I left Delhi feeling uneasy. On the one hand I felt arrogant and judgemental, and on the other, I felt justified in some of my observations. The nagging notion that I could not shake, despite it prompting that feeling of arrogance or superiority, is the fact that individual choice will always trump the political setting within which we live. There was no shortage of complaints from people that I spoke to regarding the corruption, disregard of human life, and pollution to name a few things. I found this curious because it reminded me of my observation about how we always complain about society but completely forget that we make up that very society that we spurn.
And so it is with Delhi, and every other place around the world that has similar problems. Almost unrelated but similar in principle, it reminds me of my thoughts when I saw the police brutality against the Egyptians when they protested against the government during the early days of the Arab Spring. People polarised so easily without considering that those policemen came from the same communities that they were attacking, and in turn didn’t blame their own communities for raising such brutes that were blind to human suffering in the face of orders from a corrupt command line. South Africans that complain bitterly about the government and burn public infrastructure in protest only to vote the same government back into power are also a prime example of the same mentality. It is this lack of accountability and awareness of our contribution to the degradation that we suffer that often leaves me struggling for words to describe the bewilderment that I feel when I witness its outcome.
Political corruption does not dictate personal or collective hygiene. It’s not a privileged life that teaches us not to defecate where we grow our vegetables, or to urinate where we walk. Nor is it a privileged upbringing that teaches us to share before we selfishly consume, or to be honest instead of cheating when we do business. Compassion is only eroded when we’re in search of something that in itself conflicts with such values. Our exploitation of those lower in the food chain is what solicits our exploitation by those higher in the same food chain. Similarly, the less we respect ourselves, the less likely we are to positively contribute towards others, let alone show due respect for them as well. All these are symptoms, like the drivers that drive without care or concern for order or rules, with a blank cold stare on their faces, unmoved and oblivious to the frustration they cause, because everyone else is doing the same. This is the mentality that creates the critical mass that allows corruption to thrive. It’s the same mentality that silences the detractors, not because the detractors are silent, but because their protests are easily drowned out by the cries of the self-serving through their sheer volume.
When we do simply because everyone is doing it as well, we lose the right to complain about the outcome when that outcome denies us our dignity, or our dues. The world is in turmoil not because of corrupt leaders, but because of corrupt societies. Societies are corrupt because the communities that comprise those societies have lost their way. But these wayward communities are merely echoes of the dysfunction that exists within the family units. Raising daughters to be slaves, or men to be brutes, or treating human beings like livestock that can be traded, or abusing children as if they were created for our amusement. These are not a result of corrupt leaders. No. These create corrupt leaders. We have social conditions that are unprecedented because we have become unprecedented in our selfishness. That selfishness that erodes the greater good that would otherwise maintain the harmony that we so desperately seek.
The laws of cause and effect are all-encompassing and consistent. What we put in is what we get out. Extremism begets extremism. Raise children in an environment that stifles creative expression and watch the rebel form the moment your stranglehold on their being is loosened. Traditionalists have become insecure in a world where nothing is sacred. That insecurity rallies the spirit to defend as if on a noble crusade, when in fact it’s merely a desperate attempt to retain significance that is bound to rituals from a time that holds no relevance. What has this got to do with the Belly of Delhi? Reverse engineer that belly, and at its core you will find the selfish indulgence of a society that is steeped in ritualistic compliance and lacking in principles or values that are congruent with their aspirations.
Delhi is not unique in this regard, nor is India as a whole. The world is infested with such degradation of spirit, but Delhi just has the scale to make it easier for the us to notice, assuming we have any inclination to notice at all.