Indians Are Human Too

Aakar Patel writes in Mint:

Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism. One good way to judge a society is to see it in motion. On the road, we observe the opportunism in the behaviour of the Indian driver. Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.

But the point is, when these same Indians go abroad, they’re following the traffic rules, not cutting lanes and so on. The behaviour isn’t ingrained into us—it’s contextual. Break rule in India, where sab chalta hai; be a model citizen in Singapore, where you’ll get into trouble otherwise.

Equally, everyone’s opportunistic. It’s a human characteristic, not an Indian one. How much we follow rules depends on the incentives offered. Abroad, as in Singapore, the laws of littering may be strict; or your peers may frown upon loutish behaviour, which is disincentive enough. In India, laws, where they exist, aren’t implemented; and littering and jumping lanes in traffic is normal, not deviant, behaviour.

Aakar speculates that many of the aspects in our culture might have come from our religion. For example, he says that “the Hindu gets his world view—which is zero-sum,” from Hinduism’s recognition that “the world is irredeemable.” In my view, you’d find that kind of zero-sumness in every developing society, where most people are poor, and accessible resources are relatively scarce. It has more to do with economics than religion. (And some might argue, biology, as our genes were shaped in pre-historic times when life must have seemed zero-sum, in addition to nasty, brutish and short.) But as societies progress, they grow more and more aware of the non-zero-sumness of life, and cultural change happens. So give it a couple of decades and then see.

(Link via email from Rohan D’Sa.)