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 firstname.lastname@example.org)