The (a)pathetic Indian

“Why should I vote for them when they don’t care for me?”

I could write a book on all that is wrong with that statement above. In all fairness, it was made by an 18-year old. In all honesty, she answered all my preceding questions in the negative. These included:

“Did you go online and check out the manifestoes of the parties contesting elections from your constituency?”

“Have you looked up the asset declarations and criminal records of the candidates contesting elections?”

“Do you know that all these details are updated on the Election Commission website?”

“Do you (even) watch the (bloody) news on TV?”

The words within parentheses were said within the safe confines of my mind.

I suppose there may have been a crack in the non-judgmental demeanor I was trying hard to pose, because after a while she seemed to get defensive about her ignorance. And hit me with that knock-out of a logical argument.

“Why should I vote for them when they don’t care for me?”

Possible responses that went through my head included:

–          Umm. Precisely that’s why?

–          You don’t vote to do others a favour. Voting is a favour you do to yourself.

–          Duh.

–          <<facepalm>>

–          Hand me the revolver please so I can put myself out of the agony that is your logic.

I pride myself on the decent and incredibly restrained “Hmmm” that I managed to utter out loud.

But my Election Duty woes were far from over yet.

Sample this lady I encountered at what was, in hindsight, a “Kitty Party” I gatecrashed armed with my loyal notepad in hand. She was silent at first and let her 40-year-old friend who had never voted in her life explain to me how it was all the Election Commission’s fault that she never bothered to apply for a Voter ID. At some point, however, I assume she arrived at the conclusion that all this Voting Awareness Generation nuisance was coming in the way of the whole Kitty Partying fun she wanted to have.

So she decided to give me a piece of her mind.

She walked up to me, looked square into my eyes, and proudly proclaimed, “I don’t believe in voting.” It was worded and delivered as a typical teenager “you can’t change me” challenge. Except thrown by the mom of one. By this time, however, I had become an expert in reigning in my natural instincts to strike. So, without missing a beat, I proceeded to the next logical question, “Why do you not believe in voting, ma’am?”

Judgmental questions are a dish best served with a side of extra-fake politeness.

Here is a highlight of the long, rather nonsensical ramble that followed. De-cluttered from transcript into grammatically correct sentences:

“It has no impact on our lives whether we vote or not.”

“I am simply not interested.”

“The children’s schools are about to reopen. We are going out for a vacation this weekend.”

“Yes, it is important that the right people get elected. But not for us. We don’t need anything from the government. But I feel bad for the poor people. They depend on the government for everything. For them, voting is important. Not for us.”
UrbanVoter

Okay, that cartoon is not a quote. It is, however, a reasonable extrapolation.

That the political scenario of the country has no bearing on their lives, is an omnipresent emotion in this demographic. The fool’s paradise that the uber-rich of Bangalore live in is jaw-dropping.

Another pat on my back for not letting that thought manifest itself in action.

Now juxtapose this with one of the many slum women I interviewed. This one was a vegetable vendor. Translated from Kannada, and quoted from transcript:

“Will you vote this time?”

“Of course!”

“Do you vote during every election?”

“Yes. I never miss it. Even if I am unwell, I make it a point to go and cast my vote.”

“Won’t you be working on Sunday?” (Karnataka State Elections are on 5th May 2013, a Sunday)

“Yes. But I will shut down my stall for an hour and go to vote.”

“That means you will incur actual monetary loss to vote! Why is it so important for you to vote?”

“It is my right and my duty. I must vote for the right person who will bring development to our area. If we people don’t vote, how will anything change?”

Take a deep breath and let that sink in.

They may not have internet facilities to download and go through manifestoes. They may not be the most politically aware. They may be under pressure from multiple parties, trying to influence their vote by bribes or threats. They may not have the luxury of spending their mornings reading the newspapers and armchair philosophizing over what needs to be done to set things right in the country, even as they sip their morning cup of steaming hot laxative.

But, come Election Day, they make their voices count.

They vote.

M_Id_269235_Voters_at_Shastri_Nagar_in_Govandi

I have spoken to over 200 people so far. The patterns are painfully obvious. The poor consider it their duty to vote. The rich and “educated elite” prefer to sit in their air-conditioned rooms and make impressive speeches to whichever unsuspecting audience is obligated to listen to them by bloodline or payroll.

Yes, there is corruption. Yes, the votes of the poor are often bought. Yes, the representatives we are sending to our legislature leave much to desire. But think long enough and you will find the finger pointing to your own un-inked finger.

Tomorrow, I must drag myself out of bed to go take more interviews in the educated software professional community.

Tonight, I will go to bed praying for strength and restraint while conducting them.

Or, at least, for the absence of any sharp objects within my reach.apathy_biggest_logo

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19 thoughts on “The (a)pathetic Indian

  1. I have been a dutiful Indian, the rebellious teenager, the parent who had his hands full with two kids, the voter who could not vote because the center did a fuck-up … all I can say Mahima, that the apathy has very good reason to grow – the apathetic voter.

    Ghoom phir ke “Madam ji” hi power mein aengi na? Change is good … we need to change is also the starting point … however, I am beginning to question the end outcome.

    • Haha. Its funny how the apathetic (non)voters are circling. 😉

      @Prasad: You’re going to have to be a little less cryptic for me to comprehend your point. What is this “end outcome” that you speak of, exactly?

  2. Yes,most of the Indians especially the middle class upwards are apathetic towards the political process but rather than being angry it would be better to understand how they view politics.Sweeping aside the the fringes of people who can barely recall what is our national animal,most of the urban middle class has lost HOPE.All they know is that the Govt./Political parties want to get elected and they chase people who can do just that,help them bring to power(and to money of course).For years after 47 urban voters have been conditioned/accepted that they are at the bottom in the scheme of things for politicians.They are just their to pay the taxes(whenever they have to).And what if all the candidates running are useless,then what?Why waste time to go fill a 49 O if it has zilch effect on the process.
    Although I would say things are changing and youth is becoming more aware and involved,thanks to Social Media.Social Media has really broken the monopoly of narrative that Main Stream Media had to offer.Unlike the MSM which toed the line of a particular party/family/ideology SM provides a new narrative and thus giving voice to previously ignored section.Now they question the politicians on policy issues and some really tough ones.Hence a desperate attempt by You Know Who to gag SM first then buy some friends via eNREGA.

    • I will believe the tragic “lost hope” facade when it comes from an informed citizen who has bothered to do his / her homework. As long as the middle class chooses to ride the media-fuelled “all politicians are thieves” wave, I stand by everything I have written and expressed.

      • Not thieves Madam but rather they chase people who can keep them in power,simple.Their communication(and policies also) is designed accordingly,to appeal to “masses”.If I am not being addressed wouldn’t I feel left out?Although the media and other means do fill up knowledge gap about what is that the govt. is doing,but as I said if none of the parties address those concerns and communicate solutions arising out of policies then what?
        But as I said as more urbanization happens priorities and expectations would change as urban voters would be large enough to be chased after.I think this is happening with at least 1 party trying to focus on urban voters(the neo middle class more accurately).
        What you see is failure of people to read manifestos and decide,what I think is that it is a failure of parties to communicate their broad stand on issues.Manifestos are like Manuals,you can read them but you shouldn’t have to.

      • It is not anyone’s job to chase you. It is YOUR job to find out all information you need to vote responsibly.

        You are really not getting the causality at play here, are you?

        You are not apathetic because parties ignore you. Parties ignore you BECAUSE you are apathetic. And they are smart enough to know how to work that in their favour.

        Don’t blame free markets (of political marketing) for your ignorance, please.

      • P.S. Could you elaborate on “informed” citizen,is it a synonym for manifesto reading citizen?What was the home work he was assigned,if keeping up with the news is is the criteria then I guess a lot of “apathetic Indians” would qualify.
        And I do Intend to vote in 2014(or whenever) so that’s one less apathetic Indian 🙂

      • An informed citizen is one who does not fall prey to media-fuelled generalizations, does not blame the govt or some parties for his or her own laziness and ignorance, and bothers to get his/her facts right before engaging in political arguments just because they supposedly make one “look cool”. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so real action precedes words for the truly responsible and informed citizen.

        Good to know you’re voting. Do make sure your name figures in the electoral roll of your constituency. Godspeed.

  3. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! And I don’t mean a certain West Indian cricketer playing for CSK in the IPL.

    If you are not too busy trying to not work as a civil servant, I will call you the next time there are elections here in my area. I have an idea and I think your spunk and straightforwardness in conveying your ideas in strategically placed brackets in your mind may be very useful.

    • I do not get the cricket reference. And I am too busy “trying to not work as a civil servant” to google it. But I am most certainly on-board whatever devious plan is concocting in that sly little brain of yours. 😉

  4. @people dissing the article: You say, you have lost all hope and you are not going to affect the end outcome, so why vote. The article is actually directed at you and your answer is present in it: The slum woman Mahima talked to, has not lost hope. Think about it.

    We all, sitting in AC rooms are cursing the government and the system all day long, doing absolutely nothing about it, and have lost all hope. And there’s the woman who lives in slums without access to basic necessities, and has to work hard through the day to make the ends meet. If anyone has right to lose hope, it’s her.

  5. Also, you say that it’s a race between corrupt and super corrupt. Well, go and vote for the corrupt, and kick out the super corrupt. Because this will indicate to the politicians that perceived level of corruption is going to be a major factor when people are going to vote for them. This will stop the super corrupt from indulging in corruption *shamelessly*, while banking on vote bank politics.

  6. Mahima, I tried with along my family to get registered to vote but was denied because we didn’t have some lousy bureaucratic document. After which we went down to the local political party’s office (for which we wanted to vote) to ask them to help us – twice – to get registered with no luck. And why did we ask them, because our domestic help told us that in the slums the political parties come down to their chawls and help them with all paperwork and get them on the voting lists. After doing all this and still not getting any results, you can try and fathom how disappointed and disgruntled we were. So, even though i agree with your article and the somewhat cliched characters potrayed in it, please temper your self righteous comments and try and look at the whole facts before outright dismissing some of the comments.
    The fact is that you should not have to jump through a thousand and one hoops to exercise your fundamental right, it should be a fundamentally simple process, dont you think?? But, and you should know this since you are in the civil services, since we Indians have accepted the needless bureaucracy created and perpetuated by our corrupt, downright inefficient, disconnected and ignorant bureaucrats, we feel like we haven’t really accomplished something if we dont fill out a thousand forms. We fail to question the process and see how each cogs fits into running a well oiled machine.
    So please look at the other important factors rather than just dismissing them.

    • Where I disagree with you: I wish you applied your advice about tempered arguments and not being dismissive before keying in that highly unfair generalization about bureaucrats. I also wish that this blogpost was a work of fiction with me trying to reinforce cliches with some hidden agenda. Sadly, it is very much rooted in reality and these are REAL people I encountered. Repeatedly.

      Where I support you: This piece talks about the apathetic Indians who choose to sit in the confines of their comfortable homes and complain without having done their bit. It does not apply to responsible citizens such as you and your family who are, frankly, victims of an inefficient system. I am very much aware of cases such as yours. You all are among the big reasons I joined the services in the first place and I promise to try to improve the situation for you. As we speak, I am working on my report, highlighting all these problems in our electoral registration system. And then some.

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