more than they were supposed to, in the face of government apathy - decrepit police stations, rundown accommodations, poor equipment, awful working hours - that routinely makes it difficult for them to function.
There were hundreds of other small incidents worth celebrating. Locals opened their homes to strangers when public transport failed in August. Some offered shelter, others served food, while still others took to the streets carrying flasks of tea. These were acts of kindness in the face of a municipal corporation that simply shrugged off all responsibility for the state of our roads and crumbling infrastructure. Authorities didn't even have the courtesy of keeping citizens informed about when services would resume, choosing to ask everyone to stay home instead.
There were few authorities on hand at Elphinstone Road station too, when that horrific stampede claimed 22 lives. It was bystanders who rushed in while Railway police reportedly argued over jurisdiction. Residents jumped in to save as many people as possible, staying on to try and get as many of the injured to hospital.
If we can look forward to a better 2018, it will be only because of the presence of decent human beings who continue to live among us. They are the ones we should be proud of, for doing what our governments should but never do.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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