I was recently reading a report in a leadership magazine about whistle-blowers, and why in India people have to be encouraged to ‘blow the whistle’ when they find anything out-of-order. Just the first few paragraphs of the report set me thinking. In India, we make a lot of noise, yet it is difficult to break the silence.
We see a lot of people being content as mute onlookers when something wrong is going on in front of their eyes. This does not limit to just corporate interactions. Be it crime or corruption or abuse, we as Indians stand against it, very reluctantly, and often not at all. I remember here a line from a famous Tamil movie, Anniyan, where the hero says, “Indifference has become our national identity.”
Why is this silence so ingrained in Indian genes? The answer, perhaps, lies in the kind of culture that we live in, right from the days of our early civilizations. Ours is a collective and high context culture, and speaking up and questioning are not accepted norms in it. The evidence for this lies in the very way we bring up our children, isn’t it? Generations of kids in India have been reprimanded for questioning their elders. Children are expected to blindly follow what the elders say; because they are ‘elders’ and they said so. If any child questions authority, he is immediately subjected to punishment, which is very often corporal. The kid is labeled naughty and pertinent and its inquisitive urge is suppressed repeatedly till it becomes a mute spectator like everyone else.
I remember being a very vocal person while in school. I used to pester my teachers with a lot of questions, and keep at it till I understood perfectly. My teacher once commented to my mother, “Yamini takes a lot of time to understand something, but once she grasps it, she remembers it forever.”
However, after I entered college, I felt my enthusiasm out-of-place in the class full of mute spectators. People looked at me like I was an alien and I felt embarrassed – I was not fitting in with the crowd. The urge to be a part of the gang made me suppress my zeal a little. This continued after I started working too. However, through all these years, I have still managed to be the most vocal of any group I have been part of.
Still, I see others around me quietly ‘adjusting’ to their situations and wonder, why do they not speak up. Many are reluctant to shake the boat, cause ripples, change the status quo. They have been trained to ‘accept’, not ‘interrogate’.
They have been taught to ‘go with the flow’, not ‘chart your own trajectory’. So people do not object when their boss asks them to stretch working hours, while he himself sits at his desk only for two hours. People do not object when the bus conductor asks 7 persons to sit in a seat that should hold only 4, or the ‘share-auto-wallah’ squeezes ten persons inside a vehicle that should hold only five.
One of my favourite bloggers on Parentous, Nidhi Dorairaj, had posted a couple of days ago about how persistent her kidlet was becoming at asking questions, and even ‘because I said so’ did not seem to be working. A lot of kids of the current generation bombard their parents with questions galore. Although I am sure it is very exhausting and irritating at times, I want to keenly urge parents to not quell their thirst for answers.
My own kiddo is just beginning his questioning attack and I am gearing up for a long bout of patient answering. Our kids need to question everything. They need to form their own opinions of what is good and what is bad, instead of us thrusting it upon them. Only then will they stand up for themselves tomorrow. Only then will they be able to instill fear in the minds of bosses who don’t think twice before taking sexual advantage of their subordinates. Only then will they get politicians to stop making tall claims about rescuing 15000 of their own state people from floods. Only then, will India change.
Yamini is a software professional turned work-at-home-mom. Amidst her domestic responsibilities and a very demanding 2.5 year old son, she snatches time to write academic papers, freelance content, fiction and poetry. Her stories and poetry have been published in various online literary magazines and anthologies by Penguin Books and Cyberwit Publications. Yamini voices her thoughts now and then at http://myexpressionsandme.