Routine Activity Theory Implications on Increasing Crime Rate in Indian Society

Cohen and Folsen’s Routine Activity Theory of Crime, appeals to me at an intellectual level to understand the increasing rate of crime in Indian society. However, it contradicts my personal philosophy about human beings. The theory presumes that every human being basically has a criminal tendency and is capable of crime. I believe that human beings are inherently good and each human being irrespective of the crimes they have committed is capable of good deeds. Hence, I will try to discuss the theory without bias and balance the two opposing views. If I sound partial towards my philosophy, then forgive me from the goodness of your heart.

1.      Introduction

The theory was based on analysis of US crime data of 1947-1974. During this period the average income of families increased, number of people below poverty line decreased, education levels improved, and unemployment levels decreased. However, the rate of violent crime in urban areas   increased – rape (174%), assault (164%), robbery (263%) and homicide (188%).

The Indian urban society is showing similar trends since liberalization in 1990s. While growth, income, economy, facilities, education etc. has significantly improved in urban areas, the rate of crime has increased exponentially. Before, in 1960s and 1970s, others would ostracize a middle class person if he were publicly involved in criminal activity. Now, nearly every second person is involved in a corrupt and unethical activity openly. Though we blame it on deteriorating social values, this theory helps us understand why we compromise the values and participate in a crime.

2.      Concept

The theory states that “structural changes in routine activity patterns can influence crime rates by affecting the convergence in space and time of three minimal elements of direct contact predatory violations: (1) motivated offenders, (2) suitable targets, and (3) the absence of capable guardians against a violation”. Lack of any one of these reduces crime. However, the level of control exercised by the guardians has a direct impact on crime. Even if motivated offenders and suitable targets remain the same, if control reduces, crime increases. The theory states that income of the offender does not have any impact on his desire to commit crime and contradicts the popular notion that people with less income have a higher propensity to commit crime.

Source: Wikepedia

Now this can be understood in Indian context. The number of people living away from their traditional homeland has increased as more people are living in nuclear families or as singles in different cities. The change in social behavior has changed the routine activity of people as social controls of family and community have decreased. These aspects reduce the worry of motivated offenders on how their community will judge them if they participate in unethical behavior. Secondly, the same aspect makes suitable targets more vulnerable to crime as protective layers have reduced. Hence, due to this changing social structure, motivated offenders and suitable targets have both increased. With it, the corruption in law enforcement agencies has reduced control. The sum total of it all has increased the crime rates in Indian urban areas.

3.      Effect

Then the theory states that motivated offenders cooperate to strengthen their efficiency in criminal activities. On the other hand, the potential victims join hands to gain collective strength to protect themselves from the attack. The challenge becomes bigger for potential victims when high-net worth individuals undertake criminal activities. The potential victims risk of victimization increases.

From the Indian context, the driver for change in social values has been the thirst for money and power. The higher level of ambition for being powerful and materialistically successful has motivated people to break the traditional social norms and move towards corruption and crime. Previously, the lack of a good criminal justice system was compensated by strict controls from family and community. Now all the three guardians have decreased control and the value of rewards gained from criminal activity is high. The other factor to consider is that voluntary help groups and social support groups are less in India; hence, the potential victims do not get the desired protection. As Cohen said – “it is ironic that the very factors which increase an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of life may also increase the opportunities for predatory violations”. Crime has become the by-product of freedom and prosperity as it has enmeshed itself in routine activities of daily life in Indian urban society.

Closing Thoughts

My personal belief is that for every action, especially criminal or unethical activity, a person needs to ask whether they need to involve themselves in it. When one accepts rewards for the wrong reasons, one cannot avoid punishment for the wrong reasons also. Hence, why go for the wrong rewards in the first place; and if one has received them, why not return them? When one is in a financially strong position and survival does not depend on income from criminal activity, why not refuse to undertake that activity. No one can involve another in a criminal activity if the participants do not wish for any monetary benefits. Hence, to enjoy the benefits of life, say no to crime and unethical activities.

References:

Routine activity theory - Crime Prevention Division – By Cohen and Folsen

 

Impact of Power Styles on Organization Risks

Power, we all want it. If we don’t have it, we associate with the powerful in the hope some of it rubs down to us. Being in the upper echelons of corporate world or the political corridors of the country’s parliamentary houses ensures that you are exempt from the rules applicable to the common person.

However, the way a person gets power and uses it reflects the person’s character, and its influence on others. In the corporate world, the power styles used by senior managers directly influence the risk levels of the organization. Unsurprisingly,  power and politics are undiscussable topics in the corporate world; hence, when risk managers do risk assessments, they ignore the two.

I personally recommend risk managers to understand the individual power styles of the senior managers and overall organization power style. To appreciate the connection between power and risk, let us first look at the power styles and their impact on the organization.

Power Sttyles

Depending on the situation, a leader needs to use various power styles. However, if a leader uses coercive style even when it is not required, then something is wrong. Leaders frequently use power styles of reward and punishment for fulfilling illegitimate requirements. Hence, the probability of followers being involved in unethical activities requiring compromise of personal values is higher. On the other hand, the expert style ensures that followers make informed judgments as the leader attempts to enhance their ethical values and knowledge level. The reward is not in the form of a bribe and is implicit; the leader is dedicated to improving the organization.

Another aspect that requires understanding is the need for creating perception of power. When a leader is undertaking illegitimate activities (watch any Hindi movie to see the underworld Don) he needs to create a strong perception of power by using threat and punishment. Else, his coercive tactics will be ineffective, as people will not cooperate. Therefore, he makes some sacrificial goats to demonstrate that he is above the law and normal rules don’t apply to him. Another tactic is to break the social norms, and not behave rationally and predictably. Both these methods focus on creating fear to ensure compliance. Without the perception of power and fear, the leader becomes vulnerable to revolt from the common person. The only way for him to retain his power is by increasing the number of sacrificial goats, threats, and punishments.

1.   Impact on Legal and Reputation Risks

A coercive leader is usually riding a tiger. The organization risks continue multiplying as more and more people become aware of the unethical practices. An elastic can be stretched up to a limit. Eventually, the concocted environment cocoon will burst and all hell will break loose. The leader cannot trust anyone after a point. Hence, his fear increases in direct proportion to his vulnerability. The leader takes more and more risks to protect his personal fiefdom. The organizations reputation risks and legal risks increase proportionately.

2.   Impact on Human Resource Risks

Overtime, the leader’s charisma wears off. As the layers peel off, disillusion sets in. Employees realize that the leader doesn’t behave with integrity and honesty. Even the loyalists recognize that whenever it suits the leader’s personal agenda, they can face the bullet without any fault of their own. This creates disquiet among employees, and employee disengagement increases. The human resource risks increase manifold with disengaged employees.

3.   Impact on Operational and Financial Risks

The disengagement starts effecting productivity and performance as everyone grasps that meritocracy has no links with rewards. This in turn impacts the bottom line as leader fails to deliver on targets. Failure to show profitability and results makes the leader’s position precarious. The leader starts feeling pressure from the top. As he is unable to improve productivity, he attempts to manipulate results and financial statements. In nutshell, leader’s power style influences operational risks and financial risks of the organization.

Closing Thoughts

No one can deny that success in life depends quite significantly on a person’s power and influence. The general opinion is that means to the end do not matter when we strive for power. On the contrary, how we get power and maintain power, is crucial for longevity in the powerful position. For a coercive leader, the end is tragic, as the hunter becomes the hunted. Moreover, if a leader gets power by paying bribes or giving rewards, his power ends when he stops doing so. His loyalists disappear with speed. Abusing power is no longer safe in the present world, as it increases the personal risks of the leader and the organization risks. Therefore, risk managers need to ensure for continued prosperity of the organization, that leaders get power by the rights means and use it for the right purposes.

Cultural Complexities and Conflicts

Two weeks back I had given my laptop for repair. The computer guy first said that he would repair it in a day for Rs 1500. Then he called up and said it will take two days. Then he called up and said it will take Rs 2500. I asked him to return the laptop without repairing and ended up paying Rs 350 as service charges as he had identified the problem. Last week I asked a person to recharge my TV subscription and I am still waiting for the same. Why am I ranting on the blog?

Reason is these things happen in India. Based on these experiences the foreigners visiting India formulate an opinion on India. Secondly, the foreigners either formulate opinions on Indians from media reports or base it on their experiences of Indians living abroad. Media thrives on negative information and hardly report on positive aspects. Indians living abroad are just a small slice of the country and they do not completely represent the culture at home.

Some westerners visit India to understand it better as it is a growing economic power. However, whenever I have read their views, I feel they have a superficial picture and do not really understand the cultural complexities of India. They attempt to dissect each part independently and try to fix the jigsaw puzzle. However, Indian culture is akin to a seven-layered cake. The multitudes of flavours need to be tasted as a whole.

In India, there is a saying. To understand the water flowing in Ganga check the origin from Gangotri. To understand the culture of the country and the behaviour of the people, one needs to see the history of at least 100 years. I know in this age we believe world is changing so fast that people change quickly. However, I was reading Gandhi ji’s autobiographies and was surprised that most of the causes of conflict and misunderstandings between western people and Indians remain the same. For example, I understand what is being said by a westerner but sometimes I don’t get the logic behind the behaviour. From an Indian context, it just doesn’t make sense.

1)     The Western Civilization

The difference lies in the approach to life. The western civilization conquered the world in past centuries with the primary motive of getting richer. Though they entered as traders in countries, they soon became rulers. Establishing supremacy by war, brute force, aggression and breaking the spirit of locals were considered good tactics. The morality of their decisions and the suffering caused to human race wasn’t an aspect that got importance. The enemy had to be destroyed by whatever means possible.

So even today, the western corporates mostly have an aggressive organization culture with profit motive. Money is still the primary driver for most activities. The star performers are aggressive men who achieve their positions by cutthroat completion in the dog eat dog world. Ethical competition was until the last few decades an alien concept. Deception, cunning, and breaking the rules are valued traits for winning the game. There are few women at the top, as feminine traits were never respected. They are considered too soft.

2)     The Indian Civilization

In contrast, the Indian civilization since ancient times valued simplicity and the focus was on progress of the soul. In young age, a person was required to set up family, have a career and earn sufficient amount to keep the family in comfort. In old age, an Indian gave up all attachments and desires to focus on purifying the soul. Hence, during their lifetime Indians were required to develop virtues of truthfulness, simplicity, humility, patience, perseverance, frugality, and  other worldliness.

Cunning, aggression and deception were looked down. As Gandhi said – “a thing secured by a particular weapon can be retained only by that weapon” hence enemies weren’t destroyed but converted to friends wherever possible. That is why Indians used non-violence in the struggle for independence. Even when wars were fought, rules were to be followed and the person breaking the rules was considered unprincipled and cowardly. Breaching trust was shameful, contrary to the western opinion where the person whose trust is broken is considered a fool for trusting.

In respect of leadership also, since centuries India has propagated servant leadership and not that of arrogance and supremacy.

3)     The Global Organization

With globalization, one can see these two divergent approaches to life in close quarters interacting daily. I have heard many of my western colleagues comment about a mild-mannered Indian – “X is not aggressive enough, will he get the job done?” Whereas the Indian colleagues say – “What is wrong with this person, why do we need to fight? We can cooperate and get the work done peacefully.”  Team workers are always more valued than star performers. Cooperation is encouraged than competitive behaviour.

Each group doesn’t get the motives and thought process behind the other group’s behaviour. Westerners can’t figure out how Indians succeed in business with all these traits and attributes. They predict failure, and see success in the long run. Quite a few Indians considered unemployable by western standards (unassertive, weak, too humble, or polite) have successful careers in India.

While both groups now attempt to understand the behaviour of other, it is quite impossible to change it in a short time. A person brings to an organization the culture s/he has been raised in. The personal values and attributes can’t disappear on joining and neither can they be left at home during office hours. Respecting the person’s culture and giving space is the best approach.

Closing thoughts

The oriental nations – India and China – are the biggest emerging markets. The western world can’t ignore it and neither can they change it. Hence, they have to understand it and learn to survive in the oriental culture. It is among the biggest opportunities today to bring peace and prosperity in the world. In my view, to reduce the cultural risks and related conflicts more Indians should educate the western population about their historical and social culture. This will give deeper understanding and remove prejudices. The 21st century is bringing change; it is up to us on how we manage it.

Satyagraha For Freedom From Corruption

Gandhi ji, in his book “History of Satyagraha in South Africa” narrates the coinage of the term Satyagraha and the journey of the movement. It is an amazing story of sacrifice, determination, and moral courage. Hence, I wondered whether we can use the concept to fight corruption in this century.

The irony is that Gandhi ji started the Satygraha movement in South Africa because Europeans passed unfavourable laws for Indians. They were scared of Indian traders and professionals taking a huge slice of the business, hence passed laws to restrict their liberty to live and trade freely. Greed was at the crux of it since there were plenty of natural resources in South Africa for Europeans, Blacks, and Indians. Now India is being destroyed by the greed of its leaders and public.

Gandhi ji’s story stands in stark contrast to the Anna Hazare led fight against corruption. Hazare’s was packaged as Gandhian inspired struggle but as results showed it was far from it. Hazare took the stance of my way and high way on the Lokpal Bill, whereas Gandhi ji believed in negotiation. Moreover, Hazare’s was a publicity driven exercise of a few fasts and he quickly distanced himself from it when he faced failure. Another aspect was that though thousands turned up in support at the initial stage, no one made use of that energy constructively and directed people to do something more than shout slogans on the streets. Hence, the euphoria disappeared after a short while, as the educated middle class needed an action plan to maintain their commitment.

It brings back to our understanding of Satyagraha. We generally confuse it with “passive resistance” and it was the same situation when Gandhi ji developed the concept a century back. Below are few points from the book:

1)      Satyagraha

Gandhi ji considered Satyagraha as a soul-force. The Satyagrahies never used physical force even when they had the capability for it. In Gandhi ji’s word – “Satyagraha is soul-force pure and simple, and whenever and to whatever extent there is room for the use of arms or physical force or brute force, there and to that extent is there so much less possibility for soul-force. These are purely antagonistic forces in my view, and I had full realization of this antagonism even at the time of the advent of Satyagraha

2)     Passive resistance

The term “passive resistance” originated in Europe as a weapon of the weak. It was generally used when other options of fighting were not available. It was a method used by people without voting rights, or lacking public support. The people were not averse to using arms for attaining their goals. But they did not go for it because they didn’t think they would succeed with it. Hence, passive resistance was more of a strategic manoeuvre than commitment to non-violence.

3)    Difference between the two

Gandhi ji described the fundamental difference in the concepts in the following paragraphs -

 “The power of suggestion is such that a man at last becomes what he believes himself to be. If we continue to believe ourselves and let others believe that we are weak and therefore offer passive resistance, our resistance will never make us strong, and at the earliest opportunity we will give up passive resistance as a weapon of the weak.

 On the other hand if we are satyagrahis and offer satyagraha believing ourselves to be strong, two clear consequences result from it. Fostering the idea of strength, we grow stronger and stronger every day. With the increase in our strength, our satyagraha too becomes more effective and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up.

 Again, there is no scope for love in passive resistance; on the other hand, not only has hatred no place in satyagraha, but it is a positive breach of its ruling principle. While in passive resistance there is a scope for the use of  arms when a suitable occasion arrives, in satyagraha physical force is forbidden even in the most favourable circumstances. Passive resistance is often looked upon as a preparation for the use of force while satyagraha can never be utilized as such. Passive resistance may be offered side by side with the use of arms. Satyagraha and brute force, being each a negation of the other, can never go together.

 Satyagraha may be offered to one’s nearest and dearest; passive resistance can never be offered to them unless of course they have ceased to be dear and become an object of hatred to us.

 In passive resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party and there is a simultaneous readiness to undergo any hardships entailed upon us by such activity; while in satyagraha there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.”

 4)    Freedom From Corruption

Considering the above definition of Satyagraha and the differences highlighted by Gandhi ji, I haven’t seen very many noteworthy cases of mass movement of Satyagraha. Hazare’s movement just entailed short-term sacrifice and not a long-term struggle. When the public disappeared so did he.

The Satyagrahies courted prison and lived a simple life to fight for their cause. Hence, the question is that do we lack commitment and determination for long-term struggle to root out wrong habits. Is it possible and realistic to expect people to make these sacrifices in the present age of instant gratification. Can we expect Indian public to take a vow not to take or give bribes and kickbacks? Will it be expecting too much from the citizens to sacrifice a few luxuries. Will the public stay committed to the cause or leave it when it gets bored, to participate in the next novel thing.

We need to seriously think of eradicating corruption on this Independence Day. India has come a long way in one century but the corruption is eroding its sheen and destroying the country from within. We must not forget the sacrifices a whole generation of Indians made to ensure that the next generations live with freedom. Let us pledge to keep our souls free of greed.

Wishing all Indians a Very Happy Independence Day.

References:

History of Satyagraha in South Africa by M.K. Gandhi 

Power With The Powerless

Might is Right?

Might is Right?

Durga Shakti Nagpal honoured the goddess she is named after. The 29-year-old IAS officer is in eye of the storm as she took on the sand mafia in Utter Pradesh. It was said the political party got benefits from the sand mafia. The Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav suspended her on the grounds that she ordered demolition of a mosque wall. Her actions could have created riots.

The Muslim community hasn’t taken kindly for being used as an excuse. They have denied any such action and stood by Durga, stating that she is a great officer. Punjab State Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal has invited her to join back her own state. He said that Punjab state appreciates honest officers and the government will stand behind them.

So why has Akilesh Yadav’s carefully planned manoeuvre to show his political might fallen flat. It is because he still has old school ideas of power. He literally inherited power from his father, and though young is still using old tactics based on incorrect assumptions.

1.      Witch Hunting is Not an Acceptable Game

The ancient tactic of using a woman as a sacrificial goat to quiet everyone by creating fear and terror is no longer working. The number of Indian women crusading against corruption and crime is increasing manifold. Women are clearly saying they don’t get weak kneed by power and money. They hold ground and fight back from a higher moral standing. They show the powerful in their true character. The public nowadays doesn’t support witch-hunts and stands by strong women. The educated public is capable of identifying the true heroes and leaders.

2.      Attempts to Divide & Rule on Race & Religion Backfire

Using religion and race to divide people and rule isn’t an effective strategy anymore. With a black half-Christian-half-Muslim man as American President, and a white Italian Catholic woman as party president of Indian congress, the message is clear. Race, gender, age, and colour don’t matter in leadership positions. People follow the leader with the best ideas and capability. Belonging to a certain community may not get any followers now from the educated masses.

3.      Absolutely Impossible to Curb Public Opinion

Technology and globalization has put everyone on an equal footing. Previously a few could control public opinion as they had the contacts and money to influence media. However, social media has given a voice to the public. The general population forms its own opinion. It has also made the old media houses more honest as they lose circulation with carefully planted stories and politically motivated views. With social media, anything can go viral; there are no safe zones to hide dirty deeds. The transparency makes corrupt powerless.

4.      Autocracies are Dead

The changing perceptions of power have made old strategies useless. Earlier leaders could say my way or highway. Some said my way and my way, they wouldn’t even allow a person to take the highway. However, autocracy is no longer a popular leadership style. In the last decade, the number of countries with autocratic regimes has decreased and democratic governments have increased. Business and political leaders need to show democratic and consensus building styles. Surveys show that autocratic leaders – business and political – are losing their jobs at a higher rate than democratic leaders. Hence, a display of muscle power in public domain shows the leader in poor light. Using dictatorship styles will get the dictators in soup rather than the targets.

Closing Thoughts

Power has shifted to the powerless. With the changing society, technology, and economic order, one is likely to see new forms of political power structures in governments and organizations. We are at the threshold of a new era of power dynamics. From a risk management perspective, any risk mitigation policies developed based on old power structures are likely to fail. Hence, risk managers need to look at leadership strategies and related risks from a different lens.

Here is to new beginnings with power in the hands of the people. We can hope the 21st century will bring glory to the masses. Finally, each person can say that wish to live their life on their own terms. I am dedicating to my readers one of my favorite songs – My Way by Frank Sinatra. It beautifully conveys the message.

The Money Worshipers

money worshiper

The Global Index of Religion and Atheism Report 2012 results indicate that just 59 percent of world population was religious last year. Even India, the land of prayers and spirituality is showing a declining trend in belief in God. In 2005, 87% Indians believed in religion. While in 2012, 81% Indians declared themselves religious.

In Indian society,  the focus has shifted on earning money in the last decade. Money has become the new God.

The belief is that money makes one happy, though psychological studies show it is an open question. Some studies show that money does contribute to happiness; some show that beyond a point, money doesn’t add anything to happiness quotient. On the other hand, the law of diminishing returns applies to money as well. Nassim Taleb analysed that after a certain point, the pleasure in earning more money is less than the fear of losing it.

I don’t have the answer to whether money makes a person happier. Yes, it does provide a whole lot of comforts. But beyond that, there are others aspects of life that contribute to happiness. So the question is why we see more people willing to compromise their morals for the sake of money. One hears often this explanation from a person who is compromising morals for money – “You know the world has changed. What to do?” Basically, they are saying – “I have changed and I want to blame my greed on the society rather than take individual responsibility”. We want to avoid analyzing our thoughts and motives deeply, because we will get very unpleasant answers about ourselves.

A joke really sums up these thoughts – A man bought a new Mercedes and parked it in front his house for neighbors to see. While he was getting out of the car, a truck drove close by, and disjointed the door of the car. The man called the police, who came immediately. The man said – “This truck driver damaged my car,  see my car door”. The police officer said – “Sir, do you realize that your arm is also detached”. The man replied – “Oh shit, my Rolex is damaged”. It might sound far-fetched that a person doesn’t realize physical damage to self, but most of us do ignore the internal damage pursuit of money causes us.

Quite a few of our prayers to God revolve around money. God, get me this deal (subconsciously – I will earn a lot of money). God, give me a good spouse (subconsciously – a rich spouse so that I can live in luxury). We are not above bribing God too. We promise to do x,y, z if we get what we want. However, if we face difficult times our faith disappears. We are unhappy and miserable. We don’t think that God may have gifted us the sword to cut our greed. We ourselves can remove the chains tying us to the greed.

Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali displays his profound understanding of the same. The English translation of the incredible verse is below:

He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

 I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand lest a least hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being.

 I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this that follows me in the silent dark? I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not.

 He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger; he adds his loud voice to every word that I utter. He is my own little self, my lord, he knows no shame; but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company.

 ‘Prisoner, tell me, who was it that bound you?’

 ‘It was my master,’ said the prisoner. ‘I thought I could outdo everybody in the world in wealth and power, and I amassed in my own treasure-house the money due to my king.

 When sleep overcame me I lay upon the bed that was for my lord, and on waking up I found I was a prisoner in my own treasure-house.’

 ‘Prisoner, tell me, who was it that wrought this unbreakable chain?”

 ‘It was I,’ said the prisoner, ‘who forged this chain very carefully. I thought my invincible power would hold the world captive leaving me in a freedom undisturbed.

 Thus night and day I worked at the chain with huge fires and cruel hard strokes. When at last the work was done and the links were complete and unbreakable, I found that it held me in its grip’.”

For all our human insight and wisdom, we have tied ourselves in chains. We don’t want to break them, as it will require a lot of strength, so we continue to complain about them. We forget, a rose blooms on a stem of thorns.

Closing thoughts

 When we think about happy times, most of us have some memories of childhood. It was the age of innocence where we couldn’t even count money. All that mattered was the love of our family and the mischief we could get into with our friends. We walk such a long distance in our adult life to pursue things, than be blissful internally. It is out of fashion to discuss it, as the cynics will call us utter fools out of touch with reality. So let me open the question to you.

References:

  1. Global Index of Religion and Atheism Report: Number of Atheists Increased on Global Level
  2. Gitanjai – by Rabindranath Tagore 

 

Guiding Principles of Nelson Mandela

Wishing Mr. Mandela A Very Happy 95th Birthday.

nelson young Mr Mandela inspired South Africans to fight against apartheid and the world population to strive for equality. He led a life of meaning and broke all the chains that imprisoned him and his community. To free his people, he walked over landmines, made prison his political playground and sacrificed his personal life. In his own words –

It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free.”

His life message is clear –  Life is not about whether one lived on bed of roses. It is about how one plucked all the thorns that were hurting and cleared the road ahead for others.

There are very few leaders of his calibre in the world. His autobiography – Long Road to Freedom – draws the essence of the man and his guiding principles.

1)    Privileges by bloodline – I maintain that nurture, rather than nature, is the primary mould of personality

As a child Mr. Mandela was neither the most intelligent or talented in his school. He was average in studies, sports and arts. As a young man he initially didn’t understand the magnitude of racial discrimination and wished just to have a job to support his family. Though he belonged to an esteemed South African family, he realized that wasn’t sufficient. As he said –

“No one knew or even cared that I was a descendant of the illustrious Ngubengcuka. The boarding master received me without a blowing of trumpets and my fellow students did not bow and scrape before me. At Clarkebury, plenty of the boys had distinguished lineages, and I was no longer unique. This was an important lesson, for I suspect I was a bit stuck up in those days. I quickly realized that I had to make my way on the basis of my ability, not my heritage. Most of my classmates could outrun me on the playing field and outthink me in the classroom, and I had a good deal of catching up to do.”

His commitment to the political cause grew over time. He learnt the ropes from his mentors and colleagues. He became a great leader after many trial and errors, failed miserably repeatedly and continued on the journey. His choices made him a great leader. Leaders grow and mature. They are  not born.

2)     Leadership – A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind

Mr Mandela learnt that leader has to be like a shepherd when he attended his regent’s gatherings as a child. He realized that in the  tribal hearings, after explaining the nature of the meeting, the chief listened to everyone and didn’t utter a word.  Some speakers vocally disagreed with him and criticized him, but still their views were valued. Consensus approach was followed and the minority concerns weren’t overlooked in favour of the majority.

He said – “A minority was not to be crushed by majority.” He displayed these principles throughout his leadership. During the freedom struggle he formed alliances with the communists and Indians. On obtaining freedom, he assured the fights that he didn’t want them to take to the sea. They would retain their place and rights in South Africa. They had nothing to be scared of. South Africa was for all people who lived there -white and black.

3)     Dealing with the enemy – Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them.

Nelson Mandela maintained the dignity of his opponents even while they humiliated him at every turn. He learnt the lesson in childhood when he attempted to ride a donkey in front of his friends. The donkey threw him off, he became the butt of the jokes of his friends and lost face. When he regained his freedom after 27 years of captivity, he didn’t hate the white people, he hated the system which dehumanized people. His deep understanding of human nature is narrated below:

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me. It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

4)    Impact of inequality – It was not lack of ability that limited my people, but lack of opportunity.

Around the world, inequalities in income have resulted in the poor and underprivileged struggling for food, clothing, shelter and an education. The blacks were denied fundamental human rights that even took away the option to dream of a glorious life.  His poignant words describe the plight of the people:

“They will cough their lungs out deep in the bowels of the white man’s mines, destroying their health, never seeing the sun, so that the white man can live a life of unequaled prosperity. Among these young men are chiefs who will never rule because we have no power to govern ourselves; soldiers who will never fight for we have no weapons to fight with; scholars who will never teach because we have no place for them to study. The abilities, the intelligence, the promise of these young men will be squandered in their attempt to eke out a living doing the simplest, most mindless chores for the white man.”

Unfortunately, nearly 25% of the world population still is in dire straits because money measures the success of a man. A skyscraper built in a man’s name makes him feel on the top of the world when he just needs to lie on the grass at night and see the stars shining brightly in the sky.

5)      Moral Dilemmas — I thought what I was doing was morally right, I was still uncertain as to whether it was the correct.

A unique attribute of Mr. Mandela’s personality is that he often questioned himself whether he was taking the right decision. He saw both sides of the coin and realized that sometimes there were no easy answers.

One such instance was in his college life. He was on night watch to see that other students followed the rules. However, he saw another student who had similar responsibilities misusing his privileges. He then thought –  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who will guard the guardians themselves?). He wondered whether it was right to report the other students when the one in authority was misusing his?  In another situation he was putting his life on the line and he questioned himself –

“Was I sabotaging my academic career over an abstract moral principle that mattered very little? I found it difficult to swallow the idea that I would sacrifice what I regarded as my obligation to the students for my own selfish interests. I had taken a stand, and I did not want to appear to be a fraud in the eyes of my fellow students. At the same time, I did not want to throw away my career at Fort Hare.”

 6)     Love and family – I do not mean to suggest that the freedom struggle is of a higher moral order than taking care of one’s family. It is not; they are merely different.

Another aspect that he continually questioned was whether he was right in sacrificing his family obligations for the freedom of South African people.

“I wondered — not for the first time — whether one was ever justified in neglecting the welfare of one’s own family in order to fight for the welfare of others. Can there be anything more important than looking after one’s aging mother? Is politics merely a pretext for shirking one’s responsibilities, an excuse for not being able to provide in the way one wanted?”

 Mr. Mandela gave up the joy of living at his home with his wife and children. He never saw his children grow up. He became the father of the nation without being able to enjoy the simple pleasure of being a father to his children.

Closing Thoughts

nelson oldI think all of us wonder how a person can live 27 years in prison, face indignities and humiliations and come out of it with such a remarkable and generous spirit. So I am closing with his inspiring words:

“I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

References:

Long Road to Freedom – Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Malala Yousafzai – The Youngest World Leader

A kid can take on terrorists of the world. This isn’t a joke. Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old education activist from Pakistan did just that. Last year Taliban shot her in the head and killed most of her friends. She recovered after a brain surgery and gave a speech at  the United Nations. She can teach  adults about leadership. . She has shown courage under fire. She has become an inspiration for young children and women to fight for equal rights. She is battling adversity non-violently with determination and persistence for the grater good of humanity.  She has become the voice of the young, has put their cause above her safety and life. Now this is a leader worth following. Below is the speech she gave at United Nations.

We need more youngsters to lead the world. Their idealistic thought process, commitment and courage can change the world. Unfortunately, age has only taught us to be so-called practical realist where the focus is on earning money, building a career and looking after our immediate family. We consider ourselves mature when we are able to put our own selfish interests first and foremost at the cost of harming the world. The old cannot change since the thought process and habits are ingrained in them. They have become jaded and cynical as life has dealt them with many wounds. They didn’t have the courage and character to stop being victims.

The young can build a better world for themselves without relying on the older generation. Take the torch in your own hands to  lead the world. Become an inspiration.

Price of a Soul

Soul

At fourteen, I read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and fell in love with it. It is one of my favorites and last week I read it again. I still found it mind-blowing. This time, Toohey’s character got me thinking.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ellsworth Toohey speaks about his devious plan to portray mediocre people in the media as supremely talented to gain power over public. He planned to rule the world by ruining the thought process of the public, demolishing the careers of great thinkers, and glorifying stupidity.

His conversation with Peter Keating, who was one of his experimental puppets, reveals the crux of human behavior and our vulnerability for exploitation. He said –

“It is only about discovering the lever. If you learn to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It is the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That is why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he will bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself.”

Isn’t this what our education system and media done to us?

When was the last time our teachers taught us – “Lie down on the grass and let your tensions drain away. Look at the vast expanse of sea to be at peace.” They teach students – “Own a lot of land and you will be rich. Get a ship to cross the ocean with your merchandise.”

Our education system on the pretext of teaching fundamentals and preparing us for life, teaches us that conformity, obedience and pursuing a career for success are the greatest virtues. How many schools teach children that creative thinking, being different or spending extraordinary time on hobbies just for simple pleasure of life, is something worth pursuing and achieving?

By teenage, the fashion magazines decide the length of hair, size of waist and color of dress that are suitable for the season. If a teenager refuses to follow, others label the poor kid weird.

As we grow older, the competition becomes of the gadgets we have, than our thoughts and principles. The neighbor has an iPod, Mercedes and x, y and z. So I also want the same. Have we every compared ourselves to say “the neighbor has such excellent thoughts for humanity, works diligently for the benefit of humanity and always  walks the high road on principles, hence, I want to be the same.”

If we aren’t thinking in these lines, then I would say Toohey’s words are correct, our education system and media took our souls not the devil. Moreover, if we are questioning how it has happened, then the following quote of Toohey’s captures the problem though said with a different slant.

“Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it of a goal destructive of all integrity.”

The key is – “Kill integrity by internal corruption.” From childhood, we are taught success matters. Success is equal to money plus position. Organization position gives power. That puts you in top bracket of society. This idea of success destroys all integrity within us. For the sake of money or position, we are willing to make compromises one after another. Without it, we feel small and useless. The drive for money makes the man poor in character and principles. At the start of our careers, we willingly hand over a part of our souls for a few dollars. By the time we retire, we are uncertain whether we have a soul left.

Then we lament on lack of ethics and profess horror on breach of ethics by the people we have put on the pulpit. In most of our adult age, when we haven’t had a serious thought on ethics or made an effort to learn ethical behavior, can we really assume it will occur by itself? We want to delude ourselves into thinking we are a good people, living a principled life because not thinking in those terms will destroy our self-image. . We cannot face the fact that 99% of us have conducted some crime or the other sometime in life. We cannot afford to face reality if we want to live.

Closing thoughts  

Ayn Rand aptly put it – “Enshrine mediocrity and the shrines are erased.” By putting money as a standard for measuring success, we have enshrined mediocrity of character. Nobility of character lost its glory when money epitomized the crowned king of success. They why show surprise, anger or disgust when our much hyped heroes breach ethics. Should we punish them or the society for teaching them the wrong definition of success? Can we punish a person for doing a better sales job on selling their soul than the rest of us?

 

References: 

Free download of the book The Fountainhead.  

India’s Failures In Disaster Management

Floods in North India have left over 70,000 people stranded and 550 dead. Loss to property will run in billions. The on-going rescue efforts are yielding results but very slowly.  The uncoordinated recovery response and efforts indicate lack of disaster management capabilities of the state.

India as a country does not have a properly implemented disaster management system. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India recent report - “Performance Audit Report on Disaster Management of India” highlights glaring deficiencies. Below are some of the key observations from the report. It is sufficient to make Indian citizens sleepless at night.

1.      An Introduction

India with its geo-climatic conditions, high density of population, socio-economic disparities,  politics and troubled relationship with neighboring countries, has high risk of natural and man-made disasters. In respect to natural disasters, it is vulnerable to forest fires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones. Man-made disaster risks are (1)war, bombing, terrorist attacks, and riots, (2) chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear crises, (3) hijacks, train accidents, airplane crashes and shipwrecks, etc.

Government passed the Disaster Management (DM) Act in 2005. According to the act, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was formed under the Prime Minister and the National Executive Committee (NEC) developed National Policy of Disaster Management, which was approved in 2009.

2.      Failure in Formation of Disaster Recovery Plan

Until mid-2012, the National Executive Committee (NEC) had not prepared India’s National Plan for Disaster Management. Surprisingly, though India has faced a major disaster each year since development of DM Act, NEC has not met after May 2008. The Working Group it formed in 2007 never met after that.

Then the buck was passed to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to prepare a National Response Plan (NRP). It directed National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) to prepare the NRP. NIDM submitted a draft plan in April 2012, which was circulated by MHA to other departments.

The other two components of the National Plan for Disaster Management are National Mitigation Plan and National Capacity Building Plan. While the latter is still under preparation, some departments have submitted the mitigation plans.

Things are equally bad at State level. Just 14 states have submitted their State Disaster Management Plan.  The lackadaisical attitude shows government’s complete disregard towards national and human safety.

3.      Performance of National Disaster Management Authority

The CAG report states that – “So far, no major project taken by NDMA has seen completion. It was noticed that NDMA selected projects without proper groundwork, and as a result either the projects were abundant midway or were incomplete after a considerable period of time.”

The projects included earthquake vulnerability risk assessment, micro zonation of major cities, landslide risk assessment, national flood risk mitigation, national school safety program, mobile radiation detection system, national disaster communication system, etc. The natures of the projects indicate their criticality and importance for disaster management. Even the hazard maps for earthquakes, landslides, cyclone, tsunami and floods are incomplete or unavailable. Without these maps, the government is not even in a position to identify the high-risk areas.

The main reasons for delays in disaster management project planning are lack of committed groups, failure in communicating and coordinating with various ministries, shortage of staff and insufficient knowledge and expertise in these fields. Though funds were approved and allocated for various phases, things just haven’t got beyond conceptualization stage.

4.      Mis-utilization of Funds

Government constituted National Disaster Response Fund and State Disaster Response Fund to deal with the disasters. The government approved Rs 33,580.93 crores for State Disaster Response Funds for a period of five years – 2010-2015. The report indicates that Ministry of Home Affairs is not receiving appropriate information from states on utilization of funds. Audit findings reveal that some states have misutilized funds for expenditures that were not sanctioned for disaster management. There was in a few cases significant delay in releasing funds. Additionally, some States didn’t invest the funds thereby incurring huge interest losses. This shows financial indiscipline in states management of funds.

Secondly, a separate National Disaster Mitigation Fund was to be constituted for reconstruction and restoration activities after the disaster. However, this has not been done till date. The States were required to form State Disaster Mitigation Fund and District Disaster Mitigation Fund. Quite a few states haven’t created the funds. Uttarakhand, the state reeling from floods, has just a State Disaster Mitigation Fund.

The situation is so bad, that the National Disaster Response Reserve of Rs 250 crores to buy relief material (blankets, tents, etc.) was not operational until audit time.

5.      Disaster Management Communication

Department of Space commenced a Disaster Management Support programme in March 2003. The main seven projects started between 2003 to 2007 are incomplete till 2012. These are namely – National Disaster Management Informatics System, National Disaster Communication Network, Doppler Weather Radars, Satellite Based Network for Disaster Communication, Disaster Management Synthetic Aperture Radar, Airborne laser Terrain Mapping and Digital camera System and National Disaster for Emergency Management. Presently, if a disaster strikes and regular communication networks go down, there are no contingency methods available for communication to a disaster-hit area.

6.      National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)

Ten Central Armed Police Forces battalions were formed of 1149 posts each. 27% of the posts were vacant in May 2012. The NDRF personnel don’t have sufficient training, facilities, equipment, and residential accommodation. With these constraints, it is difficult to imagine that they can effectively manage disasters.

Till recently, they didn’t even have deployment guidelines. In a few instances, they were deployed during elections. In one instance, they reached the disaster site without food, water, or tents for themselves. The local authorities had to give the same.

Up to June 2012, just seven states have constituted State Disaster Response Force. Even the local Regional Response Centres are ill equipped.

The impact can be seen at the local fire services level also. As per the Thirteenth Finance Commission, deficiencies in fire services are alarming. 97.54% of the country doesn’t have fire stations, 96.28% doesn’t have fire-fighting personnel, and 80.04% doesn’t have fire fighting and rescue vehicles. Shortage of trained manpower, vehicles, and equipment plague the existing fire service centers.

Locally, the states do have not mobile hospitals and trained trauma management doctors. There are no real medical facilities available for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear disasters at national level. This is seriously a pathetic state of affairs. Government bodies are showing no concern for human life.

Closing Thoughts

After reading the report, I realized that Indians have just one option at present – pray to God that disaster doesn’t strike in their region. The governments at national, state and district levels have shown a negligent attitude towards disaster management. This is a classic case – funds are available but nothing has been done to implement the plan. Indian citizens can check with the local politicians and government bodies to assess the level of preparedness for disaster management. If required, local bodies can be formed in different constituencies and societies to act as disaster management task force. As it is a question of citizen safety, public activism will help in developing adequate disaster management capabilities.

References:

CAG Report – Performance Audit Report on Disaster Management of India