Hope you are well. In today’s column, I tried to see Indian issues through a different perspective. My column in TOI today, reproduced below. Otherwise, the link is here.
As always, comments are welcome, and I encourage you to read them as well, as they really aid the discussion.
The great Indian psychotherapy
(TOI, 26 Sep 2010, All That Matters, Page 22)
Countless articles, books, thesis, papers and research reports have tried to answer the question, ‘what is wrong with India?’ Global experts are startled that a country of massive potential has one of the largest populations of poor people in the world. Isn’t it baffling that despite almost everyone agreeing that things should change, they don’t? Intellectuals give intelligent suggestions – from investing in infrastructure to improving the judicial system. Yet, nothing moves. Issues dating back thirty years ago, continue to plague India today. The young are often perplexed. They ask will things ever change? How? Whose fault is it that they haven’t?
Today, i will attempt to answer these tricky questions, although from a different perspective. I will not put the blame on everyone’s favorite punching bag– inept politicians. That is too easy an argument and not entirely correct. After all, we elect the politicians. So, for every MP out there, there are a few lakh people who wanted him or her there. I won’t give ‘policy’ solutions either – make power plants, improve the roads, open up the economy. It isn’t the lack of such ideas that is stalling progress. No, blocking progress is part of the unique psyche of Indians. There are three traits of our psyche, in particular, that are not good for us and our country. Each comes from three distinct sources – our school, our environment and our home.
The first trait is servility. At school, our education system hammers out our individual voices and kills our natural creativity, turning us into servile, coursematerial slaves. Indian kids are not encouraged to raise their voices in class, particularly when they disagree with the teacher. And of course, no subject teaches us imagination, creativity or innovation. Course materials are designed for no-debate kind of teaching. For example, we ask: how many states are there in India? 28. Correct. Next question –how is a country divided into states? What criteria should be used? Since these are never discussed, children never develop their own viewpoint or the faculty to think.
The second trait is our numbness to injustice. It comes from our environment. We see corruption from our childhood. Almost all of us have been asked to lie about our age to the train TC, claiming to be less than 5 years old to get a free ride. It creates a value system in the child’s brain that ‘anything goes’, so long as you can get away with it. A bit of lying here, a bit of cheating there is seen as acceptable. Hence, we all grow up slightly numb to corruption. Not even one high profile person in India is behind bars for corruption right now. This could be because, to a certain extent, we don’t really care.
The third trait is divisiveness. This often comes from our home, particularly our family and relatives, where we learn about the differences amongst people. Our religion, culture and language are revered and celebrated in our families. Other people are different – and often implied to be not as good as us. We’ve all known an aunt or uncle who, though is a good person, holds rigid bias against Muslims, Dalits or people from different communities. Even today, most of India votes on one criterion – caste. Dalits vote for Dalits, Thakurs for Thakurs and Yadavs for Yadavs. In such a scenario, why would a politician do any real work? When we choose a mobile network, do we check if Airtel and Vodafone belong to a particular caste? No, we simply choose the provider based on the best value or service. Then, why do we vote for somebody simply because he has the same caste as ours?
We need mass self-psychotherapy for the three traits listed above. When we talk of change, you and i alone can’t replace a politician, or order a road to be built. However, we can change one thing – our mindset. And collectively, this alone has the power to make the biggest difference. We have to unlearn whatever is holding us back, and definitely break the cycle so we don’t pass on these traits to the next generation. Our children should think creatively, have opinions and speak up in class. They should learn what is wrong is wrong – no matter how big or small. And they shouldn’t hate other people on the basis of their background. Let us also resolve to start working on our own minds, right now. A change in mindset changes the way people vote, which in turn changes politicians.
And change does happen. In the 80s, we had movies like “Gunda” and “Khoon Pi Jaaonga”. Today, our movies have better content. They have changed. How? It is because our expectations from films have changed. Hence, the filmmakers had to change.
If we resolve today that we will vote on the basis of performance alone, we will encourage the voices against injustice and we will place an honest but less wealthy person on a higher pedestal than a corrupt but rich person. By doing so, we would contribute to India’s progress. If everyone who read this newspaper did this, it would be enough to change voting patterns in the next election. And then, maybe, we will start moving towards a better India. Are you on board?