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You can help build a cleaner India
SUTANU GURU
 
Issue Date - 15/09/2011
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The reverberations triggered by the Anna Hazare fast are still being felt across the country. Even though I personally find many ideas thrown up by the so called Team Anna version of the Jan Lokpal Bill utopian and bordering on the loony, I am delighted with the fact that activism of the kind witnessed last month actually forced politicians of this country to come down to earth and fear the wrath of the people. It was indeed a great celebration of democracy. Though there is one thing I would like to point out to the so called intellectuals who kept harping on maintaining the sovereignty and dignity of the Parliament. If the elected members of parliament themselves make a mockery of Parliament, why single out some activists and outspoken individuals for harsh criticism? Then again, I found it preposterous when some suggested that you and I must contest elections if we want to change the system. Surely, democracy and good governance is not just about contesting elections. Another thing I must point out is the manner in which activist and the self confessed Hanuman of Anna, Arvind Kejriwal, egged on the thousands gathered to watch Anna break his fast to take an oath that they will neither take nor accept a bribe. That was heart warming and touching and set me wondering if the thousands gathered there would actually stick to their oath once they confront the harsh realities of confronting Indian bureaucracy in all its grab and grin glory. In fact, I asked myself if I could stick to such an oath of never paying a bribe if I had to get something done in a hurry and didn't have the time.

These random thoughts made me come to a few simple conclusions that could be, as Rahul Gandhi says, game changing. You and I don't have to contest elections to do all that. But here goes my wish list of a few simple things that you and I can start doing right away to help build a better India

#1: The first thing that people like you and I can do for a start is to take a silent oath that we will not break any traffic rules. A friend was describing a vacation his family had enjoyed recently in the United States. One telling incident from that memorable holiday has to do with his 7 year old son who exclaimed in a shocked manner about how people were actually stopping their vehicles at red lights! My friend, who has a habit of often violating traffic rules, actually vowed never to do that again. I am personally appalled at how middle class and affluent parents brazenly violate all traffic rules at around 7 in the morning when they sometimes drop their kids to school. Surely, all of us can make and stick to this simple oath?

#2: Set aside some money every month for a poor child's education. There are at least a 100 million Indians like you and me who can easily set aside Rs 50 a month without hesitation. Just imagine, if we take that simple oath and stick to it, 100 million poor young Indians who could not otherwise afford the luxury of education would actually benefit from education and perhaps join the ranks of the middle class when they grow up. And don't tell me that it is difficult to find a good and honest NGO or trust that can use your money well. You can always finance the education of the children of your office peon, maid servant, driver or security guard. Believe me, the impact of this simple gesture will be more far reaching than the Anna movement.

 
#3: Take a pledge to henceforth treat our domestic help in a more humane way. One comment that kept cropping up during the Anna festival was the complaint about the arrogant, cruel and callous manner in which our political class and the bureaucracy treats ordinary citizens. Let's be honest with ourselves: are we any less arrogant, cruel and callous when it comes to interacting with our domestic servants, drivers and other helps? Sure, there are many of us who go out of our way to help them and treat them humanely, but there are umpteen horror stories of educated middle class Indians heaping indignities on hired helps. So let's stop being hypocritical and actually do something about treating fellow Indians in a better manner.

#4: Let us take a pledge not to give any dowry to get a daughter married off to someone who has got a plum government job where the scope of corruption is huge. Once again, we berate corruption in bureaucracy in public discourse, but make our actual feelings and intentions clear by relentlessly chasing grooms with cushy government jobs. You could say that this kind of thing happens less frequently now because many youngsters now opt for the private sector. But the fact is: we could send a huge moral signal to the marketplace for grooms that buying grooms is passť.

#5: Let us take an oath to actually go out and vote during elections of all types. I still recall the hysteria that was generated amongst the chatteratti after 26/11 convulsed India. There were countless TV debates and candle lit marches. A few months after that barely 45% of South Mumbai voted during the Lok Sabha elections. I think the political class does have a point when it argues that they don't want to listen to hypocritical lectures from people who cannot even invest a few hours of their time to vote. And let us not crib about all candidates being 'bad' and there being no real choice. It is going to take a long time for electoral reforms of the type demanded by Anna to actually happen. In the meantime, can we all go to the booths during the next election and deliberately vote wrongly if we find that no candidate is worth voting for? In Indian elections, the winning candidate often gets just about 30% of the votes polled. What if such disqualified votes also amounted to about 30%? You can bet the ruling class will sit up and take notice and the process of electoral reforms will actually be accelerated. Invalid votes can be as potent as votes. But please, let us at least get up from our cocoons and comfort zones and actually go out to vote.

#6: The sixth simple yet powerful pledge we can all take has to do with citizen participation. No democracy will work and good governance will always remain a dream unless citizens actively participate in the civic process. The simple pledge we can keep is to devote at least two hours every week to do something concrete to improve something around us in a meaningful manner. It could be looking after some trees in our neighborhood; it could be involving our kids to keep our streets clean, it could mean teaching a few poor children... the possibilities are endless.

Not one of these oaths or pledges will make any outward difference to our lives or our lifestyles. But they will go a long way towards building a cleaner and better India. So, for a change, can we move away from constantly cribbing and doing something?
 
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