It’s always pointing, isn’t it? At the inept
government, the inefficient police, the corrupt babu, the crazy traffic,
the negligent doctor, the lousy system. There’s always someone else, or something else,
to blame for whatever isn’t working.
At the peak of the protest movement against corruption
in 2012, one of TOI’s lead stories was about a young Indian man who had flown
down all the way from Hong Kong (or, Singapore) to show solidarity with Anna
Hazare and the movement. A VP with a multinational bank, he said he never dared
to jump the signal in Hong Kong because he knows he will be penalised. But,
because the system doesn’t work here, he said he doesn’t care whether he jumps
it in India. The system here, he said, sucks.
We jump signals because we know we can bribe the cop
and get away with it but, of course, we never fail to complain against
corruption; we stand by and watch a young girl and a young man lying by the
side of the road, without any clothes and, very obviously, the victims of a
violent crime and, yet, we do nothing to help or cover them up but we feel
incensed if the police arrives a little late; we sign petitions to ban Honey
Singh’s deeply offensive song but we refuse to acknowledge that the man is
popular for a reason, not to mention the fact that thousands among us had
booked expensive tickets to watch him sing that very song live on the eve of
the new year; and, then there’s our favourite bugbear, the West, which we’re
quick to blame for the erosion of our values and the loss of our culture.
We litter the streets, we spit everywhere and we honk
needlessly but it’s a rare person who’ll concede any wrongdoing. We look down
on dark-skinned Africans and refer to them as kaalu and habshi,
sometimes even to their faces. And, our attitude to fair-skinned foreigners is
best explained in the words of a German friend, who said that just because
she’s white, it seems there’s a stamp on her face that says, “Come, touch me,
feel me, fleece me...” We’re deeply racist ourselves but we bristle with
self-righteous indignation when Indians are attacked in Australia and elsewhere.
We’re constantly pointing fingers, sitting in
judgement and apportioning blame. While we’ve started to ask, and rather
stridently, for greater ‘accountability’ from politicians, and from those in
public life, we don’t seem willing to want to apply the same standard to
The Anna Hazare-led protest movement against
corruption and the current protests against violence against women have
mobilised thousands of angry people around the country to take to the streets
and to demand change. But, what’s most interesting about both is that, again,
they’re built on the premise that the problem and the solution, both, are on
the outside. We forget that for someone to take a bribe, it takes someone to
offer one. Or, that rising violence against women is a by-product of our
attitude towards women rather than inadequate laws. Personal culpability is not
on the agenda of either movement.
So, what is it with us and the finger? Long ago,
a friend, who was very fond of quotable quotes at the time, sent one to me in a
letter. When we point fingers, she said, we must remember that three of our own
are pointing back at us.
Is it just that we’re living in denial? Is it just
plain hypocrisy? Or, as a sociologist said in another context in a film I made
recently, is it all part of the glorious paradoxes of life that one has to be
able to sustain contradictory ideas?
Also, we need to quickly address why it is that our
hearts beat faster for the Jessica Lals, the Priyadarshini Mattoos, the Nitish
Kataras, the Ayushi Talwars and why the Nitharis of this world, the crimes
against the locals in Kashmir and in the North-East and the atrocities in
tribal areas soon become the blips in our memories they are today. Because this
feeling of unrest that seems to be festering inside us at the moment could,
potentially, have very serious ramifications.
BE THE CHANGE, says a friend’s Gmail status even as I
write this. We’ve rediscovered Mahatma Gandhi’s brilliant exhortation but,
clearly, we don’t seem to grasp what he meant. We’d rather change the world