Arm-twisting people for their own good!

A few days back, a friend commented that India must be the only country where two-wheeler riders wear helmets not to protect themselves but to avoid being fined by the police!

That day, and on a couple of other days, I made it a point to check how many two-wheeler riders wore helmets. I was shocked to find that less than 2 out of 5 two-wheeler drivers wore helmets, while no pillion rider wore a helmet!

Unfortunately, two-wheeler drivers and pillion riders do not understand that it is in their own interest to wear helmets since they protect them from head injuries. Hence, there must be some way of ensuring that they wear helmets.

It is clear that the police in most parts of India do not strictly enforce the rule that makes it mandatory for all two-wheeler riders to wear helmets. Is there some way in which we, as private individuals, do what the police should be doing without actually ‘taking the law into our hands’?

As I had mentioned in my post Does the red light mean STOP or not?, I rode a 2-wheeler for the first few years of my sales career. Despite the fact that it was not compulsory at that time, I always wore a helmet. Later, as a manager, I always insisted that every member of my team wore a helmet while riding a 2-wheeler. I ensured compliance by announcing that I would not authorise monthly fuel reimbursement vouchers of those persons who did not use a helmet every working day. Most people complied willingly. Some persons resisted, but eventually complied.

I believe that each one of us can act similarly without much, if any difficulty.

First of all, each one of us must wear a helmet when (s)he drives a two-wheeler or rides pillion. Secondly, we must use friendly arm-twisting to make our employees, juniors and children wear helmets when they ride two-wheelers. Thirdly, we must try to make other two-wheeler riders known to us aware of the need to wear helmets.

We may think that doing this may make us unpopular with the people around us, but I know from experience that most people eventually realise that they were arm-twisted for their own good!

Related posts:
Which is worse: a badly damaged helmet or a badly damaged skull?
Law-enforcers and law-makers, or law-breakers?

No more hypocrisy!

Many years back, my uncle’s colleague was in tears when he described the unreasonable demands made by his daughter’s parents-in-law before, during and immediately after the wedding. My uncle felt really bad that all he could do was to offer his colleague a shoulder to cry on. I remember my uncle giving us a detailed description of the unreasonable demands and telling us how the bride was shocked and disgusted by the behaviour of her parents-in-law.

A few months later, my uncle attended the wedding of the same colleague’s son. My uncle was dismayed to observe his colleague torturing his daughter-in-law’s parents, making almost exactly the same unreasonable demands that his daughter’s parents-in-law had made. What pained my uncle, and all of us, was the fact that his colleague’s daughter, who had been shocked and disgusted by the behaviour of her parents-in-law, seemed to enjoy the spectacle of her parents doing the same things that her parents-in-law had done. Her shock and disgust seemed to have vanished into thin air!

This kind of thing happens all the time.

We are shocked and disgusted when we, or our loved ones, are victims of any form of discrimination.

But how do we react when we, or our loved ones, are perpetrators of the same form of discrimination?

Does our attitude towards any sort of discrimination depend on whether we gain or lose by such discrimination?

At the workplace, all of us like our seniors to treat us as equals, but don’t many of us love to boss over our juniors?

How many parents can claim that they genuinely try to treat their daughters-in-law just like they treat their daughters?

Women belonging to ‘upper caste’ families may complain about gender discrimination, but do they speak out against caste discrimination?

How many of us try to ensure that the economically weaker persons in our lives are treated with dignity?

Do we discriminate against certain persons or groups, particularly when we think nobody else will know about it and/or when we think we can get away with it?

Are we shocked and disgusted when we, or our loved ones, are perpetrators of discrimination?

Or are we shocked and disgusted only when we, or our loved ones, are victims of discrimination?

Let us all try to remove all kinds of discrimination, irrespective of whether we, or our loved ones, are victims or perpetrators.

Let us stop being hypocrites.

(This post was originally published on Nov 23, 2013.)

Live and let live!

We have seen a great amount of religious intolerance in the last few weeks in India. In the midst of all this insanity, I thought it would be a good idea to share once again an episode that I had shared earlier on January 04, 2014 as ‘Religious fanatics?’

Abdul, who owned a small readymade garments shop in a metropolitan city in India, lived with his wife and two sons in a small cottage on the same street as my friend. The incident described below was narrated to me by this friend.

Abdul’s was the only Muslim family on that street, while there were two Christian families and seven Hindu families. All the residents, including Abdul and his family, enjoyed cordial relations with one another, but most of the others were a bit uncomfortable about the fact that Abdul had a long beard and wore a skull cap, and sacrificed a goat in his compound every Bakri Id.

Ram, an officer in a nationalised bank, lived with his wife, daughter and mother two cottages away. While he had purchased his cottage 11 years earlier like all the others, Ram and his family had not lived there for 9 years since Ram had been posted in other cities. If Abdul was visibly Muslim, Ram and his family were visibly Hindu! They always wore huge ‘caste marks’ on their foreheads, visited temples very regularly and were very vocal, almost fanatical the others felt, about their religion. This caused some discomfort among the others in the neighbourhood.

As mentioned earlier, all the residents in the neighbourhood enjoyed cordial relations with one another. Ram’s elderly mother, as the oldest resident, was fondly addressed as Mausi (Aunty) by all the adults and as Daadi (Grandmother) by all the children.

One morning, when they happened to meet as they were both leaving home for work, Abdul asked Ram why Mausi had not been seen for the last few days. Ram replied that she was slightly unwell, nothing to worry about.

A week later, Abdul overheard Ram’s daughter telling another girl that Daadi was extremely upset about the goat sacrifice at Abdul’s house during Bakri Id. She had stayed at home from the day the goat had been brought to Abdul’s house and had started coming out only a couple of days after Bakri Id. In fact, she had shut the windows of her room since she could not bear the sound of the goat bleating.

Abdul was shocked! He rushed to Ram’s house and asked Mausi why she had not spoken to him about the matter. Mausi replied that, while the goat sacrifice upset her terribly, she thought it would not be right for her to comment on Abdul’s religious practices, especially since he was doing it in his own compound.

Abdul immediately replied, “Mausi, you are like my mother. I cannot see you upset. From now on, I will conduct the goat sacrifice during Bakri Id in some other place.”

A staunch Muslim and a staunch Hindu had shown that persons who are fiercely proud of their religion are not necessarily religious fanatics! They had shown respect for each other’s religious beliefs without compromising their own religious beliefs. They had resolved in no time a matter that could have caused a communal riot elsewhere!

Can’t we resolve our differences in a non-confrontational manner like Abdul and Mausi did? Of course, we can!

If we want to, it’s not so difficult to “Live and let live!”

Responding to misbehaviour in public

(From December 04, 2014, I have been inactive on the blogging scene, mainly due to increased work pressure. Starting today, I shall be publishing a blog post every Tuesday.
In these 25 days, I collected quite a bit of inputs for future posts, mainly in the form of incidents described to me by friends and relatives who have been following my blog. This post describes one such incident.)

Five persons were standing in the checkout queue at a supermarket. All of them were buying 3 items or less. Suddenly, a man jumped the queue, kept a bunch of coriander leaves on the checkout counter and started removing his wallet from his pocket. He did not offer any explanation to any of the persons standing in the queue, but merely said, “Only one item” to the checkout clerk.

The checkout clerk politely told the man that she could oblige him only if the persons standing in the queue agreed. Without a word, the man threw the bunch of coriander leaves at the checkout clerk and started walking towards the exit.

While everybody else was too stunned to react, the customer at the head of the queue immediately said, “You have no right to do that! You must apologize to the lady.” Since the man ignored her, the woman said loudly, “If you don’t apologize, I’ll ensure that you cannot leave this place!”

The man stopped, turned around, looked at the checkout clerk, unapologetically said, “Sorry,” and walked away.

There are quite a few people, like the man at the supermarket, who believe that they can misbehave openly in public with people who cannot retaliate. Such people get away with their misbehaviour because almost all onlookers do not intervene. In this case, the man assumed, correctly as it turned out, that the checkout clerk would not speak up, perhaps fearing that, in the event of her senior(s) or the management getting involved, they would choose to support the customer. After all, the customer is ‘king’! What the man had not bargained for was another ‘king’, or ‘queen’ in this incident, challenging him!!

One cannot say whether the man’s attitude changed for the better, but he will probably think twice before misbehaving openly in public in the future.

It is really heartening to know that there are people like the woman who intervened in a matter that did not directly affect her! If more of us emulate her, there will be fewer people misbehaving with others openly in public. Of course, those who have been misbehaving similarly in private, or covertly in public, will continue to do so, but we would have taken one step forward.

Are we a nation of cowards?

When I visited my bank yesterday, I found it unusually crowded. I realized this was because of the strike by bank employees the previous day. There were about 20 persons standing in the waiting area. Obviously, all seats were occupied. As I walked to an empty corner, I noticed one seat was occupied by a backpack. I wondered whether the backpack belonged to the young man sitting in the adjacent seat or to somebody who had left it there while (s)he had gone to one of the counters. I walked up to the seat and asked the young man whether the backpack belonged to him. He silently picked it up and placed it on his lap. There was no word or expression of regret from him.

This young man could clearly see many persons, including a couple of elderly persons, standing. Forget offering his seat to one of the elderly persons, he had kept his almost empty backpack on another seat!

While I was disappointed by the young man’s thoughtlessness, I was much more disappointed by the fact that nobody else had bothered to find out why the seat was occupied by a backpack. I’m sure some of the persons had seen him keep his backpack on the seat. The young man may have been insolent, but he did not look threatening in any way.

I’ve seen many similar incidents where people silently tolerate the inconvenience caused by the thoughtless behaviour of their fellow-citizens. I’m sure everybody has seen many such instances.

Most of us Indians do not speak up against such thoughtless, but relatively harmless, behaviour of our fellow-citizens. Why, then, are we surprised, shocked and outraged when we read reports of people being silent onlookers when girls/women are subjected to verbal and/or physical sexual harassment in public places? Can we expect meek persons to suddenly transform into assertive persons?

Why do we refrain from speaking up? Why do we quietly walk away from undesirable situations or, if that is not possible, choose to suffer in silence? I think we are groomed to do so because this is one of the so-called ‘middle-class values’. “We have neither the strength nor the money to deal with them. We are common middle class people.” This is what most ‘middle-class’ parents tell their daughters and sons … yes, sons also. Parents tell children that they should avoid undesirable situations. By chance, if the children get exposed to an undesirable situation, they should quietly walk away. They should not hit back, they should not talk back, they should not ‘lower themselves’. In short, most middle-class parents groom their daughters and sons to be cowards.

We should all remember Mahatma Gandhi‘s words, “Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”