photo Â© 2010 American Center Mumbai | more info (via: Wylio)
I have recently seen a few discussions and articles on the bad state of things in India, especially corruption. I have heard and read very passionate people, I also attended a discussion on Arundhati Roy’s book called ‘Listening to Grasshoppers’ – a selection of her essays on the state of Democracy in India.
I will discuss some of the points raised in the discussion but first, I want to ask you a question – ‘What does Democracy mean to you?’
The idea of Democracy. To me, it means equality and fairness, it means that everyone is treated equal. No matter how rich or poor, high caste or low caste, you have the same one vote to caste as others. It is a system that runs on the majority’s choice. We agree that our individual choice may not always be the majority choice, but we accept that this is the best there is, since we can never all have the same choice in a big group. Compromise is a part of living in society – we get some, we give some.
I think, for Democracy to work, first it has to take root in people’s mind. After all, how can a system function well and bring happiness when most people under it don’t believe in it.
So what does it mean to you? Do you really believe in it? Do you really believe people are equal? Do you really believe everyone should have the right to decide for themselves? Do you really live it, think it?
Before you answer Yes to all these questions, think well. Here I am discussing my opinion on some of the thought-provoking points raised in the discussion I attended –
Can the poor decide best for themselves? ‘Give them a bottle of booze and most of them will vote for anybody.’ – this is what one of the attendants said.
It is common understanding in India that politicians give money or gifts to the poor for their votes. It is understood that the poor are so desperate for money, they can’t think beyond their immediate survival. This also means that big parties with a lot of financial funds and corporate backing get into power more often. They later help these same corporates by giving them land taken away from the poor, to expand their business. This nexus is one of the things that Arundhati Roy talks about in her book.
I am not convinced by this argument entirely. Survival has to be continuous. If people are unable to get the basic needs for survival, they are going to die soon. Politicians can’t provide food one time and make people vote for them again and again. Either they are providing food all the time, or the people are able to manage their own food to survive. Maybe the people are too short sighted and forget every time, or else, what I think is more likely, politicians just fulfill the greed of people. Booze is, after all, not a necessity(I heard of TVs being provided for votes recently in a state election).
I don’t think Democracy means taking away the rights of greedy people. Although, Laws have to be upheld. But then, lets look at this as a case of breaking the Law, not as poverty rendering people unfit to decide for themselves. We have to have faith here. Faith that things can be better. More than that, faith that people can be better. Change is not always quick. In fact, it is often slow and takes years and decades. But the alternative here is far worse. If we take away the choice of some people, if we don’t believe in them, we give consent to the idea that some people are just lesser humans. I refuse to believe that. All humans are potentially great and all of them should be allowed to follow their own paths unimpeded. Let them, decide for themselves, let them make mistakes. Help them if they ask for it, but don’t go so far as to think you are better than them to decide what is good. Don’t repeat what has been so often done before in history, often to bad results. After all, how can we assume the right to decide that someone else is not capable enough?
To believe in Democracy in such a situation, requires a faith in people and their inherent goodness. If you don’t believe people can be good, you can’t believe in Democracy.
Poverty can be crushing, but I believe human will is stronger than anything else. It is the strongest force there is. The life of a desperately poor person is not easy. He has to first ensure he gets his primary needs met. Then he thinks of other things like security. Only after that does self respect and good governance come into picture. It is a long, arduous journey for him, but I refuse to believe it is impossible to make it, or that it justifies that argument that they are not fit for deciding what’s best for them. I don’t believe that they will inadvertently give in to the lure of gifts. As I see it, apathy, hopelessness and lack of a drive to be better, are the reasons here, not poverty. Hopelessness is also what I see when people say things are just too bad and impossible to fix, and these are not poor people.
The powerful bend rules and rule the rest of us. The powerfuls are not some aliens from another planet. These are humans in flesh and blood. If they are ruling over us, the only reason is that the majority approves of it, happily or grudgingly. That is pure Democracy. If you think this is not so and feel so passionately about it, go ahead and collect like minded people. If you are in a majority, you will get the powerful out of power. The only reason you can fail then, is that you don’t try enough.
Do you support Anna Hazare’s methods? I am not talking about the cause here – which was removal of corruption, I am talking about the method he used – using fast unto death. Do you think his method is democratic? In Democracy, we agree to vote for the representative of our choice. Then we discuss our grievances with our representative so that he/she may raise it at the proper level. If majority people agree that a change is needed, it is brought about by common agreement.
As far as I see, using methods that induce guilt, coercion are not very democratic. If the system is slow, or not functioning properly, we have the freedom to choose better people next time, or, in the absence of them, form a representation ourselves.
I think a lot of people, don’t really think democratically. They are OK when they reap the benefits of it. In fact, they probably get used to them and start taking the freedom for granted. But, come any problem, and they want to use agitations that are not really democratic.
I think if someone does not like democratic methods, it is not a bad thing. But it helps people if they really know their stand. It helps to really sit down and think whether or not you like Democracy. If you are sure you don’t like Democracy, or certain aspects of how it is practiced in the country, you can think of other alternatives and raise them, gather some support and have Democracy removed democratically!
The will of the people of Kashmir? Do you think people of Kashmir should be allowed to vote over whether they want to stay within India or not? What should be done, when a mature adult in your family decides he wants to leave the house and be on his own? Do you forcefully keep him at home? Or do you let him go, believing in his right to choice?
I believe right to choice should be allowed. Holding someone against choice is a fear based action. It can only lead to bad things. I don’t think forcefully holding an adult in my house will promote, love, goodwill and peace. I do believe in the inherent goodness of beings. I do believe that what I give out, comes back to me. I do believe if I let go with love, that love will help him find his happiness. Whether he returns or not is of no consequence. Whether Kashmir remains with India is of no consequence to me. That people there(and within the country) are happy, is important to me. Good relations between them and us are bound to follow if we show them respect and equality.
I truly believe that mature adults(or groups of adults), if shown love, given a choice, and allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, will finally figure something out for themselves. If we let go of fears, we always find that we can happily coexist with whatever they have become. Our faith in them will also bring out their best self and best behavior towards us.
Is the majority always right? This is a profound question. Majority is quite often wrong. Majority Christians, a few hundred years ago, believed that Earth is the center of the Universe. Galileo had to go through a lot for saying it is not. 200 years ago, majority Indians probably believed the practice of Sati was a good thing.
Mark Twain had said that – ‘If you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.’
I believe this is true. And in this, I think Democracy is not perfect. That said, I can’t think of a better way to run things.
Who decides right and wrong? We have to remember that all our Laws are human made, they keep changing. All our ideas of right and wrong differ from person to person, country to country and time to time. There is no absolute right and wrong that we know of. Whatever Laws we have decided, we have decided in the understanding that this the best we can think of as a collective whole. This may not be perfect but this is the best we can think of.
In fact, I will go so far as to say that, no System can ever be perfect and no System, no matter how it is modified, can be rendered impossible to bend and break. Humans are not perfect and nor will their systems be. That is how life is. We struggle, individually and collectively, to find truth, to have a better life, to be happy. Running things smoothly requires something else.
The meeting made me think over things. There were a few more questions that came into my mind. Here is what I think of them :
Who is responsible for the bad state of things? We collectively decide who will represent us. If we are unable to field the right candidates, it is a collective failure. The freedom that Democracy brings, comes with responsibility. When we say we want freedom to decide for ourselves, we assume responsibility for our life and it’s direction. When we say we are going to decide our own leaders and law makers, we are assuming responsibility for these leaders and their decisions too. If they do wrong, it is up to us to find another suitable candidate, or, in the absence of one, become the right representatives ourselves.
Democracy means that each individual is responsible for his/her life.
In a democracy, our representatives are not separate from us, we have chosen them to represent us. We are together a collective whole and are collectively responsible for everything.
But I did not agree to Democracy, I was born into it. We did not sit down with other people and decided to have democracy, we were born into it. what has happened is not in our hands but where it goes from here is. That’s how the world is, we don’t get to choose our beginnings but we have power over the end. This is the system we have, and it allows for discussions about any change you may want. Start from here, and take it where ever you want.
If something was wrong even before we grew up, we are not responsible for it’s origin, but we ARE responsible for where it goes from here.
What makes a system work?
It is not the system, but the heart that executes the system, that matters more. Goodwill is more important in running the system, than the system itself.
Democracy has replaced monarchy and is supposedly better than it. But we have had very good monarchs also, The Gupta Period was considered the Golden Age of India. Vikramaditya, Akbar and some others were good leaders and governors.
Goodwill, a feeling of connectedness with each other, faith in equality, in the infinite capability of each human, when exercised at a collective level, leads to happiness and growth. The more the people believe in these things, the stronger will be the Democracy.
We cannot answer for the collective, but we can all answer for ourselves. My vote goes for goodwill and equality, what do you vote for?