The Quagmire that engulfs my country

The Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) has put India at rank 76 out of 168 countries in its latest Corruption Perception Index. What does this indicate? That, despite having abundance resources, we as a country have misused them to our own debacle.

Corruption has become a pervasive aspect of Indian way of life. It is a termite that has seeped into possibly everything that can touch an Indian’s life and has corroded our roots, leaving us completely barren.

After 70 years of freedom, we are still grappling with grassroot level issues like education, poverty, fundamental infrastructure, clean and friendly environment. While the doors of liberalization have propelled our economy and improved our spending. But have we truly been liberated from our restricted mindset and embraced the economic growth along with mindset of preservation. We have transformed from conservation to consumption. All our Tier 1 & Tier 2 cities continue to pump money in building ‘shopping malls’ but a visit to any historical site in those cities reflects an extremely sad condition with poor maintenance and absolute disrespect towards our own heritage.

As an avid traveller, I always choose a destination that is outside India. By doing that I wonder if I am being less patriotic and apathetic towards my own country.

India as a country offers a wide range of traveller’s destinations and has potential to be a delight to enthusiastic travellers. Although, it provides a peaceful and spiritual haven to many travellers, it continues to carry its old tagline – India, a land of snake charmers, superstition, cows and elephants. Aren’t we more than that? Tourism should have been one of the primary sources of India’s GDP. However, that is not the case. Having travelled extensively, I can only conclude that as a country, we don’t have travel friendly infrastructure and ambience! Yes, we have all possible natural and historical attractions, however have we protected and restored them, made them travel savvy, created basic clean and safe amenities around them to make them even more alluring. My only attraction to go overseas as a solo traveller is to enjoy my travel experience without any stress, fear and apprehension, which I am sad to confess I can’t do in my own country. It breaks my heart to admit this erosion of confidence.

For a country where we take pride in our tradition – ‘Atithi devo bhav’ (our guests are like God and hence they deserve similar care and respect), we terribly fall short in making travel experience an enjoyable and a pleasant one. Every year we do have millions of travellers (both Indians and non-Indians) exploring various parts of our country. They do so bracing all challenges of basic hygiene factors like clean and convenient public transportation, sanitation, safe and clean environment.

Having travelled to many European, North American and Asian countries (Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong), I am enthralled by their infrastructure and overall prosperity. Even though some of those nations are smaller than India, their technological advancement coupled with their natural beauty, preserved tradition and heritage is so refreshing and attractive. They have leveraged the technology to make life convenient, hassle free, safe and secured in order to attract tourists and make them feel comfortable, relaxed and safe.

During my trip to countries like UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic (Prague in particular), Malaysia, Singapore, Japan I was taken aback by the punctuality of the rail and road transportation system. If a bus or a train is scheduled to arrive at a certain time, it arrived dot at that time. And if somebody misses a train or bus, no worries. He can catch the next one arriving in exact 5 mins interval. The roots of punctuality are strongly embedded in people too. Hence everything falls in place and works perfectly like a clockwork.

In Switzerland, I was travelling from Zurich (North) to Aigle (South) and somewhere in the journey I had to change trains and I had only 4 mins to do so. I was nervous and was sure that this simply wasn’t possible and I would invariably miss the connecting train. However, Swiss ticket collector assured that 4 mins was in fact a lot of time for a smooth transfer. And it was! I had to just walk from one side of a platform to other side of the same platform. And the transfer done in less than 4 mins. WOW!! Such coordination of trains and platforms and no one rushed or pushed.

Talking of punctuality and rail and road transport coordination, I experienced something extra ordinary during my train journey from Prague to Salzburg. The Ticket Collector informed us at Prague station that a certain portion of rail track was being repaired. Hence for that intermittent portion, we would have to take bus. The entire coordination between bus and train timing was simply marvellous. And I reached my destination without any hiccup.

My journey to these countries witnessed something core that stood out as a key differentiator. There, people love their country and are ready to respect and abide by the rules and regulations as established by the country’s administration. But, don’t we have such rules and regulations in our country. Of course, we have! Then where is the gap? Whom do we blame! Who is corrupt? Our politicians, administrators, we ourselves OR all of us in our own sphere?

In every Union budget, crores are allocated to promote tourism. Yet our heritage sites (considering some of them are oldest among in the world) are in dilapidated state. Sometimes the road to such sites are inadequate making the travel very painful. There is no dearth of funds, there is only misappropriation of them.

When I visited Prague, I found the city full of mysticism. Every building there is atleast 200 years old and has distinct history to it. Any monument that you lay your eyes on is UNESCO’s world heritage site. 516 meters Charles Bridge close to 800 years old, UNESCO heritage site attracts artists from across the world and is a platform for them to display their art, music and culture. What a sight! Hundreds of visitors throng the bridge, yet it is never overcrowded, dirty or unsafe. Seeing the arrangements, one knows for sure that the administration has taken special efforts to make the tourists have memorable experiences.

During my recent trip to Japan, I visited Kyoto. Kyoto was the historic capital of Japan and hence is full of shrines, castles and palaces. Every second shrine in and around Kyoto is recognized by UNESCO. I visited a 13th century white castle called Hemji castle. Even though the castle had perished in fire and many battles, today it stands tall with glory as a fully restored monument.

I realized that UNESCO’s recognition is only possible if a nation respects its own heritage.

I have also gathered during my travel journeys that I felt safer and secured in a foreign land than in my own country. I have travelled at odd hours abroad without slightest hesitation of my safety and dignity.

While in Japan as a solo traveller I was to stay at a studio apartment in Kyoto. A day before my arrival there, I informed the owner, Tomoko about my arrival time and requested her to be there for me to escort into the apartment. She informed me about her inconvenience and assured me that entering the apartment wouldn’t be a problem as the apartment door would be open and I would find the key on the kitchen counter. I was aghast to know this. Doors unlocked and a complete stranger walking in. What if I turned out to be a crook? Didn’t she have slightest of hesitation? When I met Tomoko after 3 days, I narrated her my surprise of finding an unlocked apartment. She enlightened me with the fact that very few Japanese lock their houses and car doors. The crime rates in Japan is almost negligible.

Similarly, in Switzerland, the doors of the resort that I was staying didn’t have a lock.

I find such conveniences very hard to digest. Nonetheless, they are true as I have experienced them first hand.

Such incidents only reflect the strictness and robustness of the judiciary system. A rule is a rule is a rule. Citizens of those countries cannot afford to break, bend or twist rules to suit personal conveniences. Something quite alien in India. This explains the law-abiding nature of those countries. In India we have rules, but no one follows them. The punitive actions taken against the defaulters are lenient and a small bribe into the greasy palms of our policeman is all it takes to slither away from the crime committed.

It rains practically every day in Malaysia and Singapore due to its Equatorial climatic conditions. But not a single day during my stay there I experienced any water logging anywhere. A daily heavy afternoon downpour left the cities clean, fresh and greener. I wondered where the water vanished in just an hour after the downpour. Realised that they have brilliant rainwater harvest and sewage system. Also noticed that every house is constructed with the provision of rainwater harvest. So systematic! Something our cities’ Municipal Corporations and Development Authorities got to learn and implement. Do they lack basic intelligence on city planning and architecture? I doubt. However, they do lack the noble intent of keeping our cities clean and tidy.

Many years back, I had the pleasure of visiting Sikkim. As part of my trip I visited Changu Lake, considered one of the most pristine lake in North Eastern India. Although it was April, the middle part of the lake was still frozen. From a distance, the lake looked picturesque. I decided to talk a walk around the lake. However, that walk left me deeply depressed. There was all possible litter floating in the banks of that lake. Plastic bottles, coke cans, chips packet. My heart ached seeing the wrath humans had done on nature and complete ignorance of the local administration to strictly prohibit such atrocities.

A few years later, when I took cruises on lakes in US, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, I was so pleased to see the cleanliness and efforts taken to make their lakes even more beautiful and attractive. I wondered when will my country offer such safe, clean and beautiful cruises.

Although corruption in India is injected by selfish and greedy politicians and bureaucrats, it is the so called educated class that nurtures it to suffice their vested interests and selfish needs.

In my opinion there is a huge difference between being educated and being qualified. While we are a bunch of qualified individuals, are we truly educated?

A truly educated mind is an enlightened mind that imbibes positive aspects. Unfortunately, in India, corruption makes its way from the moment a child is born. Starting from medical system, to child’s admission in a good school, to the education system, there is depletion of culture and values at every stage exposing a child to different facets of corruption. A child learns what he sees in the immediate environment.

While interacting with some families in Japan, I learnt that in primary schools, children as young as 6 years old are trained to clean their classrooms, canteens and school premises. They got to learn to clean their own mess. Some of us may find this brutal. However, it is the right age to inculcate the habits around clean environment and that each one of us is responsible in keeping our environment clean. No wonder when they grow up, they will be such conscientious individuals.

The fundamental gap between us and other developed countries is in the education system and punitive actions taken against the defaulters in the judiciary system. As the very same Indians when travel abroad adhere to those very same rules that they blatantly dismiss in their own country. While we have very conveniently adapted the ‘shopping mall’ culture from other developed countries, we have failed to adapt the richness of their behaviour, discipline and law-abiding nature.

Corruption is a quagmire that we inherited along with our independence and over the years the swamp has only thickened. And that’s why after 70 years of independence we are still called a ‘Developing’ country and stuck with politicising every issue in the name of religion and caste.

The question is not whether we can come out of this quagmire. The question is do we realize what is in stored for us if we don’t make an effort at an individual level to come out of this quagmire.

I am fully aware that things are changing, albeit at snail’s pace. I hope it doesn’t take another 70 years where India is synonymous with tourism and voted the best delight for a traveller. I would love to explore my own country with a free and tranquil mind.

by Reshmi Raghavachari