OUR CONFORMITY PROBLEM

3 04 2013

As a young nation our saga has never been very impressive. Yes, we did move ahead from being a newly independent nation plagued by extreme poverty and schisms based on religion, caste and linguistic identities in 1947. The geopolitical situation were never to our advantage, nor were we particularly known for our enterprise or hard work. We somehow scraped through without being a big time failure which might be something compared to some of our neighbours,  but hardly an achievement to boast about. It is not poverty, corruption, casteism, religious/linguistic divide which have been the ultimate road blocks in our path. These or similar problems existed in every nation and society, and do not have quick fixes. The chains that have dragged our progress is deep rooted in our mindset. We have a serious herd mentality problem; a combination of extreme paternalism and a misplaced pride in our culture.

I had the opportunity to have a chit chat with a faculty member of my institute who was quite pleasing and open to discussion. The topic came to why not allow inmates to decide the rules for the girls hostel as is done in some other national institutes. He remarked that people will be uncomfortable with that because we do not have that individualist culture. He was right about the fact that at least some people will be uncomfortable. But the question we fail to address is why. I find it funny that as a 30 year old man, who chose his life partner, I am supposed to eat the food that is virtually decided by my institute. We are so addicted to making rules for others and imposing conformity, that people cannot even imagine giving freedom supplemented with responsibility. Our institutes fail to get at par with the best in world precisely because of our prevailing culture that does not nurture creativity and value individuality. On top of it, we have an even more serious problem of imposing a view or identity over unwilling people.

This attitude problem has far reaching consequences. We were unable to get rid of casteism and petty regionalism in more than 65 years because most parents want to choose the bride or groom for their son or daughter. This system is so prevalent that people take it for granted and we might even find people arguing that it is their “right” to decide on behalf of their adult son or daughter. They want their children to think and behave like them in every respect. A man and woman interacting in a public space raises eyebrows in most places, for the stereotypes of “good woman” is the one who do not keep much of a male company except for her father or husband, and the society does not believe that it is a private affair that they need not poke their fine nose into. We have a long pathetic list of social codes and yet we have one of the worst level of adherence when it comes to law.

The fact that our bureaucracy is one of the most sluggish in the world in terms of performance is often looked from the public vs private angle. But our private sector too is not free from the same vices is something pundits choose to ignore. How many innovative ideas have Indian industries come up with in the post liberalisation era? They did create more employment opportunities, but hardly used the talents of a population whose median age is around 25. How do we address the fact that industries in social democracies like Norway, Sweden or Finland have much more to show in comparison with us. We find the same complacency of the public sector reappearing in our private sector albeit in a different form. Other than making things easy for the financial markets and therefore allowing greater speculation, the often hyped reforms have done nothing to promote or facilitate ideas, or better products.

It is high time that we relieve ourselves from the burden of this great Indian culture. Like every other civilization in the world, we too had our heyday. But we are neither unique, nor superior. If anything, our rules of engagement which gives primacy to the group identity, is regressive. We should realize that not everyone has to be according to our cultural prescription, but they only need to be fair and just in dealing with others. The emphasis on conformity rather than creativity is virtually killing this nation. It is time to change this obnoxious condescending attitude for once and all.

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3 04 2013
Anik

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