How irresponsible can we be as a nation and as a people? We take to the streets at the slightest provocation. What is worse, we go on a destructive binge. Has any government ever calculated the damage done to private vehicles and public transport, private shops and public property during any one year of riots and peoples’ protests? The cost probably runs into crores of rupees. Insurance companies may provide some data but that would be a small part of the losses suffered both by innocent citizens personally and by city and state governments separately.
The tragedy is: no one feels it is his responsibility to change the mindset of the rioters. Not long ago, four coaches of the Shramjeevi Express were burnt by a mob of students at Bihta Railway station about 35 kms from Patna. Why? Because security men prevented them from forcibly occupying reserved seats! The students were breaking the law. Four A/C coaches of the train were completely gutted. The matter ended there. Apparently no one was arrested, tried and adequately sentenced. It was as if the students were just reacting ‘naturally’, never mind the loss to the Railways and injuries to four passengers.
Thirty months ago two coaches of the Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express were similarly charred, killing 67 passengers. The Samjhauta Express is a highly protected train, but the terrorists couldn’t care less. There was no way anybody could identify the charred bodies. The disaster made news for a couple of days and has since been long forgotten. Doctors, teachers, air pilots, those who have a direct responsibility to serve the public go on strike as if it is their natural right and never mind if it does untold damage in more ways than one. Pilots of Jet Airlines go on strike for some silly reason causing tremendous inconvenience to the public not to say a net loss of over Rs five crore to the airline itself. And to think that pilots get salaries in the range of Rs 12 to Rs 18 lakhs a year.
On August 31 this year, more than 400 junior doctors in Bihar went on an indefinite strike, demanding a hike in stipend and then payment of salary instead of stipend. As a result six patients died just in one day for lack of attention. During the strike which lasted five days, 38 patients died in government hospitals and hardly anyone took serious note to it. Blackmailing Authority for private gains at public cost is the accepted thing. When doctors in Nagpur’s Indira Gandhi Government Medical College went on strike on August 31, the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) gave the cynical explanation that the agitation was not against patients but against the Administration. Towards the end of September some 4,000 doctors working in 172 taluk and 33 district-level hospital in Karnataka went on strike-all because of low pay.
One expects at least doctors, air pilots and teachers to be more socially responsible but that, it seems, is expecting too much. That is one side of the picture. On the other side, in many professions, salaries have sky-rocketed to unbelievable heights, contributing to social tensions. Our cricketers make lakhs, if not crores of rupees even if it is argued that this is a temporary phenomenon and may not last longer than a decade and a half.
Largely due to the recession, an average IIT graduate may see a cut in his salary but their take-home pay has been the talk-of-the town. CEOs of large firms earn sums that are truly astronomical ! In India, according to the media, the CEO salaries can be broadly categorised thus: Rs one crore p.a. for Public Sector banks, Rs 2.00 to 3.50 crores for private sector banks and Rs eight to nine crore for foreign banks. The annual salary of Shikha Sharma was about Rs 2.03 crore in her job in an Insurance Company. The Indian Express (June 4, 2009) reported that the Reserve Bank of India, citing its powers as banking regulator has put on hold the salaries of CEOs of three Private Sector banks, arguing that these are inflated and not in sync with the market. Money makes politicians.
The late Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, YS Rajashekhar Reddy was known for his wealth and possession of vast acres of land. Maharashtra Chief Minister’s declared assets are of the order of Rs 34 crores. According to Hitavada (September 23), about 45 per cent of members of the outgoing Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly have criminal records and 108 of the total 288 law-makers are crorepathies! Indeed, according to the report, a quarter of the members of the outgoing Assemblies elsewhere are crorepathies as in Haryana (47 out of 90) and Arunachal Pradesh (17 out of 60).
According to The Times of India (March 11, 2009) “of the 543 men and women elected to the Lok Sabha in May 2004, 125 had criminal charges against them. Said the paper: “A large chunk faced serious charges including murder, rape, dacoity, kidnapping and corruption. The 125 MPs were from 17 different states and two Union Territories’ and interestingly 17 different parties. Clearly, said the paper, the rot is spread, both spatially and politically “much worse than we normally think it is”. Is it any wonder then, that law-breaking is not considered a crime any longer? Month after month, the Lok Ayukta in Karnataka reveals names of bureaucrats who have amassed vast amounts of money, but this has become a one-day wonder. Were they tried before a court of law? Were their disproportionate income confiscated? No one cares to ask. All such incidents surely have their own impact on the psches of the poor and the needy?
One suspects that it is their frustration that leads them to vent their anger in public. By stoning shops, burning private cars and public transport vehicles they must be getting some sick satisfaction at their own desperate economic conditions. Times have changed since Independence came to India. Would anyone believe it, if it is claimed that when Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, deputy Prime Minister of India died, his bank balance was Rs 287! And to think that he had been Treasurer of the Congress Party for 30 years and had, at his total command, more than five hundred rajas, maharajas, nawabs that he could have financially bled, if he wished to? Somewhere down the line we, the people of India, appear to have got lost in the thicket of corruption and forgotten the golden value of dharma. We need a new leadership to steer the people out of the morass they now find themselves in before it become too late. Burning tyres on streets and throwing stones at the police, going on strike at the slightest pretext and disregarding public welfare may sound ‘normal’ but they are indications of a society in irreversible decay. Wake up, India.