Are we a nation of cowards?

When I visited my bank yesterday, I found it unusually crowded. I realized this was because of the strike by bank employees the previous day. There were about 20 persons standing in the waiting area. Obviously, all seats were occupied. As I walked to an empty corner, I noticed one seat was occupied by a backpack. I wondered whether the backpack belonged to the young man sitting in the adjacent seat or to somebody who had left it there while (s)he had gone to one of the counters. I walked up to the seat and asked the young man whether the backpack belonged to him. He silently picked it up and placed it on his lap. There was no word or expression of regret from him.

This young man could clearly see many persons, including a couple of elderly persons, standing. Forget offering his seat to one of the elderly persons, he had kept his almost empty backpack on another seat!

While I was disappointed by the young man’s thoughtlessness, I was much more disappointed by the fact that nobody else had bothered to find out why the seat was occupied by a backpack. I’m sure some of the persons had seen him keep his backpack on the seat. The young man may have been insolent, but he did not look threatening in any way.

I’ve seen many similar incidents where people silently tolerate the inconvenience caused by the thoughtless behaviour of their fellow-citizens. I’m sure everybody has seen many such instances.

Most of us Indians do not speak up against such thoughtless, but relatively harmless, behaviour of our fellow-citizens. Why, then, are we surprised, shocked and outraged when we read reports of people being silent onlookers when girls/women are subjected to verbal and/or physical sexual harassment in public places? Can we expect meek persons to suddenly transform into assertive persons?

Why do we refrain from speaking up? Why do we quietly walk away from undesirable situations or, if that is not possible, choose to suffer in silence? I think we are groomed to do so because this is one of the so-called ‘middle-class values’. “We have neither the strength nor the money to deal with them. We are common middle class people.” This is what most ‘middle-class’ parents tell their daughters and sons … yes, sons also. Parents tell children that they should avoid undesirable situations. By chance, if the children get exposed to an undesirable situation, they should quietly walk away. They should not hit back, they should not talk back, they should not ‘lower themselves’. In short, most middle-class parents groom their daughters and sons to be cowards.

We should all remember Mahatma Gandhi‘s words, “Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”

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13 thoughts on “Are we a nation of cowards?

  1. Actually when children are young we advise so because we dont want them to involve themselves in violent situations..but once they grow up then its different , they can handle the situation.

    In the above situation,unless dire need , even I wouldnt like to ask anyone to clear the seat, it should be done by that person only..its not cowardice..its manners..

  2. I’ve a co-worker whom I’m not particularly comfortable talking to. Mostly because his view points and his way of delivering them makes you uncomfortable in public. I try to avoid any kind of confrontation or interaction with him yet the person keeps pestering me. Seeing no end to the issue, I’ve brought it to the notice of my manager, though subtly. I didn’t want to press any serious charges, I just wanted the person warned. But instead of doing any of that, it’s me who’s advised to simply ignore it. Not once, by only one, but by multiple people…not to mention, all men.

    The problem runs deeper than mere cowardice.

  3. Yes, I agree with Nagesh’s comment above. It is because we have somehow come to accept – chalta hai, theek hai yaar! Some sort of non-questioning has sunk deep into our behavioural patterns, I think.

  4. yes, I agree cent percent on this that most Indians do not protest much and tolerate such thing silently. Voices come out when things cross the threshold of patience and the inconvenience becomes way too much to handle.

  5. Bro-in-law’s daughter came back from school on Friday with bite marks. Upon enquiring she was not ready to disclose the reason. Later we came to know that she was warned by the teacher not to disclose the reason to anybody at home. She was bitten by a fellow student. Multiple times. I was debating with myself about what I just taught her. I told her to not trouble anyone but if someone troubles her she should give it back. I told her that after that if the teacher or principal scolds or punishes her we will all be there for her support. Reading your post makes me feel that it was a good piece of advice.

  6. It is ridiculous. I speak up when people break queues, misbehave with kids and women and you will be surprised to know that the silent onlookers often give me the dirty look. Because I am the one creating the scene not the defaulter. You hit the nail on the head by saying that we remain meek and avoid commotion but with this passivity we encourage lawlessness and even bad civil etiquette.

  7. Wow… did Gandhi really say that ?! … since he is more known for his ‘ahimsa’ advocacy !

    Obviously these people must not have travelled in Mumbai local trains in second class where a 3-seater gets converted to a 4- or even 5-seater just by gestures !!! Granted this may not happen that often in first class though similar to the above post. Back in the 80’s and fresh out of college after I returned from each of the 2 trips abroad (to Holland and Saudi Arabia) I felt either aloof or rich and aloof so I travelled by second class to feel more ‘normalized’ !

  8. Your account of the incident evokes a sense of plain irritation!
    Also, I may be digressing, but the above comment by ‘dr sweetyshinde’ reminds me of the time when I visited the bank with my mother and we stood in front of a counter where an employee was writing slips. We thought he would look up and assist us once he was done with his work. We stood there for five minutes straight before interrupting the man. He replied that we would have to fetch a token from another counter before he could help us. Imagine him, aware of our presence, yet being so indifferent to not acknowledge us. Had we waited more, we would have probably been kept standing for the entire day. There were few customers in the bank at that time and when my mother commented on the disrespectful behavior and indifferent attitude of the employee, no other employee as much as glanced our way. One even had the indecency to laugh. It was only because the manager was an acquaintance of my mother and happened to arrive at just the moment, that he apologized. Yet, he said nothing to the employee. It is needless to say that my mother detests going to banks in India on account of having encountered such situations a number of times. Even when you do manage to raise your voice, the ‘chalta hai’ attitude of Indians prevails.

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