In December 2012, I was on vacation, traveling from one town to another in my home state of Kerala after visiting some friends. I tried to get an AC chair car but the train was too packed, and the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) refused to let me convert my ticket. So I decided not to take the train and went to get an AC Volvo instead. The bus was late for hours, and then they told me it got canceled, so I ended up traveling in a normal bus. But as I waited and sweated in the sweltering heat, and watched people go about their daily lives around me, I started to see a side of my country I had chosen to forget. A good looking and fashionably dressed girl passed by. I noticed her, yes, but so did a group of guys standing there. I overheard the way they leered at her, the language they used to describe her in detail, a manner of talk that took passing appreciation and turned it into something vile. I saw the root cause of the outrage caused by the recent Delhi rape case. It wasn’t lack of strong laws or commitment from the cops. Yes, those had a part to play but the problem was more deep rooted than that. It was rooted in the degeneration of the moral fiber of a nation, the defilement of a legacy left by great men and women. It was rooted in the desperation of the collective consciousness of a nation of one billion people who no longer had anything to believe in.
I felt an outrage, a suppressed scream in my soul that needed an outlet. But the tragedy was that this too would pass. I thought of writing this then but true to the title of this write up, I didn’t do it for the next four months. For I am the Apathetic Indian..
I am 26 years old, educated and working in a big IT company. I sit in my air conditioned office and come home to my well-kept apartment. I catch up with friends over a beer or a cup of coffee in a pub or a cafe, probably air conditioned. And yet, every day, on my way to work or to a movie, I see the underbelly of our great and growing economy. On my way to the gym in the morning, I pass through a slum, where kids play in the dust, in close proximity to several pigs. I see people fighting on the road. I see trees cut down. I’m thinking of buying a plant and sheltering it inside my apartment, watered every day in a bit of dirt that nobody will dig up to make an illegal water connection, because that is the only place where I am not powerless to guard things which must be guarded. From my balcony, I saw a four year old child breaking bricks with a hammer. At first I thought he was working but then I saw his parents building a wall nearby. It was his version of make believe play, on a Thursday morning when other kids his age would be in school. I felt powerless again and took a few pictures to bear witness.
Every day I see my country limp on while bleeding from a thousand wounds. I know that this country was built on lofty ideals and the sacrifices of heroes, because I have read about it in history classes. I know that men and women gave up their lives for the country and thought it an honor to do so. But I have only read about it. My teachers told me that this was the legacy I inherited from my forefathers. And now, every day I see that legacy tarnished but I have learnt not to notice it on most days.
I live a cocooned life. I’m part of ‘modern’ India. In the places I studied and worked, there are people in charge, cabs to drop the girl’s home, with security guards as escorts. We have Ombudsmen to investigate any instances of sexual harassment. We try to be green. We turn off unnecessary lights and conduct CSR drives to clean up lakes. We have charity sales; even I donate personally from time to time. We do our bit, with more will than the government at least but I know it is not enough.
The country bleeds from a thousand wounds and good people across the country do their bit to dress up the wounds. Their scattered efforts keep the country limping along but they are losing. We are all losing. When we are faced with such a vast problem, and feel helpless to do anything, we retreat to our shells, as a defense mechanism. We try to protect our families, our friends. We try to clean up our apartments and offices. We try to get a semblance of control in a world that seems out of our control, but once in a while something like the Delhi rape happens. And we all understand how unsafe we really are, even in our cocoons. We realize that the ground is falling away under us, just like it is falling away from under the poor and the downtrodden.
Some of my friends and family commented about how they can’t understand some parts of the Delhi protests. The sympathized with the cause but they were wondering why people are protesting after the accused were arrested and trials had started. Protests are supposed to have a specific objective or demand, they said. I told them they are not campaigning for a specific objective. They are congregating with placards and slogans because they saw somebody raising a voice and they had a chance to rally behind a cause. The slogans might be about the Delhi rape but it was about more than that. It was the outcry of a generation that felt helpless as they saw their world crumble around them. It was the guilt of a people who knew they were doing nothing to stop the desecration of their inheritance and knew that the dreams of their ancestors were falling apart on their watch. They lent their voices when they finally saw some cause to believe in, even if it addresses only some of their problems. They protested as long as they could, before that voice would fade as well.
There is an old quote, “The only thing required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing”. The recent spates of protests were the confessions of a generation who did nothing. Even when they want to, they do not know how to. Elections are now a deliberate exercise to vote for the lesser evil, unless they decide they are all equally bad and stay at home to watch a movie
They say that people who want power never deserve power and people who deserve power never want it. But maybe we have a responsibility to take up responsibility when the ones we put in charge have neither the will nor the moral fiber to act. I put off writing this for months because I retreated into my apathy. Then today, a friend of mine, as powerless as I am spoke up in a Facebook post. I finally felt the chains of complacency loosen their hold a little.
I thought, if I can lend my voice to his, and someone else can lend a voice to mine, maybe we won’t be as powerless. In each other’s sense of outrage, maybe we can find hope. In each other’s voice, maybe we can find something to believe in again.
(Originally written in 2013. The response to this post inspired me to take up writing more seriously but true to the title, I stopped again for years)