Sunday, June 4, 2017

Damaging Public Property

It pains me every time I see public property being vandalised, destroyed, burnt, or broken, and it keeps happening every day in some part of our country. It could be due to a protest march that has turned unruly/ violent or it could be little children in a public park uprooting the swings/ slides or other equipment or grown up children smashing cricket balls through public/ private buildings. Private properties are defended by the concerned individuals, but public property has no defenders, as it belongs to the government. Most of us have not been able to establish the connection between taxes and public property; maybe because very few of us pay taxes. I have tried to stop people from damaging public property but have invariably been asked as to who I was and in what capacity I was telling them, since it was not my private property.

I have not seen this behaviour in any other country in the world, and have always wondered why is it so rampant in India. This thought has always led me to the Indian freedom struggle in which Gandhi ji taught us the great power of non-cooperation and civil disobedience against the colonial government of those days.

However, all this should have changed after 15 Aug 1947, as we achieved Swaraj; we formed our own government. The reason could be that Gandhiji did not live long enough thereafter to help teach us that now we should co-operate with our own government and be obedient to the government 'of the people, by the people, for the people', and safeguard our own government property/ assets. We even vandalised the brand new Tejas Express on its first ever journey, and mind you none of the people travelling on it came from uneducated or underprivileged back grounds, I believe. What can be the reasons for the apathy of our citizens towards anything that is publicly owned?

Our first PM coined the phrase of 'public servants' to signify the change from 'rulers' to 'servants', wherein it was implied that the citizens are the new masters of the country, replacing the Queen. This has however not happened practically. The elected representatives and government servants still behave like rulers at most times, except for a few months before the elections, when the citizens are made to feel like destiny makers by the various candidates and political parties. Our political parties have been party to bringing down the quality of our public discourse, and behaviour.

The quality of our elected representatives has been going down with every election, wherein politics has become a profession for a quick rise in wealth and status, without requiring any formal qualifications or training. Politics now appeals to a large number of people with criminal back grounds/ intents. There are hardly any selfless 'public servant' leaders who can instil values in our citizenry.

Our school curricula also does not teach students about the need to protect public assets, about the need to follow rules, and about the equality of all citizens in the eyes of the law, without fear or favour, irrespective of position, caste, creed, religion, status or any thing else.

How do we bring about a change in our own mindsets?  Will we have to wait for the birth of a leader with Gandhiji's values who will help us learn that India and all its assets do not belong to the government, but belong to each one of us?