Has Urban India become Selfish and Over-critical

Rice being served in Thermacol plates, Mysore Dussehra 2017

During a recent visit to Mysore for Dussehra saw a person serving pulao and shira in thermacol plates. The author advised him against using thermacol since it is not bio-degradable. The man replied, 'first let the government ban it then we will stop using'.


Similarly, Mumbaikars are aware that plastic bags choke drains yet continue to use them. If the government were to ban plastic bags people would ask how they would carry vegetables and tablet strips? So many people would lose jobs!


We are good at transferring the buck to the government and unwilling to be inconvenienced.


This article gives examples that symbolise the attitudes which prevails in most of urban India today.


One, take the recent Elphinstone station tragedy in which 23 people lost their lives.


Whilst accepting the governments fault in not constructing a FOB, the incident reiterated that the local train system is cracking under an ever increasing population. Three observations.


a) This was the time for Mumbaikars; people-media-courts to realize how important the timely completion of the Metro 3, a fully underground railway network that starts from South Mumbai to SEEPZ in the western suburbs, is to improve the quality of Mumbai's transport system.  


Instead, we have citizens going to Court over cutting of trees and noise pollution. In the western suburbs, a citizens group want their section of the Metro to be underground instead of over.


Without dismissing their concerns, can citizens first appreciate the State government's move to construct the long awaited metro, extend whole-hearted co-operation and then seek problem resolution.


We want world class infrastructure without disturbing our present!


b) No country can cater to the needs of a ever burgeoning population. Try suggesting population control.


It would be opposed because some would say their religion does not permit birth control - procreation is a fundamental right and children are God's gift.


c) Till the 1980's population density around the Elphinstone station was low since it was dominated by textile mills.  


Things changed after mill land was sold to private developers starting 2003. Today, high end offices and residences exist on mill lands.


Has anyone asked, why builders and corporates did not contribute resources to upgrade  Elphinstone road station inspite of a large number of their employees using it?

Even if a fraction of the increase in market capitalization of companies occupying newly built offices was used on station up-gradation 23 lives might have been saved.  


Na! Simplest thing blame the government


Two, during the 2015 monsoons a friend from Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) called at 7 am to ask if I was ok.


Said am good but kya hua? He called out of concern since TV Channels reported that Mumbai was heavily flooded. When I switched on the TV saw a channel showing footage of two low-lying areas, namely Parel and King Circle, from different angles making an outsider feel the city was flooded.  


Three, is a recent example when it rained very heavily on a Tuesday. Trains were slow or had stopped and there were traffic jams. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's ineptness in dealing with the situation made newspaper headlines.


About two weeks later it was expected to pour on a Wednesday. Throughout the day received messages on how bad the situation was. One message said, the Worli Bandra sea-link closed. When I looked out of the window saw vehicles plying on the sea-link!


This time around the BMC and Traffic Police managed the ground situation very well and countered rumours with regular updates and tweets.


Inefficient management gets sensationalised through headlines! Whilst competence is featured in inside pages.


If incompetence is criticized good work must be appreciated. Unfortunately, words of praise were difficult to find.


Very few people realize the importance of expressing gratitude.


Four, "There is broad agreement that vehicular pollution - although not the biggest contributor to Delhi's foul air - is a grave problem".


The problem of having too many cars can be addressed by "increasing registration charges and levying a street parking surcharge for all vehicles in the city, much higher than the present one-time lifetime charge of Rs 4,000."


Try doing this and car owners will be up in arms. They will, nevertheless continue to complain about air pollution.


Five, another example of our cynical approach is making fun of the Swach Bharat campaign. On seeing images of garbage lying at street corners the success of the campaign is often questioned.


Keeping the country clean is the responsibility of every citizen and not the government's alone. We cannot expect the government to keep the area clean if we keep throwing litter.

Appreciate the work of those who clean your street by presenting them with a box of sweets and diyas this Diwali.   


Six, much has been written about demonetization. What is forgotten is how the rich and mighty got around it.


Noted economist and MINT columnist V Anantha Nageswaran made a pertinent observation,  "the return of almost all the SBN (Specified Bank Notes) is an indictment of the values and attitudes of the people. If the Indian state is part of the problem, so is Indian society. It is also clear that banks colluded with the offenders to help them recycle unaccounted cash."


By and large, we are good at finding fault but bad at looking within and changing ourselves. We have forgotten that rights come with responsibilities just as managerial delegation goes with accountability.


Why have things come to such a pass?


A key reason is that we have become a Rights based society and forgotten the concept of Dharma or Duty.


When one speaks about rights, it is all about ME. This has made us selfish and self-centred.


Conversely, when driven by duty you ask what can I do for you. Such an approach makes you humble, compassionate, content and importantly positive.


Indians have imbibed the western concept of rights and forgotten the Bhartiya concept of Dharma.


Sri Aurobindo said, "It has been said that democracy is based on the rights of man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas. Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world, which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity.


Dharma is the basis of democracy which Asia must recognize, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe."


A person who has imbibed the spirit of Dharma is Afroz Shah, a Mumbai based advocate. He took it upon himself to lead the clean Versova beach campaign. Mumbaikars were shocked to see the amount of plastic washed on the beach. Remember that plastic is not intrinsic to the sea but a human creation.


Swami Atmarupananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, recently wrote, "Because we are either all interdependent or ultimately all one, we are responsible for the welfare of others, because my own welfare lies in the welfare of others. And therefore service to others and self-sacrifice have to be intrinsic parts of the new story on which society is founded." Excerpts from Towards a Dharma based economy

Simply put, in others welfare is our own.


What is the way forward?


Look within and for good qualities in others, perform your duties, appreciate good work and be compassionate.


The author is an independent columnist and founder www.esamskriti.com.

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