No incredible India

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My husband, Jure, and his guide were attacked in Ooty recently. Many aspects of this incident rankle us – we sway from angry, upset, frustrated, outraged, disappointed, ashamed, on a daily basis though it’s been 13 days today since the attack a I’m writing this. For me, personally, as an Indian, the anger, outrage, frustration and shame are magnified.

I returned to India two months ago after being away for over two decades. I don’t know why I expected “Incredible India’s progress” to be reflected in our societies and communities too. Are my expectations of and for my country ridiculous? I think not.

What’s it with Indians and the need for heroes?

If you read the article in the TOI, Jure comes across as some hero who was ready to fight their assailants and defend his guide and the fisherman with them. The reality – they were attacked, and yes, my husband did think he could defend himself until the one of the assailants pulled out a knife. Then his reaction was one of defence which is why he ran. That reaction of his very possibly resulted in saving his own life and the lives of his companions as the assailants were forced to flee the scene when Jure got away.

Jure’s next reaction, when he realized he was safe, was to get help for his companions. That was hard to accomplish despite there being many people a few hundred metres away who didn’t see the attack take place but Jure had explained to them what had happened while asking for their help. Jure wants to know why it was so hard for them to have helped the guide and the fisherman. In most countries around the world, nobody thinks twice before helping an injured person (including in Qatar where we lived previously, where one’s nationality or race hasn’t stopped one human being from helping another).

It took Jure about 30 minutes to return with police to the scene. Thirty precious minutes that could have perhaps resulted in less severe injuries to the guide – who, we were at one point told, was in the ICU with 86 stitches to his head and a clot in his brain (the guide, according to the latest information from police, is doing better now).

Yet not one person of the many people present at this popular tourist spot bothered to help the two injured people. Jure just cannot understand the indifference of the people around. Worse, he cannot understand how the fisherman (who was also attacked) and the police don’t just accept, but also defend this indifference, dismissing those present as tourists. I tried explaining to my husband Indians don’t interfere because nobody wants to be involved in police investigations.

But as I was saying this, it sounded like a pathetic reason to explain away their behavior. There was no fight, there were no criminals around for any potential good samaritan to feel threatened by. To assist somebody who needs help is a basic measure of humanity. And we Indians fail constantly at it. Instead, we prefer waiting for a hero to come to our rescue who we can later glorify.

What is with this obsessive need for hero worship, when collectively we could make a difference and do the right thing without expecting to be rewarded for it? Instead we as a culture glorify politicians, celebrities and the like – most times people who do a half-assed job really, shirk away from their real responsibilities and definitely earn a few thousand times more than their ardent fans. Why do we fail so miserably at being decent when we are “good” people?

Not local, but Indian?

We were told this was the first time ever a tourist was attacked in Ooty. We were skeptical of this claim but internet searches proved it was true. What however annoyed me was the police and everybody else saying the assailants were “not local”. This shamefully jingoistic inference was made because the assailants had said they were from Mysuru and apparently spoke in Kannada to each other.

So while all the Ooty and Tamil Nadu “locals” we met over the next couple of days reiterated the assailants couldn’t have been local but from outside of the state, “non-locals” (for want of a better word) – as in other Indians who have lived in Tamil Nadu all their lives and now work in Ooty – said dismissing the assailants as outsiders could be a mistake as most people in Ooty (or for that matter in South India) speak at least two South Indian languages. That the latter felt the need to defend themselves shows this “non-local” term has been thrown at them quite often.

In Qatar where we lived, behavior of all sorts was justified with terms like “local”. But to see the term used by people of one state against people from other states in India shows the fallacy of the statement ‘unity in diversity’. There has never been unity in diversity in India in a very long time. Discrimination happens every day on the basis of language, religion, caste, sub-caste and often turns nasty. Why do we pretend to be such a fabulous people when we are so completely bigoted? When will we admit India has problems and work on fixing them instead of mouthing false propaganda?

Saving face, making sacrifices is what we Indians do best

This is something else that is unique to Indians and very possible stems from all the honour we have to live up to. Most Indians I have worked with have never been able to admit not knowing something, they would rather not respond despite being asked repeatedly than admit they don’t have an answer, or they blatantly lie. They also find it hard to reach out and ask for help when they are clearly out of their depth. I used to think this “we know everything” mentality was limited to Indian clerks. Was proved wrong yet again by the police.

The Tamil Nadu police have been working very hard to catch the assailants in this case, and they have been working closely with police from neighbouring states too, into the wee hours of the morning. Their dedication isn’t being questioned. What I want to know is why the powers that be who decide how our police do their job, don’t equip our police force with resources to do their job well.

We all know our police are grossly underpaid, but when something like this unprecedented Ooty attack happens, they are also expected to miraculously solve crimes with outdated software and no expertise at hand. It feels like somebody higher up has decided he won’t ask for help or experts from outside (maybe another bigger or more central department) because his team is just as good (despite never having been in said situation) and the poor foot soldiers have to work twice as hard taking twice the time than it would probably take if expertise was brought in.

That evidence could be lost or tainted in time sensitive cases especially, has escaped the attention of decision makers in our police force (having spoken to family and friends in the past week, have heard other scary anecdotes where this seems to be the case). India is always bragging about all the technological advances it’s making – one would have thought it would find some use in helping the citizenry of this country in safeguarding our constitutional rights – but we Indians have gotten used to being abused by our governments, and treated as though our lives, our rights don’t matter.

We are called upon to make sacrifices when governments fail to implement policies – and instead of taking our governing officers to task for not doing their job well, we make excuses for them over and over again because said policy was well-meaning even if it was ineffectual.

No incredible Indians

There is nothing incredible about Indians today. We are a servile, indifferent, selfish, bigoted people who care only about ourselves, and what people think of us, using culture and honour to justify our sorry behaviour. We do not care about our neighbours, our communities, our environment or our country. We pretend to.

Irish statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We, good Indians, are proving this to be true.

NB: While the article by The Hindu dated 5 December, 2016 says the tourist didn’t wish to register a complaint, Jure filed an FIR – that by definition is registering a complaint.

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