My column in today’s DNA
Psychiatry identifies a condition called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), popularly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, in which two or more distinct identities or personalities compete with each other to take charge of the patient’s behaviour. If you were an alien observing the Indian media to observeIndia, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that there is a severe case of DID that requires urgent attention and treatment.
Indians especially those of us living in cities and working in relatively high paying jobsseem to suffer from acute multiple personality syndrome when it comes to India and our fellow citizens. There is one personality that sees Indiataking her place at the high table of world powers. There is another personality that thinks that India’s poor are people from another country and another time. There is a third personality that believes that rules should be applied uniformly and the corrupt should be locked up and the keys thrown away. And then to counter that there is a fourth personality that believes that it is completely all right for them to jump the red light and slip the traffic policeman a fifty rupee note along with their licence. There is a fifth personality that will use every contact, every piece of influence in their larger family and friend circle to get their kids into elite schools
and colleges or jobs. And a sixth personality that chaffs at
the concept of reservations. There is another personality that will sit in its comfortable drawing room and talk about how wonderful it is that people from other countries turn up in large numbers to protest against their government or participate in the electoral process, and to counter that is a personality that will send SMS’s or press like buttons in lieu of participation and plan a holiday on election weekend. And of course there is a personality that moans at the non application of rules and the reign of goonda raj where the rich and powerful reign. And there is another personality that outrages that officials – especially police officials – applying the rules without prejudice are puritans from another century or the Taliban from another country. All these personalities and opinions reside within a single person. If it was spread across the country you would call it diversity. But, within one person it seems like a serious problem that requires some concerted psychiatric care.
There is nothing that exemplifies this affliction more than the recent fracas in Mumbai over police raids on watering holes, night clubs and bars. At one level you have had the media and citizen groups that have gone hammer and tongs at the system not sending people to prison when laws are violated, at the other there is outrage when these laws are applied to them.
Mumbai has some of the most archaic rules that govern alcohol and nightlife. Everyone needs a permit to drink alcohol – a permit that states that you need alcohol for medicinal reasons; essentially a permit that declares you an alcoholic. This permit requirement goes back to 1949 – the Bombay Prohibition Act – which no one has bothered to repeal .There are three things that policeman can do in a situation like this. One is ignore the law and do nothing. The second is take money and look the other way. The third is doing something about it. There are many who advocate option one. But, the job of the policeman is not to interpret the law – that is the job of courts, nor is it to make the law – that is the role of legislators. The Policeman’s role is to implement the law.
We keep using the West as an example – in the west establishments breaking overcrowding rules will be penalised. Those that serve alcohol without license will be fined. Those that serve the underage alcohol will be shut down. Teenagers caught with traces of narcotics will end up with a jail record. Parents who take their underage kids into night clubs will be prevented from entering the establishment. There is something called the rule of law and it is obeyed. . And when the law is wrong, as in many cases it can be, groups of citizens lobby their elected representatives to change it. They get involved. There is a conversation, it is a process.
There are just too many laws and rules that govern us, and many of them violate our personal rights and personal space. Those laws need to go. But, we need to be conscious that our rights are in relation to the rights of others, and not absolute in themselves and vice versa. It is important that we sit down together and find solutions. Vilifying policemen who carry out the law is not conversation. It is a tantrum of those who ask ‘how dare anyone ask us what we do’, at the same time as raging against those who do the same.