Why don’t people try to protect their own rights?

A couple of days back, I was standing in the Express Checkout queue at a supermarket. When there was one person ahead of me and about 4 persons behind me, a person tried to jump the queue ahead of me without offering any explanation. Since he looked like an able-bodied man in his thirties, appeared to be alone (that is he was not accompanied by any elderly person, small child, pregnant woman or physically challenged person) and did not appear to be in any kind of emergency, I saw no reason to allow him to jump the queue. I put out my hand, thus blocking him, and stepped up to the counter. When he stood behind me, I was about to give him a piece of my mind, but I realized that there was not even a whisper of protest from any of the affected persons! I decided that, if the affected persons are not speaking up, why should I fight on their behalf?

I’ve had similar experiences a number of times in the past at various supermarkets and almost every time I’ve had to book a Platform Ticket at a railway station. Only 1 or 2 of the affected persons speak up, while the rest just remain silent.

On a couple of occasions, when I had been offered preferential treatment at banks, I had turned down the offer and had politely asked the bank employee to attend to customers according to their place in the queue. On those occasions also, the customers who were being bypassed did not speak up, but chose to remain silent.

In all these instances, the affected persons are fully aware that queue-jumping is taking place. Most of them complain about it in private. Yet, very few of them speak up. It must be noted here that the persons jumping the queue are common persons who, for reasons best known to themselves, think that their time is more valuable than that of the people standing in the queue.

Many people quietly tolerate high-handed behaviour from politicians, policemen, well-known persons, taxi/auto drivers, rowdies or any person who is perceived as being powerful and/or well-connected and/or uncouth. The reasoning is that protesting against such persons may invite a reaction that is worse than the original misbehaviour. I don’t agree with this reasoning, but I can understand a common person’s feeling of insecurity in the presence of people who are generally perceived to be powerful and/or well-connected and/or uncouth.

But, why do people tolerate high-handed behaviour from common persons who, until proved otherwise, are not powerful, well-connected or uncouth? Perhaps they assume that, if a person behaves in a high-handed manner, that person must be powerful and/or well-connected and/or uncouth, and that protesting against such a person may invite a reaction that is worse than the original misbehaviour.

I have seen that most instances of misbehaviour like queue-jumping can be prevented if just one person protests. In some instances, it is necessary for a few persons to protest, maybe rather forcefully. Yet, most people prefer to suffer in silence or, to quote Nagesh Kini in his Guest Post, “wait for an opportunity to shoot from others’ shoulders even for their own problems.”

If we value our rights, we must learn to protect them ourselves. If we are not willing to protect our own rights, we have no right to complain when these rights are trampled upon.

7 thoughts on “Why don’t people try to protect their own rights?

  1. It is not necessarily the common man who chooses to jump the Q but some self-styled VIPs who believe they can do it and get away. Even a single alert citizen can stop him by putting him in his place. Unfortunately our ‘chalta hai’ attitude comes in the way!

  2. This is so true, reminds me of an incident at Westside in Mumbai, there was this atrociously long line with about 15 of us in it (that my eye could catch) behind us. I saw this 20 something girl just jump in and by that stage I had had it because there were a couple of elderly people awaiting their turn patiently in front of me. So, I went up to the girl and tapped her on the shoulder as politely as I could, with restrained fuming nerves and said, “um, excuse me, we’re all waiting in the line here”.

    The girl looked at me flabbergasted and goes “really, I hadn’t noticed. This is a line?”

    I looked at her perplexedly but with as much of a blank face as I could muster and said “No. You’re right, a whole bunch of strangers just decided to stand in a uniform queue for no apparent reason at all. It just happened to occur simultaneously in front of the cashier as well!”

    I then proceeded to point her in the direction of our impromptu human art piece, right at the back!

    When are we going to realise – we need to be the change we are hoping for?!

    Excellent post 🙂

  3. This is so true. And, there are so many such things happening in our lives, around us, which we have just accepted, with the full knowledge that it is wrong. It’s time we started questioning our beliefs and being more cautious of our acts.

  4. My father used to say the “queue is honoured more in breach than in observance !”. Looks like that is still true in India. However the reverse is true in the US (and other rule-abiding societies) where people form queues at the drop of a hat ! Coming from India one might think why ? .. surely the server would not be feeling pressured by a mob as small as this ! Would education be the answer ? The queue is all about courtesy we extend to each other as humans. Just today in CNN I heard President Clinton telling Fareed Zakaria that a few species on earth which learned to “cooperate” have been successful … ex. ants, human beings ! and this is the key to their future.

    It is important to state the problems since only then we can find solutions. It is also important to find “creative” solutions through “cooperation”. Nowadays India can afford more high-tech solutions. Perhaps one simple one may be to stick a picture (which is worth a thousand words) of people in a line wherever needed and just point to it during breaches !

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