SOROOR AHMED comments on the Indians’ aping the West much at the cost of culture, health and civility.
New habits catch fast. The new-rich Indians have evolved a new method of welcoming the New Year. No, they just do not uncork the bottle to take a peg or two on that occasion. That is now an ancient practice. In this new millennium molestation is the in-thing and that too in the full public view. Why not, when the drunken supercop KPS Gill can go scot-free after indulging in the same sort of sexual misdemeanour with a woman IAS officer, and that too in a party, some two decades ago, why can’t a crowd of youths publicly strip a girl near the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Isn’t it the ‘best’ way to start a new year? Neither the police nor the other conscience-keepers of the society could do anything. They were either not present or looked the other way round as the girl resisted and screamed for help. It was only the photographer of Midday, Shadab Khan, who captured this moment in camera. Neither the victim girl nor his male accomplice could file any case nor did they turn up to the police later.
And in the eastern metropolis of Kolkata two Siachen veterans – a Major and a Captain – in an inebriated state tried to commit the act of darkness in a hotel only to land behind bars. That was enough to evoke his colleagues and they swung into action. Led by a Lieutenant Colonel, men in uniform attacked the police station, beat the cops blue and black and rescued the ‘prisoners of war’ (POWs) – or ‘prisoners of love’. After all, isn’t it the best way to greet the nine per cent growth rate?
All this happened on the chilly intervening night of December 31-January 1 when hundreds of millions slept hungry under the roof of the sky. But the corrupt-rich of the post-liberalised – not necessarily liberated – Indians lack the vision to see them. They are not only blind, but purblind, deaf and dumb, too.
Two days later, that is on January 3, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while inaugurating the 94th Indian Science Congress called upon the Indians not to ape the West so far “environmentally wasteful lifestyle” is concerned. But who is aping the West? We are well ahead of the West – at least on this count. We have not heard any news from the West where a crowd while merry-making publicly tear apart the dress of a young girl and that too when she is accompanied by a male member.
But even greater question is: why not imitate the West? Isn’t it that Manmohan Singh, first as Finance Minister and then as Prime Minister, followed the economic policies dictated by the West? How can one see things in isolation? Why it is now that the Prime Minister is reminded of the “wisdom of our forefathers”.
It is not that Indians did not use to celebrate New Year before 1991. But the brazenness of the post-liberalisation years is gradually crossing all the barriers. It is not that only these two high-profile molestation cases took place in the country on that ‘eventful’ night. Many more – even more gruesome incidents – might have occurred but could not be reported as the victims as in the above cases did not dare to approach the police.
One does not get a licence to molest any girl or woman because she was not properly clad – as was the case at least in Mumbai – but without sounding anti-women one can ask as to why they were present in a place where no gentleman would fear to tread. How much more such ugly incidents would make these women understand these white-collared ruffians?
Welcoming New Year, visiting hill stations during vacations – even winter – or during honeymoon are some of the practices which over the period gradually crept into the Indian society. Obviously, the poor cannot afford these entertainments. Still till a few years back there was not so much ugliness involved with them. But the emergence of the new-rich during the last one decade and a half gradually changed all this.
Liberalisation gave a big boost to such forms of entertainment; they were totally unheard of in India and even in many other countries before the colonial era. If New Year has anything to do with good omen, it would have been in practice in India even earlier. The truth is that the current Gregorian calendar came into effect in the West in 1582 and in India after the British occupied it in the 19th century. If the New Year has anything to do with the good omen, it should have been celebrated on the first day of the much ancient Hindu calendar. Besides, it should be borne in mind that Russia, Greece and several other countries which follow the Eastern Orthodox Church still have the Julian calendar which was introduced by Emperor Julius Caesar in 45 BC. There is variation of about two weeks between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars. That is why when the Great October Socialist Revolution took place on October 24, 1917 in Russia, in most part of the world it was November 7. Thus till the fall of the Communist regime in late 1980s the then Soviet Union used to celebrate October 24 as the revolution day when in fact it used to be November 7 in the rest of the world.
So if there is no unanimity about the first day of the year even in the West, what do our westernised people want to imitate? The truth is that they have nothing to do with the West or westernism, but have become victim of crass consumerism perpetrated by capitalism. While greeting New Year and other such secular practices were heard of in the pre-liberalisation era, we in India never used to celebrate St Valentine’s Day before 1991. The irony is that in India Christmas is – from market and advertisement point of view – posing a big challenge to Diwali though the population of Christians is only two per cent while that of Hindus about 82 per cent in India. Now the market will decide what you need to celebrate.
We are so blindly aping the West that we do not have time to ponder about what we are doing. For example, touring hill stations was hardly heard of in the past. But when the British came to India from a cold country they found themselves too uncomfortable during the summer. Therefore, they developed hill stations like Shimla, Nainital, Darjeeling etc. British officials would go to these places even before the car or train were invented or introduced in this country.
In the same way western tourists from all over the world would spread to the relatively warmer country during the winter season, especially between Christmas and New Year. For them the Indian winter is much warmer and they would not only enjoy the sea-beaches but also visit the hill stations if the communication is not snapped because of the heavy snowfall. Without giving any thought to the whole phenomenon many Indians living in the plains have started visiting hill stations in the winter – instead of summer – only to get sick or develop some serious complications.¨