In February, an incident of Train 18 being pelted with stones during a trial run was reported. As I read this incident out loud at the breakfast table, my caretaker immediately responded, ‘this is the government’s fault’. ‘Our governance is good for nothing. Scammers…’ continued my driver. These are the people who form a very integral part of our everyday life. More so, they are a significant part of what is coined as ‘Indian masses’.
My driver needs to be reminded more than often to put his seat belt on. My caretaker almost always tries to sneak the plastic waste in the barren land behind my house. The neighbourhood, which is inhabited by the so-called elite crowd, finds it hard enough to segregate recyclable and non-recyclable waste. My friends refuse to keep a dustbin or waste collector in their cars because that will make their car look filthy and thus, they choose to dump everything on the road. Does this sound familiar to you? I am sure it does. Oh, wait. I often stop at the red light to see the flyovers covered with fantastic pieces of heartbreaks or love proposals and in worst case scenarios, abusive words.
With such everyday instances, our lack of civic sense begins to breed until one-day Patidar protests or protests for Baba Ram Rahim strengthen to make civic sense negligible. Our public places, heritage sites and monuments are gradually turning into narratives of our frustrations rather than symbolising our history. Who is to blame? Of course the government and the governance! We are guilt free. Aren’t we?
These faces choose to hide amidst a pool of people. They like to address themselves as a part of the mob because who wants to take the onus of the damage they do? It can be anyone. You or me. You spit, so I will choose to utter ‘India won’t change’ and I too, spit. Public accountability? What’s that? Lack of civic sense plays a pivotal role in lack of accountability and resorting to destruction of public properties.
Governance is an essential part of democracy. So is public accountability. We conveniently fail to do our bit, abide by our duties and willfully ignore to raise our voice against anything that hampers public decorum. Democracy is a two-way street. If you choose the people who govern you, you even choose to help them do their jobs. We reside in this nation and it is our moral duty to help it stand strong and better. “If you change nothing, nothing will change”, remember?
What good do we achieve from burning buses during protests to vandalising buildings, heritage sites or throwing stones on passing trains? Indian history is celebrated across the globe for its non-violent means of protest. Now, after more than seven decades of Indian independence and increasing technological advancements, why do we resort to such inhuman mechanisms?
Most of us are ignorant towards the cause and relationship of such mistreatment of public properties. Every time we resort to such ill-treatment, we flush a part of the taxes we pay for the betterment of this nation into the drain of backwardness. The resources which were meant to aid our betterment, instead, get trapped to rebuild what we already had/achieved. While on one hand, this is a waste of resources, on the other hand, it even leads to duplication of work and time. Perhaps, work and time which can be used for a lot of productive outcomes.
Lack of respect for public property is a significant cause of such acts. While we have our grievances which need to be heard, we surely have various means to be heard other than being violent. Burning a mode of public transport is now a standard procedure to register protest during bandhs, hartals, or political demonstrations. So, is the absence of fear among such demonstrators. Any act of mistreatment of public property is used as a pressure tactic more than anything else. Destruction of public property is seen as the impact and achievement of any agitation or political demonstration.
Till we choose to understand our responsibility, it is the time for the government to step up. After all, we like to be governed 24*7 and only when governed, we abide by something as primary as respecting our public properties. A report in The Hindu suggested, ‘these acts of arson attract the provisions of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act 1984, a law enacted to curtail the growing menace of causing damage to public property. But the act is seldom enforced. Under Section 4 of the Act, punishment for causing damage to public property by fire can be imprisonment up to a maximum of 10 years. Due to non-enforcement, the statute has failed to achieve its objective.’
Further, the Supreme Court has stressed that damages should be recovered from the concerned party or whosoever is a participant in such acts. The 1984 Act also needs to be amended suitably to recover the damages from the perpetrators. In events where the demonstrations and act of mistreatment are suspected to be a part of any vested interest of political parties by promoting anti-social elements, the political party, group or the suspected organisation should be made liable to pay.
It is high time that we realise our responsibilities and duties towards our country without requiring any national tragedy to act as a reminder. This country deserves citizens who are self-aware and don’t depend on tragedies to unite for its betterment. That is the least that each one of us can do.