There is one popular phrase that finds frequent employ in our nation that is more loathed than any other. That phrase is “Chalta hai”, which means “it’ll do”, but is contextually used to imply that “anything goes”.
“This is India bhai, sab kuch chalta hai” - (Freshly bribed Govt worker)
“Little bit here and there is okay” - (Post 1970s generation uncle & aunty)
“Que sera sera” - (Douchetastic media-elite quip)
“Koi bhi chalega” - (Average rural electorate rationale)
“Jo hoga dekha jayega” - (Police Sub-Inspector before a mob-control Go)
“Solpa adjust madi” - (Alumni IIT-ian startup founder in Bangalore)
“We’re not in America any more” - (NRI, seconds before tossing cigarette butts away)
If you’ve Been to India, you’ve seen it.
If you’ve lived in India, even for a very short while, there are extremely good odds you have had your eyes pierced with someone’s swinging, slothful, happy-go-lucky attitudes regarding their everyday diligence.
It could be something like a broken wire being allowed to stay live on the ground, a child discarding a candy wrapper on the road, people rushing queues to be serviced first, late coming and absenteeism in a Govt office, negligent Govt hospital staff or an apathetic police investigation - that reflect the chalta hai mindset.
If you think an individual is the most impacted by this attitude, think again. The chalta hai attitude is why we persevered with World War I grade weapons and hand out ineffective bullet-proof vests to our elite security personnel. The same attitude reflected in accounting practices, book-keeping, audits and surveys is why corruption is deeply entrenched into our system.
It’s why traders overbook and under-deliver. It’s why we’ve built a society with a blame-the-politician expectation. It’s why strikes, bandhs, satyagrahas and riots are the resorted means to draw attention to urgent grievances. It’s why 55% of India still pay bribes to peddle influence in government offices.
It’s a fight for India’s soul.
The problem? Everyone knows it’s a problem.
Everyone knows why it’s bad. Everyone knows it must be changed. Everyone knows it’s something that involves an inward looking process. Everyone knows that he/she must first absorb that change within his/her selves first. Everyone knows the power of an individual in effecting that change.
Everyone has reached overwhelming consensus, that if imbibed into a mindset, we will just be begging for shoddy workmanship, improvident planning, poor implementation and poorer maintenance in everything we do; and that it will ultimately spell disaster for our country.
And yet, everyone drowns in it every day.
Why it’s a hard problem to solve:
One attempt at explaining it is by evoking what social scientists refer to as the Broken Windows theory.
The theory is exemplified in the following paragraph:
“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”
Broken windows are how an overflowing trash receptacle becomes a landfill in a few months. Broken windows are guarantors for signalling decline in a society, thereby spurring other social neglect. A norm is set toward mediocrity and when the shared expectations of a community is significantly lowered, it breeds more disorder.
Thus a society begins its move toward a downward spiral, setting the scene for crime and vandalism to be tolerated. If a society is accepting of broken windows, then most transformative changes are resisted in favor of the status quo, and then eventually toward ruin, abandon and decline.
In a nation perpetually full of broken windows, untended behavior is bound to be rampant. This behavior has been studied to be cyclic; it feeds itself.
The many years of being subjugated to economic divide, the sheer scarcity of infrastructure and several failed social reform measures can contribute to the feeling of futility. This is why it’s so hard to integrate the fight against broken windows even into micro-organizations. The sheer cyclic effect can contribute in making it so hard to bring the attitude into a collective consciousness.
As is characteristic of a developing nation, many of us are adept at dealing with ambiguity and adjusting to whatever comes at us. As a result we’ve grown quite used to living with stagnation.
The bottom line works out to: If you’ve got empty tummies to feed, will you still bother with picking up after yourself?
What can be done about it?
Where do we start the battle against a spirit of trundle? How do we replace a collective characteristic? Should we do it on a person by person basis or turn to laws and community?
Zero tolerance policies: Considered the hallmark of Law Enforcement in America, zero tolerance schools find plenty of supporters in combating drug abuse, fare evasion, urination, pan handling, public intoxication, etc. However, with a police to citizen ration of 1:40, India is severely constrained in bringing to implementation some of these schemes.
The zero tolerance policy is immediately ineffectual upon offer of bribes, organized crime and acts of mass rebellion. It’s also why our zero tolerance policies already in place (toward corruption, terrorism and food safety) is not good for anything other than a laugh.
Community policing: To some extent, India is still working on variations of community policing. Certain elements of community policing, like protection for a whistle blower, UNODC, etc have already found implementation.
It’s not without its fare share of challenges though.
However, even when not in the role of vigilante organizations, there is always a fear of retributive justice and example punishments involved when communities police their own. Keeping it proportionate to the crime or act of neglect is always hard when a mob is involved.
Shaming: Shame is a useful tool to bring about disgust to currently accepted practices. A secular morality played a big part in giving slavery, a once commonly accepted practice its current sentiment of depravity. Even the anti-smoking campaign relies on shaming as a tool to make a practice forbidden.
Bringing reform through moral condemnation, however, is an act that involves time and patience - whatever rehabilitative function is sought will generally come at the expense of a long wait.
Public awareness: Institutions are already at work in combating this. Organizations like SCORE are working hard to promote awareness of this public.
India also has the benefit of medium. The following is an example of Aamir Khan’s Incredible India Ads.
The bottom line:
Sadly, there isn’t a conclusion. Like Anand Giridharadas observes:
“India is a place of deep, improbable kindness. A society where villagers will do anything for the chance to serve a guest tea, where flight attendants are truly hurt when you forgo food, where the caring that flows through the many wings and generations of a family can make other societies seem cold by comparison. The average Indian tends to be flexible, understanding and tolerant by the standards of a difficult world”
It’s not enough to pass a Jan Lokpal bill and then sit back, awaiting change. We need to work on this day by day, minute by minute and moment by moment, to bring gradual, long term changes.
With increased awareness, leveraging technology, self help and continuous struggle, we will be on our way to certain progress.