The Deep Indian Middle Class Slumber

September 2005, Ranchi, Jharkhand (India)

I was in the police station nearest to my house. I had applied for a passport and it was time for police verification. My father had instructed me not to give more than 300 rupees and I had instructed myself not to give even a single paisa.
To state the obvious, a passport file is like a coach tied to a bureaucratic engine, whose motion was sustained by the currency notes in the pockets of a taxpayer. After a long wait at the station the officer arrived and ensconced himself in his chair.
He called for me, a few questions were asked and few questions answered.
The verification was over. It was now time for the tacit intentions to manifest themselves.

Officer : Chaai Paani ho jaaye. (Lets have some tea, water etc.. a bribe in other words)
Me : Matlab ? (What do you mean ?)
There were another person in the room; perhaps his colleague or sub-ordinate.
And they both were a little startled.

Officer : Iska matlab nahin samajhtey ? Toh thik hai. File yehin ruk jayegi. Is table se aagey nahin badhegi. (You don't understand this? Its ok. Your file will stop here. It will not advance from this table.)
Me : Hum kuchh nahin dene wale hain. ( I am not giving anything)

Officer (to the other person) : Isko samjhao. Aise nahin chalta aajkal.
(Tell him, things do not work like this nowadays)
(to me) : Passport banwaana hai ki naahin.
(Do you want your passport to be made or not ?)

It occurred to me that their words really meant action or rather inaction.
I pulled out of some money (may be a hundred) from my pocket and gave it to him.

He took it and said
"Isse toh kuch nahin hoga. Kitnon table se file jaata hai, har table ka hissa hota hai. Yeh toh do-teen table mein khatam ho jayega. Jitna zyaada doge, file utna jaldi ek table se doosre mein jaayega."
(Nothing will happen with this. The file will go through many tables, each table has its share. This will get exhausted in 2-3 tables. The more you give the faster your file will move)

I was already feeling guilty. I did not want to pay him bribe but I had yielded to his wishes. Henceforth, I started taking out the notes in an geometric progression (approximately). First a 50, then 25, then 10. Eventually it came down to coins, 5 2 1 and I stopped. I was looking at him and there was a veneer of shame on his angry face. I violated the series and started fumbling for some more coins in my pocket.
"Yeh kya kar rahey ho. Jaao yahaan se. Bahut hua."
The threshold had been reached. Shame and anger had taken the shape of words.
I left the station with a mix of feelings - guilt, amusement and disbelief.

January 2007, Chennai

While riding on my scooty, I had unknowingly violated a traffic rule - I had turned right at a traffic signal which was prohibited. The traffic police promptly asked me to park the vehicle and kept the keys with himself. I told him this was the first time I was driving in that area and had no idea and probably had missed a sign also. He told me that he would book me under dangerous driving and perhaps thought that I would be intimidated by the fine of a thousand rupees. He was also hinting at some bribe.
I had understood that he deliberately was trying to accentuate my violation in order to extract more money.
I plainly told him that I will pay the fine, provided he gives me a receipt. And that I did not have the money, would withdraw it from an ATM nearby and be back in a minute.
He was certainly not expecting this. He persuaded me to pay an amount less than the fine that would not be recorded and he would let me go. But I was relentless. Finally he relented.
He let me go, without the fine or the bribe!
Corruption, Nepotism, Cronyism, Bribery. Reminds me of lesson in the civics text book.
Have these ever figured out in the manifesto of any political party ever? Don't think so. It does not matter either . They would hardly fulfill the promises even if they did.
And have these issues ever ruffled a feather of the Indian Middle class,
Oh yes they have !
This is what most of them have to say,
"Hum kya karein, poora system kharab hai, corrupt hai."
(What can we do, the entire system is bad, is corrupt)

These words perhaps describes the quintessence of the middle class attitude.
To put it into two words - hypocrisy and indifference.
Words speak louder than actions. In fact only words speak, there are no actions.

"Corruption, ghoos (bribery) nahin hona chahiye. Par hum kya karein apne bacche ka admission bhi toh karaana hai. Guard se lekar afsar, sab corrupt hai."

Yes of course they are, but so are we. It is perhaps not so complicated to understand that this attitude is the very breath of the "system". It would be a gross miscalculation to think that we citizens are not aware that we are the "system". There can be no system without us. It is we who have given birth to it and it is we who nourish and sustain it. We use these statements merely to play a blame game and escape accountability. But we expect our government officers, leaders etc to be honest, pristine, as if they were not and are not a part of us and have arrived from some alien planet like Jupiter.
So why are we like that? Because currently it does not matter to us.
As far as these situations are concerned we are unperturbed, we seem to possess the nonchalance of a yogi.
Each individual, family and community in every village and city is an active participant in this deep Indian middle class slumber.


Atul Prasad said... / July 28, 2009 at 9:15 AM  

The word "middle" describes it all. Indifference is a character of middle class. They have no opinion , neither right, nor wrong always in the middle, always indifferent...

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