The uncivil society…

Published on Times of India on 14th April 2011
There has been much talk of the civil society in the last few days and befittingly so. But, there is a big dollop of this society that would need to do a bit of introspection and ask itself some questions. Where do we fit into this entire gamut of society? What is an uncivil society? Are we a part of this? The uncivil society not only encompasses rapacious politicians, avaricious government servants, greedy bureaucrats and other specimens who don’t conform to a functional society, but also includes those who turn a blind eye to the plight of those in dire consequences or cause distress to them. Countless definitions could shed light on the term ‘uncivil society’, but nothing more glaringly than some recent incidents that did elucidate on how ‘uncivil’ this society really is.

Two educated sisters in their forties were recently rescued from their Noida home in acute starvation state, of which the elder of them died today and the younger remains in ICU in a critical condition. The sisters have been living like recluses ever since their Father passed away a few years back. Their brother then left them shortly after the Father’s demise and the two sisters slipped into depression and starved, locking themselves in their apartment. The local authorities had cut off their electricity, water and telephone connections after the sister’s defaulted payments on all the bills. Neighbours had stated that the last time they saw the sisters was sometime in 2009 after which the sisters locked themselves up in this Sector 29 flat in Noida. The sisters have been in a shocking state of self-deprivation and nobody noticed that something was amiss or they did when it was too late. Had the neighbours been a bit more enquiring, the condition of these two women would not have turned so horrific.

Besides the case of ignoring the plight of unknown civil society members as in the case of the Noida sisters, respected members of this civil society indulge in ‘ill treatment’ of their own family members. Countless elderly citizens who have been abused by their children, opt to stay alone and eventually become soft targets for criminals. Some elderly citizens even commit suicide in order to not become a ‘burden’ on their kith and kin. A survey that was conducted by Help Age India last year revealed that in the city of Hyderabad alone, one –fifth of the elderly respondents were not familiar of what actually constituted ‘abuse’, especially ‘emotional abuse’. The remaining respondents had in fact faced inadequate financial support, disrespect, neglect and even physical beating. Many of the elderly remain hesitant to use the services of welfare organizations or report an abuse mostly due to social pressure. The so-called ‘civil’ society also uses the services of the penurious domestic help, drivers, and watchmen and treats them crudely. Educated civil society uses the services of young children as maids and physically tortures them when they find their work dissatisfactory. And in the more recent Shiney Ahuja case, uncivility was more than amply demonstrated by the so-called ‘elite’. Countless more examples only but corroborate that what is deemed to be civil by societal standards is most uncivil and does not bear any remote semblance of affability.

In India, the ‘elite’ or for that matter even the bourgeois, cushions itself in a world within a world. The civil society selfishly cocoons itself from the heat, dust, sweat and pain of the real India by using the services of the less fortunate and treating them shabbily and unequally. In our fast paced, chaotic, mercenary lives, we seldom have time to even make an effort to know our neighbour or would even care to enquire about the welfare of those around us. We are so engrossed with our own problems that taking on a problem of another or getting involved with it even slightly is deemed to be preposterous. How many times have we stopped ourselves from interfering in the affairs of the other because it is a waste of our time and energy and more selfishly because we cannot determine a tangible benefit in doing so? A civil society is one that bears good conduct and remains true to its demeanour. Before classifying ourselves to be civil, an honest introspection needs to be done.


46 Responses to “The uncivil society…”

  1. Sharmila,

    Most people get to see only a few societies in selected parts of the nation or the world. Many are never a part of a society, either civil or uncivil.

    In my opinion, the society begins outside the doorstep in a flat or an apartment and it begins outside the gates at the fence in an estate. In any case, it does not exist once the entrance door is shut from inside.

    When out there on the streets, one sees many things. One sees a lot of believers attending real and virtual funerals; a lot of non-believers claiming the supremacy of ethics over morals. One sees many budding Aarushis and many smiling Buddhas. One sees hardcore criminals among school children and seedy agents of corruption among teachers and philosophers. One sees them all specially when one is not blind.

    No one is specifically asked to decide if a society is civil or uncivil. In fact, most behavioral patterns of individuals are such that they only react to things when they are not their own doing.

    The middle-income groups are neither rich industrialists nor poor manual labor. Most of the social exposures of their children are actually error enforcing conditions. The cognitive part of their personalities that is influenced outside the house is mostly defiant or in perpetual denial. The only motivational drivers that they retain are challenges and competition.

    Several precious years are wasted trying to prove things wrong or trying to beat the standards. Name, efforts and visibility is all that one cares to establish. Society remains an unnamed horror.

    This attitude lasts till some of them suddenly realize that they are carrying it too far. They discover to their dismay that they are digging their own graves. They reach a point where they begin to defy thoughts and beliefs of people who have been dead for quite some time, or at times even the beliefs of living people from societies that they don’t belong to.

    In other words they use those moments as triggers for their own motivations. Some psychic people call this a trauma. I call it mid-life blues.

    Perhaps if one were very rich or very poor, one might have been more honest from the beginning. They would still not be a part of any society, but, if they were brutally honest to themselves, at least their actions would truly reflect their own beliefs.

    Never mind. I believe people always distance themselves from both – the society of ostracized criminals as well as the society of the pretenders.

    • Interesting. But, you are saying that our behavior is governed by circumstances? So, what may seem uncivil to one, is civil to another.?

      • Sharmila,

        These are the latent failures that I detected in the case study that I have described in the next comment. Those are the gen next.

        Speaking for myself, the society ceases to exist once I am alone.

        Similarly, a society does does not exist when I am meditating on my body, mind or any other singular thought.

        Being civil or uncivil while dealing with strangers is a temperamental response. A society does not exist even there because everyone is a stranger.

        The term “society” is rather outdated.

        These days, civil or uncivil demeanors are transactional devices. They depend on threat percceptions, not cultural ethics.

      • Note: I am not against commerce as a value. I believe money is what money produces.

        What baffles me is the impact of commercial (or more generally economic) activity on the evaluation of relationships. People seem to abandon or alter metaphysical values for very petty reasons.

  2. I was just having a chat with my friend who is from Malaysia and he was telling me how much stealing handbags, gold chains etc is rife in most parts of Malaysia. He told me that women do not like to carry handbags and hide their jewelery when they are on the street.

    I told him that’s the same in some parts of India, but the important thing I discovered here is that there is no “public dhulai” in Malaysia. He told me in Malaysia, strangers dont interfere even when they see someone’s bag being stolen. I told him if a chain snatcher is caught on the Mumbai’s local train system, he would get so badly thrashed that he would actually plead to the police to arrest him.

    I think we are not all that bad…we still have the public dhulai system…:-) that’s still world class.

    • Yes, I read about this. I also read about incidents where they bash up the wrong guy.. once in a while though. So, your point is uncivility ( bashing up ) is a form of civility?

      • Well, I don’t agree with the bashing up but i find it in the civil interest.

        The bashing up is a by product of people’s frustration with the corruption, the police, the crowded locals and probably their own wallet being stolen sometime in the past.

        Imagine how many petty thiefs would exist without the fear of getting thrashed by the public.

  3. A case study:

    There is a girl named EH. She is 27 and works in an financial instution down south. She has a fairly promising academic record. Her position in the office she works is secure.

    She will be married for an year next month. Her husband is a computer hardware and networking engineer. He has a growing private practice althoug he has more loans than he can pay off regularly. That’s not much of a deal. From what I understand from the duo, the loans are built into the business plans. They call it deficit financing.

    So far so good.

    Now there are also aging parents at home. The house is mortgaged. Some of the utilities like the car, ACs etc are hypothecated.

    And above all, the girl wants to have a baby.

    Nothing wrong about anything in that.

    Here is the catch.

    The girl, with very rational reasons, says that their professional lives are taking away all the fun from their personal lives. Both husband and wife work 14 hours a day. The husband was initially not too sure what that meant. But he is now quite convinced that she is right. He needs to make more money in less working hours per day.

    In my opinion, the contradiction is this:

    Ask any successful person, there is practically no distinction between a professional and personal life.

    A “career’ is technically the path that a horse makes on a racing track. Careers are for horses, not human beings.

    I don’t think social life is about inter-dependence. I think it’s about sharing and defending common space and resources.

    Racing horses don’t recognize social space.

    • Why take so many loans in the first place ? If you take debt, you have to pay it off. If you have to pay it off, you have to work more.

      If you don’t like to work that much, then don’t take that much debt. And if you do like to work then don’t complain about your personal life because then work is your life.

      • Well said Ninad. “Work is Life”

        In fact, I am inclined to believe that “Work is Life” regardless of the role of money.

      • “All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind” – Aristotle

      • Quote:

        Lok e asmin dwividha nistha, puraa prokta mayaanagha |
        Dnyan yogena saankhyaanaam, karma yogen yoginaam ||

        … … … There are two pursuits in devotion that are fulfilling |
        … … … Of knowledge qua knowldege, and work qua work ||

        Krishna in Ch. 3 of the Gita: “Karma Yog”

        Translation Mine

    • I agree, we are consumed in the complete sense by our needs and wants. A need is urgent, like it never has been before. Beyond, roti, kapada, makaan.

  4. Anand Khare Says:

    Girl(romantically) 2 Rajnikanth – 1 chutki sindoor ki kimat tum kya jano rajni babu.. – Rajnikanth – 0.007892724576 Rs… mind it..;-)!

  5. The case of the two individuals who locked themselves out of the real world is a stark example of the state of human rights in India.

    Anything that is deemed to belong to the nation, belongs only to the government in reality. There is nothing in the functions of the executive or the judiciary that is based on the princples of natural justice.

    For example, take drinking water.

    The constitution calls it a natural and national resource. The executive fiat declares that the water is freely available to people but anything like even a pump or a hose pipe that is installed to take the water shall be licensed or permitted by the local government!

    Same rules apply to all natural resources except oxygen.

    The individual must negotiate his/her living with government. The transaction recognizes only debt note called currency which is printed by the government.

    I wonder how anyone can feel proud of such a social order, where there is no difference between a son of the soil and a trained canine.

  6. Aishwarya Says:


    I remember, during my childhood, neigbours were always dropping in for a chat or with a tray of ‘newly-tried out’ recipes or…both! The exchange of the laden trays would go on like a chain reaction because it was considered impolite to send back an empty tray!

    What has changed now? There’s no one at home to socialize with. Women are working. Homes are locked. Most socializing is done at the workplace or clubs or at PTAs! Festivals are times when leave gets sanctioned and families go out of town. Again, homes locked! Neighbors are invariably greeted only in elevators or while turning in to the driveway. A proactive neighbor trying to help may be considered unwelcome and labelled ‘nosey’. People value their privacy.

    We are a victim of our circumstances. But I hope our society is not branded uncivil on the basis of isolated incidents and the attitude of a minority. Doing so would be unjust to the salaried class who work day in and day out to match the salaries with the rising expenses…


  7. Does civility or the lack of it in a society have anything to do with heritage? What if the armed forces or a similar organization decide to reclaim the heritage? Or if it is beyond reclaiming, at least aim to revive it?

    After all, the armed forces are not counted among civil society. For this purpose, anyone who is armed to the teeth can be called an armed force. Am I hallucinating or what?

    Nevertheless, I’ll speak for myself even if the topic is about a society.

    I like to call myself civil, even though I kickass on a bad day. My boss says I have the energy of a leader and the lethargy of a manager. What a vicious cocktail!

    For me, reviving heritage doesn’t go very far. It hovers mostly around the last generation of dead ancestors. Those are in fact too close for comfort, being my parents and brother, and the epistemic drag in that process is my upbringing which more often supports the spirit of a rebel, a la Sahir, than a cordial conformist.

    A white collar executive can be ‘uncivil’ and a convicted thief can be ‘civil’. Actually that is very often the case, if you ask a magistrate!

    A white collar executive pretends to have a social vision while a thief does not believe in sacrifices. The heritage is the same, the honesty is misplaced.

    The cracks are usually not in the virtues of integrity or productivity. It is in the honesty of the effort. A sacrifice is not an effort. A yadnya is not a sacrifice. A yadnya is an endeavor, a campaign, an experiment or a trial by fire.

    An uncivil society is a group of people who indulge in sacrificial orgies, which they claim to be their yadnya. It’s a part of living their heritage, of making their ancestors proud. They do not lead, they manage.

    If I were to be asked by a shrink if I could kill real people, I might honestly answer in the affirmative. Ofcourse I could kill.

    I may perhaps add later a bit politely that I do not belong to a civil society. I am an armed force.

    • The simple point here is: Uncivil is not anti-social. There cannot be an anti-social society – thats a contradiction in terms!

  8. Here is an example: The old hags of the civil society “O dear, O dear, where are my smelling salts!” Vs Scarlett O’Hara… in the opening frames…

  9. Making News. Royal Wedding in the Queen’s Windsore:

    Here is a wonderful article on the Bill-Kate wedding written by Johann Hari in the ‘Independent’:

    Johann Hari: This royal frenzy should embarrass us all

    Okay, let’s cut a deal here. If Britain can afford to spend tens of millions of pounds on the royal wedding, we have to spend an equal amount distributing anti-nausea pills across the land – to all of us who can’t bear to see our country embarrass itself in this way. Don’t let the Gawd-bless-you-ever-so-‘umbly-yer-Majesty tone of the media coverage fool you. Most British people are benignly indifferent to the wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton. The 20 percent of us who are republicans, like me, have it slightly worse. We will suffer that face-flushing, stomach-shriveling embarrassment that strikes when somebody you love – your country – starts to behave in a deeply weird way in a public place.

    Of course, when two people get married, it’s a sweet sight. Nobody objects to that part. On the contrary: republicans are the only people who would let William Windsor and Kate Middleton have the private, personal wedding they clearly crave, instead of turning them into stressed-out, emptied-out marionettes of monarchy that are about to jerk across the stage. We object not to a wedding, but to the orgy of deference, snobbery, and worship for the hereditary principle that will take place before, during and after it.

    In most countries, parents can tell their kids that if they work hard and do everything right, they could grow up to be the head of state and symbol of their nation. Not us. Our head of state is decided by one factor, and one factor alone: did he pass through the womb of one aristocratic Windsor woman living in a golden palace? The US head of state grew up with a mother on food stamps. The British head of state grew up with a mother on postage stamps. Is that a contrast that fills you with pride?

    No, it’s not the biggest problem we have. But it does have a subtly deforming effect on Britain’s character that the ultimate symbol of our country, our sovereign, is picked on the most snobbish criteria of all: darling, do you know who his father was? Kids in Britain grow up knowing that we all bow and curtsy in front of a person simply because of their unearned, uninteresting bloodline. This snobbery subtly soaks out through the society, tweaking us to be deferential to unearned and talentless wealth, simply because it’s there.

    We live with a weird cognitive dissonance in Britain. We are always saying we should be a meritocracy, but we shriek in horror at the idea that we should pick our head of state on merit. Earlier this month, David Cameron lamented that too many people in Britain get ahead because of who their parents are. A few minutes later, without missing a beat, he praised the monarchy as the best of British. Nobody laughed. Most monarchists try to get around this dissonance by creating – through sheer force of will – the illusion that the Windsor family really is steeped in merit, and better than the rest of us. This is a theory that falls apart the moment you actually hear Charles Windsor speak.

    The claims then drift even further from reality. We are told that the Windsor family is great for tourism. In fact, of the top 20 tourist attractions in Britain, only one is related to the monarchy – Windsor Castle, at number 17. Ten places ahead is Windsor Legoland. So using that logic, we should make a Lego man our head of state.

    Then we are told the monarchy is a “great defender of democracy”. As a logical proposition, this is almost self-refuting: to protect our democracy, we must refuse to democratically choose our head of state. But more importantly, for people who talk a lot about “respecting” our history, it is startlingly historically illiterate. The last monarch but one – Edward VIII – literally conspired with Adolf Hitler to run this country as a Nazi colony. It’s only pure luck that he happened to have fallen in love with an American divorcee and had already quit the throne. That’s the point about monarchy: you get whatever happens to squelch out of the royal womb. It might be a democrat, or it might – as it was two monarchs ago – be a vain and vicious enemy of democracy. To suggest it will dependably and always be one or the other is daft.

    We have also invented a strange series of mental tics to protect the monarchy. Mention a republic and lots of people give the Pavlovian snap-back: “Hah! So you want President Thatcher do you? President Blair?” There is an odd assumption behind this. Did the presence of a hereditary monarch stop Thatcher or Blair doing anything they wanted to do? No. Nothing. Did it even stop them acquiring regal airs? No. Obviously not. This is simply an instinctive spasm of deference – don’t trust us with picking the leaders! Make sure there’s an aristocrat watching over us, stopping us getting funny ideas! How have these notions lingered in our national DNA for so long?

    Deep down, the impulse to choose our head of state trumps our aristo-deference. A YouGov poll last year found that 64 per cent of British people want William and Kate to be next in line for the throne, ditching Charles entirely. So, my fellow Brits, let’s think about this. By a clear majority, you want to set aside the hereditary principle, and choose our next head of state. I agree. There’s a word for that: republicanism. If you wanted to elect William Windsor as our President, fine. That’s a democratic decision, not a monarchical one.

    There’s going to be an attempt over the next fortnight to paint republicans as the Grinch, trying to ruin the “big day” for William and Kate out of a cocktail of kill-joy curmudgeonry and mean-spiritedness. The opposite is the truth.

    The monarchist spin-machine, the tabloids and the tea-towel industry have created a pair of fictitious characters for us to cheer, while the real people behind them are being tormented by their supposed admirers. Think back to the 1981 royal wedding and you realise how little we know about these people we are supposed to get moist and weepy over. While millions wept at the “fairytale wedding”, Diana was ramming her fingers down her throat, Charles was cursing that he didn’t love her, and they both stood at the aisle raging against their situation and everyone around them, while the nation cheered.

    Similarly, from beneath the spin, the evidence is pretty clear that William and Kate will be smiling at us through gritted teeth. We now know from several impeccable sources that for a long time as a young man, William raged against the monarchy and wanted no part of it. He once screamed at photographers: “Why won’t you just let me be a normal person?” Alistair Campbell’s diaries show that William is “consumed by a total hatred of the media”, who he believes – pretty accurately – ruined his mother’s life and contributed to her death.

    This hasn’t faded: he jibed in his most recent interview that he always aims to “outfox the media”. But he knows the monarchy today is a rolling media road-show selling nothing but itself. That’s why, in her last interview with the BBC’s Jennie Bond, Diana said William had told her longingly that she was “very lucky to be able to give up your HRH” – her royal status. Republicans want to set this couple free to have good, happy lives in the Republic of Britain – which they would clearly take as a blessed relief.

    When we republicans object to the hollow pantomime, we are not being negative or nasty. We are proposing a positive vision. Britain is full of amazing and inspiring people – so many that if we were to choose a ceremonial president, as they do in Ireland, we would be spoiled for choice. I can’t think of anything more patriotic, and more deserving of a tumult of Union Jacks waving at a thousand street parties, than the belief that every child in Britain should grow up knowing that one day, if they do everything right, they could be our head of state. And I can’t think of anything less patriotic than saying that the feudal frenzy of deference and backwardness we are about to witness is the best that Britain can do.

    Courtsey: Johann Hari, in the Independent, UK.

    • It is indeed a fabulous article. Have you read Kitty Kelley’s the Royals?

      • No. It is very unusual to find anti-English literature in this part of the world. These are all ex-colonies in a different way. They were not occupied physically because of the un-inhabitable conditions. Yet they were militarily subdued by their war machinery like they did in Central Africa.

      • Yep. If i am not mistaken, in SA one is even banned from bringling in religiou sbooks?

  10. Anand Khare Says:

  11. Okay, back to the subject of the post. Anand Khar has put me into lyrical mood.

    Let me pen a few words in a sort-of hybrdized Sahir-Whitman style:

    [Caution: If you can’t stand the tempo, you may turn the page… :)]

    At last!
    No one be familiar no more, for familiarity breeds contempt!
    To him his effort! To her the freedom!
    The Word is set free!

    At last!
    In the dark of the night, a brahmin has left the temple!
    Destroy the doors! Rubbish the rubble!
    The Deity is set free!

    At last!
    In a corner of my house, I have my own private temple!
    Repeal the rituals! Discard the prayers!
    The God is set free!

    At last!
    The brain has drained away, from the body of the mass!
    Call off the chase! Abandon the race!
    The Lord is set free!

    At last!
    Atoms of a nuclear family, are coded by random numbers!
    Love no unknown! Nor defy any devil!
    The Man is set free!

    …By Reader, on Sharmila’s blog… 🙂

  12. There are different social divisions in different systems. The caste system in ancient India was one. That one was entirely drawn on occupations of the people as finance was not institutionalised in those days.

    The communist bourgeois-proletariat model defeated feudalism in Europe, although there are primordial remnants still leftover in unaffected areas like the middle east and Buck-in-ham. Hopefully a few generations down the line that should go through the necessary corrections.

  13. That was the communist view of a “civil” society.

    Here is another one:

  14. Here is one more view:

  15. Here is one more:

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