What is the common running theme when we:
Drive through a puddle, splashing water all over a pedestrian; spit out of a bus or practically from anywhere; dump garbage out of our balconies; do not slow down for pedestrians even on zebra crossings; use our cell-phones freely during movies, plays, concerts, workshops notwithstanding entreaties to keep them switched off; overtake others from most absurd angles, and never stick to our respective lanes for a minute; leave public toilets – in a railway train, in an aircraft, or practically anywhere – dirtier than we found them; do not think twice before honking even in residential localities, even at 4 am in the morning; do everything in our power to get into an unreserved carriage – but once in, will do everything in our power to keep others out; leave our loud-speakers blaring because we have an occasion to celebrate; delay or do not pay up the cooperative charges in a housing society; seldom stand up for the wronged, if the wronged are not us; dump construction material (among other assorted debris) on the narrow side-walk outside our gate blocking the passage; leave exposed electrical wires hanging; leave open and unprotected tube-wells and bore-wells with least regard to the lives of little children, again and again and again. One could go on and on.
The common running theme is that as a society we have lost the most elementary sense of civility towards others. As a society, we have become so uncaring and self-absorbed, or even self-obsessed that as long as something does not directly harm us, we will do practically anything. We don’t care about splashing water on others, because it is too much trouble to lift our foot off the acceleration pedal, press the clutch and apply the break, when we are not the one getting wet. We don’t care about spitting out of a bus—we need to spit and how does it matter that it may fall on someone walking by; We have to get ahead, so we honk—and at the moment, we are not the ones being disturbed; it is less trouble and less expensive for us to leave a tube-well unprotected and anyway, our children aren’t the ones walking across that space.
‘We do not care unless it affects us’ syndrome is in evidence all around us. Our babus and politico’s don’t care whether our cities have side-walks, or are kept clean, because they have taken care of the localities they in. The same individuals do not care to ensure a transparent system for our bureaucracy to function because their own interests are in any case taken care of; if anything, transparency may hinder their own self-interest. Our VVIPs block the streets holding tens of thousands of commuters on hold on busy streets for them to pass, because it makes life easier for them, never mind how it affects others. The same VVIPs don’t care about reforming the police force, because with the police force primarily catering to their own security, they see no incentive to change the status-quo. Even an educated and suave Akhilesh Yadav will transfer goondas back to their home constituency jails because it serves his purpose, never mind how it affects the larger society. And ‘how does it matter to me personally’ was perhaps also the attitude that resulted in our being under the British yolk for over three centuries. The common man in his turn, as pointed above, is no different about this self-serving mind-set. After all our bureaucrats and politicos are drawn from this very population of the uncaring common man. And yet, we are not squeamish about expecting our government servants and politicians to be somehow better in their mind-set and to give us a caring government when we ourselves will continue being uncaring! And that is why as a society we are not sufficiently enraged by the self-serving ways of our politicians, whom we keep voting back, because we behave exactly like they do in every walk of life. It is simply that the behaviour of the politician may be under the spot light, while mine is in the dark.
Let us take this uncaring attitude in the context of the latest tragedy of little Mahi in Haryana, who simply didn’t have to die, had we been a caring society. As a society, we have witnessed the loss of hundreds of our children to the tube well tragedy over the decades. And yet, when we see an unfenced tube well in our midst, we leave it as a problem for someone else to solve. We leave it unfenced, because it costs some money to fence it. If we live in a co-operative that is digging a bore-well, we will oppose contributing money to fence the well, because our own children may be grown up, or because they are away, or because we do not have children. We will vociferously question the correctness of the Co-operative Housing Society asking us for any contribution for the building’s overall capital repairs and maintenance because our own apartment seems to be in acceptable shape. We will not contribute for the upkeep of the lift, because we live on the first floor. To hell with the ‘co-operative’ element of the Society.
Our Supreme Court judges must read the newspapers like most educated people do; but it took them a decade into the twenty-first century to issue a suo moto ruling asking for the tube wells to be fenced. Could it be that even to the exalted judges, the tragedy never really struck really close home? And to us, a Supreme Court Ruling that applies to all the local bodies applies to no-one in particular at all. Its effect on us is therefore like the cyclo-styled circulars of the bygone era, which commanded little respect since it was addressed to the world at large. So we will not take the ruling seriously in our civic bodies. We rarely give exemplary punishment to those responsible for such tragedies, because in our mind-set such accidents are nobody’s fault and ‘these things happen’. Would our take have been the same if it were our child that lost its life inside the tube well and we were sitting on judgment?
And sadly, when 1.2 billion people live together with such a mind-set, the result is what we witness all around us. We all want others to make the society work better for us. But we are loathe to make a beginning with ourselves. We justify our uncaring attitude with ‘what can I alone do?’ 1.2 billion of us crying aloud in unison, ‘WHAT CAN I ALONE DO?’ had reduced us to among the most uncaring society.
In this sense, we (South Asians) come out among the most fatalistic people, which can virtually be proved statistically. I tried saying the same thing in different contexts in two of my books – Games Indian Play: Why we are the way we are (Penguin 2006) and in my Ganesha on the Dashboard (Penguin 2012), and yet beyond a point it is impossible to say exactly why we should be the way we are. We could say we are the way we are because we are unthinking as a people. But that begs the question, why should we be the more unthinking people in the world! We could answer that saying we are genetically like that, which may beg the question why should we alone be genetically like that, and so on. That is why rather than look for an external reason for why we are as we are, we may be better off saying, all right, if we are the way we are and if we see a problem with that, and if we want to change how we are, let us spare a moment to think about others when we behave in a certain way. The old adage about behaving towards others how we would want others to behave towards ourselves applies more to us as a people than to any other people in the world.
I am frequently told, ‘Oh, don’t tell us about the problems, we know it all; tell us what is the solution?’ To me this question externalises the problem. The solution lurks within each and every one of us, which we find inconvenient to accept because it is not ‘quick’ and it takes a lot of effort to change our own behaviour. We would rather have an Anna Hazare come along and solve our problems, when in fact we are the problem. The reality is an Anna Hazare cannot be a quick fix to the problem that 1.2 billion of us collectively represent. The solution lies in being a trifle more caring of others and in not being so self-absorbed. And when we care a little more about the others, we will do whatever it is that we are charged to do, whether in public service or private, a little more diligently.. When our parliamentarians are more caring, they will spend more time passing public-friendly laws. When our regulators are more caring, they will collectively try to enforce our rules, regulations and norms more effectively for the benefit of all. When we are more caring, we will all spend less energy trying to thwart every norm of civil behaviour. We need to educate ourselves and our children to be more caring. We also need to help them see that when 1.2 billion are all self-absorbed, nobody’s interest is served. We simply have to learn that there is greater elegance in a society that stops its cars to allow pedestrians to cross a road. All right, a country of 1.2 billlion may not be able to stop its cars for all its pedestrians and ever get home. But how about slowing down to let an old man, woman, or child or a poor man hefting a large weight on his shoulders to pass? How about taking it as our personal agenda to have a bore well fenced if it happens to be in our vicinity? After all had the neighbourhood in Manesar collectively cared about fencing the bore well before little Mahi fell in, Mahi would still be alive, right? Had we all been caring members of society, in a little state of Haryana where no hospital could be very far away, it didn’t have to take five hours for oxygen to reach the distressed child, right? The issue is as much about an uncaring local authorities as about uncaring neighbourhood of we the people.
PKR today challenged Putrajaya’s insistence that the crime rate has fallen and the public is satisfied with the police, pointing to the increasing prevalence of gated communities and private security patrolling residential areas.
Its president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said this today in response to heightened fear over public safety after a spate of recent assaults and kidnappings.
“An inordinate number of residential areas are applying to gate up their zones. Security personnel are a common sight. Parents are frightened for their children; the days of children freely moving about in unguarded areas are long gone,” she told a press conference.
PEMANDU, the government’s efficiency unit, and the Home Ministry have said that crime dropped by 11 per cent last year and street crime by 40 per cent since the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) was put in place two years ago.
It has also said that over 70 per cent of Malaysians are satisfied with the police.
But Dr Wan Azizah said the situation in most housing estates “presents a totally opposing scenario.”
“No society can focus on national development and economic activities if the average citizen does not feel safe.
“Security is a vital concern for any government and how secure its people feel will decide how they vote for they are voting to decide who will keep them safe,” she said.
Despite a reported drop in crime rates, another woman was robbed and slashed on her head at the car park of the Mid Valley Megamall in the capital city a week ago, a third such robbery and assault on a woman here in the past month.
The victim was found leaning against a wall with blood gushing from her head, and injuries on her hands.
PEMANDU has also called on the media to play its role in fighting crime and help arrest the “doom and gloom” by reporting on solved cases and not sensationalising crime by repeatedly reporting the same news angle.
But a federal lawmaker from Selangor had questioned the effectiveness of the GTP which singles out Malaysia’s richest state as a “hotspot” for crime after the Home Ministry said crime in Selangor had risen by nearly 12 per cent from 2010 to 2011 or 39,691 to 44,302 cases.
The Home Ministry quickly issued a correction but Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua found that this was at least the third different set of crime figures for his state, creating further doubt over the accuracy of the government’s statistics.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak said early this month more must be done to increase public safety, two days after his Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein insisted that “isolated” violent incidents were not indicative of a rising crime rate.
It’s a dreadful story. A house of worship burned; hateful graffiti scrawled on the walls; worshipers feeling spiritually homeless, the place to which they would ordinarily turn for consolation now smudged with ash and tinged with hate.
If this had happened to a synagogue, God forbid, Jews around the world would be up in arms. Certainly my rabbinic colleagues and I would be horrified. We would denounce the hate crime from our pulpits, preach loving kindness and consolation, perhaps call in the ADL to condemn the act in the strongest possible terms.
Instead, this month, the house of worship burned was a mosque — and the burning was almost certainly committed by Jewish hands.
The Grand Mosque in the West Bank town of Jabaa was burned and vandalized on June 19. The graffiti scrawled on the damaged building warned in Hebrew of a “war” over the impending evacuation of the small Jewish settlement of Ulpana.
Attacks like this one are known colloquially as “price tag” attacks. The violence against Muslims is considered by its perpetrators to be the “price tag” for the Israeli government’s efforts (halfhearted though they may be) to halt or diminish the building of settlements which many argue make a realistic two-state solution impossible.
Some Jewish organizations will condemn the acts of these settlers. Rabbis for Human Rights has already sent a delegation to visit the burned mosque in solidarity and sorrow. Jewish Voice for Peace, Americans for Peace Now, the Shalom Center — the usual suspects on the Jewish Left stand together to decry this shameful act of hatred. The ADL has also condemned the attacks.
But pouring our outrage into the echo chamber of like-minded souls will have a minimal impact. We need to bring our sorrow, our shame, and our hope for transformation to a wider world.
This act of hatred, this desecration of a sacred space, is beyond the pale. This is not how Jews are meant to act. Not toward anyone. Not ever.
Some will argue that I shouldn’t air my anger with my fellow Jews in public. But in this day and age, with this story appearing in the New York Times (not to mention across the internet), the “dirty laundry” argument no longer holds water.
Others will argue that I should reserve my outrage for hate crimes committed against my community, not hate crimes committed by my community. But I believe that we are responsible for one another. When a family member misbehaves, as Leviticus notes, it’s incumbent on us to offer appropriate reproof. When a Jew sets fire to a mosque, our whole family is implicated.
On the Jewish calendar we’ve recently entered into the month of Tamuz. Soon we’ll enter a three-week period of mourning: remembering the long-ago siege of Jerusalem, the fall of the Temple (first and second), our community’s exile from the place we had called home. In the wake of the burning of this mosque, our weeks of mourning take on a different tone.
When one “believer” takes it upon themselves to burn another believer’s house of worship, God weeps. And so do I.