By Razi Iqbal
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist
Today, a large section of the Indian youth is frustrated. We are troubled by how our country is plagued by corruption, illiteracy and nepotism; we see how women are not respected, how the high and mighty misuse their power and privileges; we see how our people lack the liberal outlook preached and demanded by modern times; but are these really the biggest problems? Or is it the collective indifference, bordering on apathy, of 1.2 billion men and women that brings us down? This apathy,which means that nobody thinks twice before throwing trash on the road or bribing a public servant, that we are concerned only with the problems that directly affect us, and that the only form of concern we show for the nation is by complaining; it is this apathy whichis the problem, and one that will consume us from within if not countered.
If we are to find a solution, we need to first understand the nature and source of the problem.We need to realize that those in power are ultimately no different from us; they are like anyone in the society. All problems plaguing a nation ultimately come from its people, its society: and only a conscious effort from the people can ever succeed in finding a solution and implementing it. If we know there is something in the society that is not right, we should fix it; yes “We, the people of India”who demand every one of the rights provided by the Constitution and more, but cower miserably in shells of our own making when it is time for us to do our duty, to stand up for our fellow man’s rights or help somebody in need. If we cannot bother to hold on to a can or bottle long enough to find a bin, how do we expect our leaders, policemen and other officials to live ascetic lives on their low pays and at the same time give all they have in the service of their nation?
The problems need to be tackled in stages, for there is no silver bullet that’ll solve every problem at once– we need to tackle them separately and in stages.
The first problem we should take up is the most important one– that of apathy, and the way to counter it is hard and slow. The answer may lie in how apathy works– people look at the problem, but do not identify with it. We do not feel as if we’re a part of it, or that it can affect us. We also do not, and possibly can not, relate to the problem subconsciously even if it is something that logically affects us; or we may have get used to it, and start considering it a part of life. To bring ourselves out of this apathetic state we must discuss the country’s troubles, to find ways to solve them. Discussing, reading and even writing about these problems with focus on their solutions will not only evolve answers to our many problems, but also put these things in more prominent places in our heavily crowded minds and give us hope– that things should and can change, that status quo is not the only possibility, that we can help change things if it is needed. Talking, writing and reading positively may thus just turn out to be the answer we have been looking for, and looking for solutions to other problems will thus solve the problem of apathy.
The second level is thus deeply linked to the first level. The two prongs at this level will essentially improve the approach to problems by helping us in changing our society, because the society we live in is deeply flawed in its outlook. For example, despite repeated attempts, the perception of the oppressed classes–be they women or lower castes– remains largely unchanged. Despite improvements in their theoretical socio-economic status, these sections are largely perceived as inferior: a person may have power in their uniform or inside an office, but that doesn’t stop people from passing casteist or sexist comments behind their backs or resenting working under people inferior to them.
To change this, we need something that changes the entire thought process of people so that they develop a sense of right and wrong and a respect for the equality and dignity of all men and women that are as deeply rooted as their current prejudices and presumptions. This can only be done at an age where the thoughts are not so rigid and can still be molded. The first prong, therefore, has to be education reforms, for only through strong conditioning can weteach students that corruption is wrong, that no person is born better than the other, and that we have to change ourselves if we want things to change. Education is a powerful tool, and if it can be used it make terrorists, it can surely create better citizens.
For the above approach to work, we need more and better teachers at all levels of the education system. There are many, especially for younger students, who didn’t take it up as a first choice, and therefore cannot bring enough dedication to change a society. And this brings us to the second prong– increasing incentives for important jobs.
The reason for fewer teachers, bad governance and corruption is the same– people want to work for benefits. In our country, the legitimate pay for a teacher, a policeman, or a position of governance is not very high; this leads to a lot of people who would do great in these roles skipping them and a large number of people joining them for the wrong reasons. In absence of people who actually deserve to be there, other people, with varying levels of capabilities (and mostly with questionable, non-public service motives)fill the vacuum. The profession of teaching too loses access to a lot of potential due to people not seeing it as rewarding enough. A solution, and at least the only one that seems pertinent to me, seems to be that we give larger incentives in these two most important professions for a country to counter corruption (why will a man earning a handsome legal salary endanger that for mere greed?) and attract more, and better, talent.
The third level involves a complete change in our attitude;to stop blaming the ‘authorities’ for all that is wrong. It is not the authorities’ fault when after a rape that supposedly shook the nation, we protest (HOW IS THAT SUPPOSED TO HELP?) and then do nothing to find or address the social problems that led to it; it is our fault that thousands die on roadsides after accidents while cars filled with so-called upstanding citizens pass by; it is us who give the small bribes that people nowadays don’t even consider wrong (“when I givea bribe it’s a necessity, but when that industrialist does it, its wrong” how?). It is we who have broken the system, and it is we who will have to fix it–not by expressing angst, not even by protesting, but by changing ourselves. We need to change the outlook that one man can do nothing and realize that the nation’s huge multitudes are just 1.2 billion ‘one men’.
It might take years, maybe even generations, but we will have to change how things work. We have to stop demanding like unruly kids– we need to grow up and solve our problems ourselves.
Razi is a first year economics student at Shri Ram college of commerce, Delhi university. A cricket fanatic and an avid reader, Razi believes that ‘the big bang theory’ and his passion for biking provide him the necessary fuel in his life. His interests in economics lie in psychology based subjects like game theory and behavioral economics. His focus in life right now is on the subject ‘how to best enjoy college life’.