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Updated: November 4, 2012 00:21 IST

Of what value is life in India?

Professor Shankar Sahay
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A few years ago, while on a trip to New York, I was at a traffic light about to cross the road. As I hesitated, waiting for the traffic to slow down, a fellow Indian passing by commented, “Don’t worry. The law & people over here value human life. Even if they get a green signal and you are in the midst of the road, they will wait for you and not crush you.” This comment made me think why in India the value of human life is disregarded so much. Is it due to the law of demand and supply that human beings who are more in supply in India (1.2 billion plus) are less respected, while in the U.S. their supply is less (300 million) and hence they are more in demand? Or, does it have to do with the state enforcing the laws more strictly? Or, does it have to do with what many of us say “the typical Indian mentality” — to break rules and take things for granted in a chalta hai attitude?

The way the authorities take pains to reach out to even a single individual in the U.S. is remarkable. Umpteen examples can be cited. Whether it was the sudden landing of a plane on Lake Hudson due to a technical fault a few years ago and the consequent operation in which all 155 passengers were saved, or the former President, Bill Clinton, flying to North Korea to save two journalists who were caught in that country on charges of spying, or the umpteen cases of promptness with which the 9/11 services function are just an indication of the importance given to save even a single life.

A few years ago, when my niece, who is settled abroad, was undergoing a very difficult pregnancy, the hospital authorities assured her confidently “Don’t worry. You and your expected twins are our responsibility. We will do everything in our power to give all three of you the best chance of survival.” Today the twins are aged five and doing well. Whenever I discuss that time with her, she says, “I don’t say that it would have been impossible, but certainly their chances of survival would have been very bleak in India.”

She was all praise for the post-natal care, when the kids remained in the nursery for more than a month. In fact, when the parents wanted to take the kids home, the hospital firmly stated: “They are under our care and you can’t take them until the time we consider them to be fit enough to be taken home.”

Columns like “Drama in Real Life” and programmes like “I Should Have Been Dead” bear testimony to the fact that in case a kid falls into a pit dug up on a field, TV cameras may or may not reach there but the authorities arrive in time to save even a single life and most of the times succeed in doing so. These stories also confirm that apart from the role of the government, it is the awareness and preparedness of the people abroad that help in saving theirs and others’ lives. It is really a benchmark which we should follow as to how we should be aware of our surroundings and care about our and others’ safety.

One incident immediately comes to my mind. A few years ago, a newly married couple, on their honeymoon, were taking an evening stroll on a Goa beach. It was off-season and the secluded beach had only a few visitors, including a foreign couple. After some time, the foreign couple noticed that the Indian newly-weds were missing. Somehow, they reached the conclusion that the Indian couple could not have left the beach suddenly and something was amiss. They started looking for them and found that the newly-weds had fallen into an open manhole. The authorities were informed and the couple rescued.

Why was this observation not made by the other Indians on the beach and why did they not care even once about a fellow human being’s plight? It is this complete disregard and lack of attention which takes us away from the stage of valuing life, whether of ours or of others.

(The writer’s email is

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While I agree with you in principle, it is not so clear cut. I personally know a couple who were FORCED to leave the hospital after 3 days of child birth because the insurance company did not cover their expenses! I saw the physical and mental trauma they went through during that time, and remember thinking "this would never happen in India". So, as always, there are two sides to the issue. But a thought provoking article never the less.
BTW, I believe it is a matter of supply and demand. As a proof, you should note that the behavior of Americans is markedly different (worse) in New York City as compared to a small village. It is human nature in the end.

from:  YNS
Posted on: Nov 6, 2012 at 13:47 IST

I totally agree with the writer.

I have lived in various parts of India and various parts of USA too.

If my observations are fair, I found USA to be a much much fair country relatively.
There is a strong instinct of looting others that prevails in the majority of India. It
is alike in villages and cities.

Indians are a very insecure lot relatively. There is a severe identity crisis here,
which leads to a highly fragmented society.

And the attitude of the law makers and law keepers are well known, I don't even
need to mention it. Nothing moves if you are not rich and your caste/religion
doesn't match with the peson on the other side of the table.

I used to be a very optimistic person while I was growing up and felt India was
great, but now when I have to deal with more and more Indians on a regular basis I
have turned very negative.

from:  ahetuki
Posted on: Nov 6, 2012 at 12:58 IST

Americans`mind-set is different from that of the mental graffiti of very Indians and we have to learn so many things from the west-
-eners and Americans.One can witness the humane approaches in every
aspect of life by the Americans.I have travelled through some very
fat states of the United states and have experienced the benevolent
tendencies of the Americans,personally.Their selfless benefactions
have rendered them and their country an enviable identity.It is
their unselfish nature that triggers to their charitable acts.I have been flabbergasted with their benignity,mental and physical
power and strength,undeterred determinations and laudable services
not only to humankind,but extensively to astomatous too.Now,every
Indian wants to follow the life style of the Americans,but fails to
acquire the required mental gravity of an American!

from:  R.Gopalakrishnan.
Posted on: Nov 6, 2012 at 12:36 IST

Hudson is a river and not a lake.

from:  Hilary Pais
Posted on: Nov 5, 2012 at 15:20 IST

With the population in India 3 times more than in US and the area and its natural resources in US 3 times more than in India, it is hard to expect person to person care over here. Comparing a small home overcrowded with say 15 family members is not fair against a big mansion enjoyed by a 4 member family.

from:  Divakar Pai
Posted on: Nov 5, 2012 at 14:36 IST

We are still a feudal nation!

from:  Vasanth
Posted on: Nov 5, 2012 at 13:53 IST

I just read the article "Come what may, Mera Bharat Mahan" alongside with this.. There is a old saying when someone sneeze in Jammu people from kanyakumari takes medicine for him there. It doesn't mean someone from jammu will not give medicine to him, but This shows the human values that we Indians show to fellow humans... Yes everywhere there are exceptions, In US the care which is mentioned above is part of that few exception and in India "not care" is part of that few exception.. In India it is that well educated rich friends (Indians) who don’t care for the fellow people and become selfish and bring up their kids also self-centered in the name of westernization. I am still have the same goose bumps when the national anthem is played and I am very much proud to an Indian...

from:  Anbu Subash
Posted on: Nov 5, 2012 at 11:39 IST

Dear Author, I don't understand why you have not considered the fact that while America value the lives of its' citizens, it doesn't care about other poorer or weaker countries in which America killed 1000s of innocent civilians in the name of protecting the American (business or political) interests - including Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. America even sacrificed lives of it's own country men (Soldiers) to protect American political interests... This is how America values about human lives while India doesn't indulge in those sort of wars externally (except in Sri lanka & Bangaldesh) but while internally we have slaughtered our own country men in the name of religion for many centuries....

from:  Surya
Posted on: Nov 5, 2012 at 04:09 IST

Learned professor Shankar sahay has come to the conclusion " that in India, the value o
human life is disregarded so much". I am proud of the BHARATHA SAMSKARAM and I
Respectfully disagree on this conclusion. USA and India are the greatest democracies in
the world. There are good and bad people in both the countries. There is erosion of values
throughout the world and that is reflected in these countries as well. USA is a highly
developed country and India , after independence is developing atba fast pace. In india, the
Elders are given great respect and the parents need not go to the senior citizens home
when they become USA, there is high sense of road discipline and I am really
impressed on this aspect. In India the roads are crowded with pedestrians and driving is
Very difficult. We should not compare apples with oranges. The hospitals in USA look like
Five star hotels, whereas the hospitals in india are crowded. We should not demean
ourselves .

from:  C.p.Chandra das
Posted on: Nov 5, 2012 at 01:52 IST

I dont agree Shankar when you say that there is no value for life in India. If the people are educated enough (not just be able to read and write) then things will be different. You can definitely see the difference between the traffic sense in a city where at least some rules are followed when compared to what it is in a small town . It depends on how well educated you are. The root cause of all problems in India is the lack of proper education.

from:  Ramakrishna
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 22:09 IST

We are enamoured by the clean roads and strict traffic regulations.But when my friend became sick he could not even get doctor's appointment for three months. He took 15 days' leave, flew to Chennai,got completely cured and went back.The mental agony about the'pink slip' waiting on the table,and silent untold tortures suffered by all including Americans are innumerable. The other side of the field is always green.

from:  Vathsala Jayaraman
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 21:05 IST

When I was growing in India, I felt valuable only around my parents, relatives and friends. But invaluable among the tourists, traffic, buses and with pain in hospitals -when need of help-a trading subject to grab more money. Now in US, it took me years to built my friends but when help was needed I feel I am very valuable-even if I don't know them!!

from:  marudah
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 20:13 IST

This s a very lopsided article
Shall i give u thousands of instances where indians have been very helpful & not so self centered

from:  chandu
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 19:38 IST

We Indians have forgotten how to care may be, but this isn't true always. What I would like to highlight is that having lived in the US for a while, it is NOT okay to expect a similar life in India. People returning to India fail to accept certain changes, for example, it is being etched in our thoughts that anything can be done with the power of money in India, so however things gets better, we don't accept that and we ourselves tend to bribe people. Similarly we always consider that facilities in India are poor, even though there is a significant improvement over the past couple years. Such prejudiced thoughts have to be removed first. Also, attitude of people differs when they are in the US, or in India.For example, the same person tries to maintain his surroundings more cleaner, say in the US, due to compulsion of law. This also extends to other situations like the one mentioned, even if not by compulsion, we get used to it in the US and fail to inculcate the same when in India.

from:  Deepthi
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 19:15 IST

Well observed, it is not a mere observation, it indicates the moral
and human values degradation. our country is not recognizing this
fact, we can blame government. but we must also admit that our
leadership, our policies and other things are leading our youth to
attain power, wealth and money, which has become identifying criteria
in our society.
Value of life in India is negligible as said by brother Raaj, we must
introspect our society, and correct the loop holes of our system and I
hope our youth will wake up and address all the issues of humanity and
diminish the CHALTA HAI attitude...

from:  Sameer Ahmad
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 17:59 IST

Dear Readers
India once valued humanity. Even now humanity lives in villages. After independence, anti social elements captured powers of ruling the country. Hospitals, Schools, Colleges, Universities are running with money, casteism, political muscles?. Getting jobs for qualified people is based on kick backs, corruption is dancing every where.
What to do?

from:  Shankar
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 15:54 IST

There is confusion in India regarding population. What is the law of
demand and supply? Who made the demand in the first place? Whenever we
talk about rich or qualified people we refer only about amount of money
or level education, but never mention about excess. Who decides the
quantity of population a nation should have? When the premises are wrong
the conclusion will be wrong. Let human beings operate within their own
limits and try to learn to live with nature; not questioning its logic!

from:  mvrangaraajan
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 15:16 IST

Prof.Sahay has rightly lamented that we Indians do not care about a
fellow human being's plight. The testimony to the fact comes from our
day to day observations. For instance, when an accident occurs on a
road, the passing cars won't stop to help the victims; the people on
the road 'dare' not involve even to give an account as a witness to
the police, let alone giving first aid to the suffering. Even doctors
ahy away from from giving treatment to the road accident cases -- they
simply direct them to go to a government hospital. And we exhibit our
pride in having people of eminence like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi,
Vivekananda et al as our background.

from:  Dr T Rama Prasad Perundurai
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 14:39 IST

Dear All,

Whatever said and done, The Value of Life in India is almost negligible, its simple people with power and money can live long and can manage to twist around any law in safe guarding their lives.Here even to take a body out of Mortuary we need money, if not you are treated shabbily, Maternity wards in hospitals are even more pathetic , if you don't pay them they don't mind selling of the babies..i am not exaggerating here it indeed can happen..In Our Land Only Money Has value and rest of all doesn't have values or only if you combine them with string recommendation of somebody powerful, it will get you to some place ....

from:  Raaj
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 12:48 IST

This article resonates with my own experience living in US for past many years. Respect for
humans and even other forms of life, politeness, engineering ingenuity, etc are all hallmarks
of Americans. The contribution of America in the form of greatest inventions such as the aero
plane, electric bulb, alternating current, the Internet, cinematograph, computer technologies
etc have created far bigger changes to human life than all the eloquent speeches and
morality talk of many leaders in other parts of the world.

from:  U.Ramamurthy
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 12:41 IST

A very thought-provoking article. Thank you, Shankarsahay! The difference is mind-boggling. But, then, this is one side of the story. In US, Americans and their ‘guests’ are safe. If we also consider the havoc the greed of that nation is causing to the world(or shall I say Universe!) through wars, over-exploitation of resources and so on, this discipline of a hundred percent literate population, though impressive blurs. Developed world should take the responsibility to at least ensure minimum survival needs for the rest of the world. We are comparing the incomparable.

from:  M G WARRIER
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 08:42 IST

Hello shankar,

The article is repetition of a 'perfect' Hollywood movie.

Next time, when you travel The North American continent, keep your mind
open to observe the never told sufferings around! Kindly report that as

Please take opportunity to explore India and experience how human
beings value and care each other there.

Good Luck

from:  sheroy
Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 06:59 IST

I am truly adhering your crux! WE! Indians are so self centered, all our care has been confined to our-self. For me that's the main thing that thwart the all-round development of our nation. The first thing that struck our mind before every gesture is "that thing is going to benefit me or not" , i mean are we living a life or running a grocery store that all we can think is benefit! . I hope our youth will try there best put them-self on the right track with all so much happening in our country. And i could proudly write "INDIA" in-place of "country".

Posted on: Nov 4, 2012 at 01:56 IST
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