Friday, February 25, 2011

The Pecking order

On this Republic day, amidst all the flowery and routine mobile messages, I received a very thought provoking sms from an ex-colleague. It said:

“The best index to a person’s character is

(a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and

(b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

I do not know what made Narayanan sir sent this on the Republic Day but the sms made me think about the character of people around me….and also about my own behaviour to others. Meanwhile, in my last weekly telephonic discussion with my 94 year old grandfather, I asked him what is new and happening in my hometown. He informed me that Lucknow’s street royale- Hazratganj is getting a facelift and that he is not so happy about it. He reasoned that in front of his eyes things have changed so much for the worse that he feels very cynical about any change. As an example, he told me that he worked for 10 years in pre independence India and 29 years in independent India. Once, when India was still under the “foreign” rule of racist Brits, he reached in front of the lift in the State Secretariat to go to the topmost floor. Before he could reach, the lift had already started with two British officers inside the lift. One of them, on seeing him, asked the liftman to take the lift down and asked him to step in. Today outside the same lift, they have a notice in big font- “FOR CHIEF MINISTER’S USE ONLY”. Before I could react to this story he gave me another one. Once in connection with his work he went to a district office where a truckful of foodgrain was being unloaded by 5-6 labourers when it suddenly started raining. The collector, a British man, who was supervising the work standing in the veranda, immediately took off his shirt and started carrying sacks of grains on his back. My grandfather told me that even he and two of his colleagues were standing with the DM but they never thought of doing the same, till he started doing it. He asked me if I can think of any collector today doing the same. He very painfully commented, had it been so, food grains would not be rotting in FCI godowns. I wanted to say a lot to him in defence of my times and my contemporary world - but I could not. I do understand that things are no longer that simple but I fail to see why we should let them be so.
No, I do not mean to generalize anything by re-telling these stories here, but the more I see officialdom around me, the more I realize the presence of an extremely feudal, discriminatory and almost racist mindset. A senior colleague once jokingly told me that Seniority is the biggest caste system in bureaucracy, but  I can tell you about many more forms of discrimination...happily accepted in our 'modern' times. The new formed caste systems in our minds come from power quotients, financial status, at times from cultural and social biases as well. In our public dealings, irrespective of our position, we have a mental hierarchy of people. Well dressed, well off, English speaking people…even if they are rude, receive much better treatment even from the cabbies, shopkeepers etc. On the contrary a weak old simple pensioner has very little chance of getting a fair hearing in a public office. Sad but true, we are no longer the people who respected simplicity in a person. Of course, we have very high sounding laws to protect equality of every human being, but in our social milieu we are getting more and more racist and worse, we blame one another for starting the wrong trend.

Interestingly, even those who complain about others’ snobbish and snooty behavior, do not fail to return the same to those below them in social, financial hierarchy. Just as an example, in most modern houses, even if the maid is virtually bringing your child up, cooking and cleaning the house , she remains, a step lower. She won’t eat with the family and in many cases would not even eat the same food. Even in workplaces, those who work for you, by some unwritten rule, do not deserve a kind treatment. I have even heard a theory that, if one is too kind to one’s peon or driver, they get pampered. Many, in the position of power have a similar high and mighty attitude towards their clients. Especially so in the government and in professional services. What an irony that Public service officers look down upon those they are supposed to “serve”.
 The discrimination starts from home. I stopped going to the residents meeting of my colony after I found that I was the only one who found no issues in children  from the servant quarters’ playing with children of other residents (the high and mighty officers)  . I was zapped by the reasoning given for this. It was an almost unanimous demand that children living in outhouses should not be given entry to the sporting facility and garden etc, meant for officers and their families. Some even had issues with other residents (subordinate officers) using these facilities (And we talk about end of untouchability !!!). Very generously someone suggested that the families living in the out houses should be given a separate area to sit out rather than coming to the same garden which we use.
Home, office, street - there is no end of discriminations. At times I wonder why the children do not ask parents uncomfortable questions after learning the story of Gandhi being thrown out of railway compartment in South Africa . I read somewhere that in the idea of swaraj a very prominent sentiment was to learn the best of British System and merge it with the concept of “Ramraj”. Unfortunately, in both systems, in the words of George Orwell, “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS".
No wonder a poet wrote about the world around him:
घरों पे नाम थे, नामों के साथ ओहदे थे

बहुत तलाश किया कोई आदमी ना मिला

1 comment:

MARCH said...

And I thought this was a British Legacy!!!! We may hope for change, provided the good people are as skilled as their opponents in ‘colluding’. But this seems a remote possibility since good people lack will power, mutual trust and fear the muck that they may get on their so clean shirts if they try to get in to this drain to clean it.
Lack of management skills is the reason, people believe in these theories of subordinates getting pampered due to good treatment. The problem is that we Indians don’t understand the difference between drawing room and bed room. We don’t know where to draw the line. There is nothing like the concept of one corporate goal and team work. Here people work for their bosses and not for their company. Bosses blinded by their inflated ego can’t tolerate a subordinate who has self respect, no matter how good worker he is.
I pity your neighbors who can at best be called literate ignorant. The difference that these people miss out is that in this new ‘caste system’, the son of a ‘lower caste’ person can attain ‘higher caste’ in his life. What is the guarantee that their own children will be on the same or a better post? What right do they have to complain in case similar treatment is given to them by their superiors? These people may be found justifying the throwing out episode of Gandhi, though in private. These people believe in the two world theory, one which exists for all practical purposes and the other which exists in books, to be read and spoken about. This is what they are passing on to their children: disrespect for work. They do not deserve to be called managers, because this shows their lack of any managerial skills. How can subordinates respect their own work if the work they are assigned proves to be so menial and insignificant that it turns them in to untouchable? This kind of negative attitude towards subordinates is cancerous for the work culture. But who cares?? The managers are getting their salary and nourishment for their puffed up ego and they know that the blame game will make sure that the real problem never gets identified. Cunning subordinates know how to rub the ego of their bosses the right way and in turn get their boss’s Midas touch which enhances their perceived caste among peers and subordinates dramatically.
Once again a good and bold article in Atoorva style.