Thursday, August 4, 2011

A common man's plea

This is a letter I recently wrote to Ms Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, National Advisory Council.

Dear Ms Gandhi,

I write to you today as a common man, a person having no interest in politics whatsoever, a man busy from dawn to twilight in thinking about a decent life for himself and his family, and toiling hard to etch a respectable living.

Like every other apolitical Indian, which is in fact the largest majority in this country, it doesn't bother me whether the office of our Prime Minister comes under the ambit of the yet-to-be-constituted Lokpal or not.

But what most certainly causes an alarm to me is that the draft your government has tabled in the Parliament includes only the MPs and higher bureaucracy, and excluded the lower rungs of the bureaucracy, the Panchayati Raj institutions, Municipalities and the like, which come in daily contact with us, the common folk.

Most of us don't have to deal directly with a politician or the higher bureaucracy (thankfully). But we do interact with the street-level bureaucracy every other day. And it is this lower-level bureaucracy which creates hassles for us at every step of the so-called governance.

If we want an LPG connection for our homes, we have to give a bribe. Want a ration card, passport, driving licence etc, pay a bribe. Only yesterday I applied for an electricity connection for my house, and the Sarkari Babu in the Electricity Department openly said that I wouldn't be getting one unless I paid a bribe of Rs 2000 cash for it. I gave in and paid the cash, which he audaciously stapled with the Application Form, indicating that this practice was openly prevalent and deeply entrenched in the system!

For its personal/political vendetta, your government has successfully altered the Lokpal Bill to its wish, and in the process, is attempting to create an institution completely aloof from the contact of the masses, so that the people may forget about its existence soon and the government can continue plundering the nation.

Please tell me, as a common man, where am I supposed to go for all these problems? Do we also share the right to live in this country, or is it bestowed only upon the selected few of your kind? These are a few questions troubling me, as part of the largest vote-bank of this nation, the common-folk.

I sincerely put my trust in you and hope that you'll do something concrete about these concerns.


Prashant Sharma

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's your 'status'?

Being a student, ever-confused in selecting a suitable occupation, I was advised to think about the Indian Civil Services as a possible option by many among my family and friends. On being asked why, I was given a three-pronged reply of ‘money, power and high job satisfaction’, and I had to admit, the combination is alluring. Any one out of the three is reason enough to do almost anything in today’s world.

But this forced me to think, why do we do everything in life? What causes our actions? What drives us? What is the ultimate motivation, the reason of everything, hidden deep down in our subconscious, which we seldom realise? Money and power can be good reasons, but they are mere instruments of achieving a further objective: Social Acceptability.

Why do we buy a fancy, top-of-the-line cell phone? Why do we travel in a gas-guzzling SUV or a luxury sedan? Why do we wear jewellery? Why do we flaunt the tags of our clothes? Because this is what we have to do in order to be accepted socially. These are the norms of acceptability in today’s society. And since man has always been a social animal, people are lured by these norms just as the Pied Piper hypnotised the rats, blindly following without using their own rationale.

The parameters of social acceptance are skewed and strange. A rich person automatically receives respect from the society, thereby promoting evils like greed, theft and bribery among people. A person with a big, expensive, less fuel-efficient (because then it is expensive to maintain) car is admired, thereby making people nonchalant towards the environment. A person who travels by a privet jet is looked at with awe, rather than despised for emitting as much CO2 in the atmosphere as a small town would emit in a day.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who belongs to a very well-to-do family, telling her that I’d love to own a Reva, the zero-emission, battery-operated car, so that I can contribute to the environment. To my astonishment, her reply was: “I’d not want to be even seen near one. What would people think of me!”

Here, the fault lies not in one person in particular, but the society as a whole. The parameters based on which a person is judged and respected in the society is predominantly money. People look up to those who flaunt it, and wish to emulate them in every possible way.

Why shouldn’t these parameters include the moral and ethical values in the person, or the behaviour one has towards fellow humans, or the concern towards other living beings, the society and the environment?

If owning a fancy car would stop being a status symbol, people would increasingly use public transport or more fuel-efficient vehicles, thereby reducing the global warming. If having tons of money is no longer a norm for getting accepted by the society, maybe the greed would lessen, resulting in a drop in the crime-rate, since most of the crimes have money as their motive.

A sheep will follow other sheep blindly, even if they’re all falling into a cliff. But we claim to be the most intelligent species on the planet. We have the brains to rationalise and challenge existing beliefs, then why not use it? Ironically, almost all of us would envisage these concepts in theory, but when it comes to adopting them and applying them on ourselves, we choose to ignore them as if we've never heard of them. ‘Simple living’ has always been a way of life in the Indian context. The sooner we realise that, the better this world would be.