Monday, August 31, 2009

Origins of Indians anti-community behaviour

This is a topic which pops up often for me, either when talking to friends or when I observe some obnoxious behaviour somewhere or when reading an article discussing it. That is, why do a large percentage of Indians, including yours truly, tend to behave in some level of anti-community behaviour. When I mean anti-community behaviour, I am talking about behaviour that are beneficial to self but clearly cause an issue or hindrance to others in the community. A lack of civic sense. Very common examples are: Jumping a line sneakily or clustering around the window trying to be first even though you just came, illegally parking in places you very well know will obstruct others, driving on the wrong side forcing opposite traffic to move over or stop, throwing litter everywhere, honking unnecessarily, speeding past pedestrians including pregnant women, elderly & children even when they are on pedestrian crossings, talking loudly in public and tourist places, etc., and yes, sometime or other I would have been culprit on some of them too, if not directly at least by looking the other way when the group/person you are with behaves poorly. Now, this kind of behaviour is there in *all* countries only in not that high of a percentage and not *all* Indians are like that only they are too few.

I am so obsessed with this topic that I immediately purchased the book "Games Indians Play: why we are the way we are" by, V. Raghunathan, academic from IIM as soon as I saw the cover page thinking, wow, now I will know it all. But, the book uses Game theory and concludes that we are like this only because it is beneficial to us! Well, duh. It never answers why in other places people are not like this most of the time, even though it is *clearly* beneficial there also! So, my search continues...

I have come across many and varied reasons or should we say excuses for our behaviour. a) Britishers screwed up our brains during their rule b) over population leading to too much competition c) suppressed sexual urges looking for outlets d) it is the only way to get things done e) our religious background with heavy emphasis on fate does not encourage community based thinking or object to the bullying person f) we are ruled by people who themselves lack civic sense and ethics so what do you expect? and so on. Each one of these can be argued for and against with examples. Maybe it is a bit of all these and others I have not listed. Whenever I have the time I like to approach a person misbehaving and question them. A true incident: elderly person was peeing under a cluster of trees inside Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. I asked "Sir, do you not know that children play here?", his response, "Are you perfect? Don't you do anything wrong? Correct yourself and don't question others!". Philosophical! So he accepts he is wrong but does not like others to point it out. Another one: People parking inside a ground obstructing games instead of outside. When asked: "Will you replace it if I park outside and it gets vandalized?". How to respond to this type of argument?

My main interest is what are the ways in which we as a community start turning it around. Again many ideas are out there .... a) start teaching early to the kids. But who? Most parents who should set the best example are themselves irretrievably unethical and lack civic sense. Schools? Some try but most schools ignore it. TV? we hardly have a single good Indian children's program which teaches civic sense. Of these I feel TV is the best medium and hopefully somebody will get to it. b) More policemen to punish the offenders. I always felt, we can have at least 200 traffic policemen who can easily get their pay by ticketing all the traffic offenders! c) Lead from the top. Our politicians setting the tone on proper civic sense by not abusing their power and following the laws as ordinary citizens whenever possible. OK. Now I am day-dreaming! :) d) our public figures in films, sports, arts etc showing the way. I know a lot of them already do but how can we impose this among them? Also, a high percentage are themselves very poor role models.

I feel that things can get better only when each and every one of us wakes and follows some semblance of civic sense and ethical behaviour and expects others they interact with to do the same. Sometimes you may be at an disadvantage when you do so but you should not let that affect you and fall into the same trap.

Please share every suggestion and opinion you may have....


Charitha Sridhar said...

We do not see this in other countries as much because of the low tolerance to such behavior, People behaving like this will not be on the streets, because they will be either behind bars or their driver's license confiscated. This holds true for more serious misconduct.
Trying to explain the other more trivial misbehavior is a little difficult.
Life is always full of choices, whether to do the right thing or that which is good [ good to oneself but not to others/ selfish].The basis for all selfish actions is primitive mind and primitive thought process.
Just as the human form has evolved from aquatic animals, amphibians etc.. human mind too has evolved from primitive mind. Some of us still cling on to the primitive mind which leads to selfish actions. The goal of life is to train and evolve the mind so that it listens to the intellect and does the right thing.
I agree with you when you summarize at the end that we should all wake up and listen to our intellect which has the discriminative power to do the right thing at all times and in all kinds of situations.
Thanks for posting, kept my mind busy thinking about the evolution of mind for a while. And I do not think this behavior is exclusive to any particular community/ region. It is a problem of the homo sapiens. Man is an animal and remains so unless he develops virtues to become human.....

Nanda said...

Thanks for some excellent points.
True, tolerance for obnoxious behaviour is low in other countries. Here there even if you point out something to the offending person, chances are 50-50 that he will argue back rather than being apologetic.
Evolution of mind is what I liked best. Bad community behvaviour can be because of primitive thinking. However, sometimes it is done by folks who are otherwise brilliant in their careers. That is an enigma. I suppose we have to differentiate intellectual capacity from our normal decision making capacity, ie inner conscience and ethical thinking which does not need any formal education. Very good and advanced in the first but badly lacking in the latter?

Eshwar said...

Hi Nanda,
I want to offer another reason why we're anti-community. It's because the only institution that has survived in our country unscathed is the family.
Everything happens because of, due to and for the family. Neither the larger community exists, nor does the individual. Every Indian family is a corporate house, fiercely protecting its own welfare. Every member in the family is part of the family collective. None of them exist in isolation.
So the boundaries are drawn around our compound walls. Everything outside those walls can perish for all we care.
That's why our babus and netas are corrupt. They're doing it for their kids and the kids of their kids. And why wouldn't they? They're being true to their "nation".
Of course, I'm generalizing. Deliberately so. But hope I was able to convey my drift.
We don't have a larger social identity at all.
Thankfully, things are changing.

Nanda said...

Thats a good, interesting observation. It is true that in India more than other countries, family comes first. That can explain looking the other way when relatives err.
But I dont see how it fits into daily obnoxious habits.
I think your point is that, others dont matter. Hence, people tend to behave selfishly in the public.
Somehow, I am unable to connect the 2.
I think you are looking at the bigger picture of why netas are corrupt and what motivates them to pile up truckloads of illegal earnings to the detriment of the larger community or country.
And I am only thinking of the small things like, parking right in front of a shop which will block half the road when 10-20mtrs ahead there is better spot.
I guess it is the refusal to see things as it affects the larger community that you say is due to our pro-family thinking.
Not sure....but good point! :)

Pushpa said...

this is a good blog.. wonder why you did not put it on sulekha for consumption by a bigger audience :)

anyways - i am glad i read this though i must admit i have no answers. like our previous president pointed out or atleast they said so in a forwarded email that indians in a foreign country would behave so well and on returning to his country would spit at the roadside etc. i feel it is changing with our generation or atleast pray so. why wait for a revolution? atleast let us - you, me, and a discerning few start now! never too late :)

Nanda said...

Ya sulekha would be nice, but I need to think it through a bit more for consumption there...
I seriously dont think we are changing much. Even people like me, who know whats right sometimes slip because thats the way it is here. "In Rome, do as the Romans do!".
But as you say, I try my best to do the right as much as I can which I hope sets a good example to the younger generation around me...

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Nanda said...

Just adding a point. The book by Raghunath is based mostly around the Prisoners Dillema game theory problem's_dilemma

While discussion this with a friend, he suggested, we go for the high pay-off possibility even though it could backfire because of opportunism among Indians due to resource constraints. Ex: Our roads are not that wide..if it was..we would be more civil to each other.

I dont buy it, but it was worthwhile to add it here....

Anonymous said...

This is an oft repeated rant (for want of a better word). In my jaundiced view, the biggest problem is that of enforcement. When we (indians) travel or stay abroad, we follow the rules to the T, primarily because we know the penalties are indeed very high for breaking the rules. In Bangalore, we care a damn for the rules - if i am caught jumping a signal, the fine is Rs.100/- which does not pinch most vehicle drivers. Or pay the cop Rs.200 - 500 (depending on your negotiating skill) if you are caught for drunken driving and you can scoot. Hence with low fines and lax enforcement, most people dont bother. Even if you are caught and dont pay, the authorities cant catch you. So you are free to do as you wish. Hence people ride without helmets, on the pavements, on the right hand side of the road - oblivious to any danger they are causing to others. I remember a long time ago - 1984 or 85, in front of the town hall circle, there used to be a black board with letters printed in bold in white : SPOT FINE Rs.100/- FOR CROSSING THIS WHITE LINE DURING RED SIGNAL. Everyone used to gingerly wait (and err on the side of caution) and then cross the white line after the signal turned green. I dont know a single road where you have a yellow line in the centre - earlier this would be the holy grail - nobody would cross this. While I agree that discipline has to start with me before i can expect others to follow, unless there is the "dhanda", nothing's going to happen.


Nanda said...

@Bhaskar, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You have picked one of the reasons, which lack of enforcements. That, I agree with you, is true for many instances. Ex, speeding, jumping signals, crossing over the divider, parking.

However, it does not answer for other instances where punishment or penalty is not applicable. Ex. A Q to buy tickets to enter a park. People automatically form a line and patiently wait without anybody telling and with no threat of punishment. Here.. you know the story.

Adding one more possible reason that a friend of mine gave. He goes by the theory that because western countries have to cope with a severe winter every year, they inherently learn to be community minded and co-operate with each other. Unlike our tropical weather where we can find food all around the year, being individual has more advantages.

Interesting is all I can say! :)

Nanda said...

Deccan Herald published these thoughts of Manu Joseph which I thought was relevant to my post here!
She suggests that for Indians "practicality" is above all rules and systems and values.
Well... it is true. That is indeed how a majority think. She uses the word Jugaad to describe it.
Reason for us being like that... is it is a crucial survival tool in a difficult nation
Have to agree.

Nanda said...

One more article on the same subject published by Deccan Herald..