Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What YOU can do about it.

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." said John F. Kennedy, at a commencement address in Yale in 1962.
["...much less the discomfort of action", adds Raaji, a reader.]


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My parents are regular readers of my blog. They do comment, but very rarely on the blog. The bouquets and the brickbats are given to me offline. :)

My father watched the heated discussion on this post, and zeroed in upon the repeated complaints about infrastructure and the feeling that we cannot do anything about it.

This is what he wrote to me (modified slightly by me).

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I have been following keenly the post on Bangalore and the numerous comments. One of the concerns which is clearly coming out is the feeling of "helplessness" to improve infrastructural woes of Bangalore and also that nothing can be done by us as individuals.

Well, I tend to second the suggestions by the noted consumer activist and writer, Shakuntala Narasimhan. One clear message from her to the citizens is that one should protest whenever the situation calls for it. The citizen should put forth his views to the organizations meant to provide civic amenities like electricity, water, transport, health, education and the like.

If we do not do anything, nothing will happen anyway. However, if we assert our rights to get a fair deal from these entities, something "could" happen. If more people do it, certainly, it will be difficult to ignore the voice of the people. Therefore let us decide to "speak" and not be silent. This can be done by sending mails, personal meetings, demonstrations or whatever.
Since e-mail is convenient, the least we could do is to keep sending mails -
1) Directly to the departments and the chiefs concerned
2) To the media (newspapers, magazines, TV)
3) Consumer action groups.

One more point. Let us not assume that all officials/employees in the utilities are indifferent. After all they are also like us. There are sane voices within these behemoths. I was told by an official in one such organization that he spoke to his boss about some suggestions he had for bringing about improvements, quoting the inconvenience being caused to the public. The boss asked him whether anyone had complained, or whether he had any written complaints to show. He had none. The boss waved him off, saying that in that case, it must be a non-issue. And there ended the matter. Our action to register our views will strengthen the hands of this minority.

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I think it makes sense. I later discussed it with my father, and we agreed that there are two small obstacles.

1) It might not be easy to get hold of the email ids of all the relevant organizations. Writing letters is always an option, but more and more people are moving away from it, citing lack of time.
But this is not an insurmountable obstacle. If we have the will, we can find out.

2) We might not get any response or see any action for a long, long time. We need a lot of time and patience. So it is very difficult to sustain the initial enthusiasm. Not everybody can be as stubborn and strong-willed as Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption, can they?
There must be some way to sustain the interest. Form a group? Take turns in writing?

What are your thoughts on this? Any suggestions? Any ideas? Your inputs will be appreciated.

19 comments:

Anu said...

Now we are getting down to business!! I enjoyed the previous post about Bangalore, and it is good that you have followed it up with this. There are already citizens' groups working towards 'being heard' i came across the website of 'janagraha' and it seems to be a step in the right direction. http://www.janaagraha.org/

Nirwa said...

Umm.. Shruthi, this is not related to the post, but Your Parents read your blog????? My parents don't even know that I blog! :P And if my dad would read some of the posts I've dedicated to him, he might just disown me!!

And if you ask me for suggestions, I am absolutely clueless! :)

Nice post, though! :)

Nirwa

Anitha said...

very recently my father-in-law had sent an e-mail to the chief minister's office about some public inconvenience (there was a Nirmal pay and use toilet near our house , which was closed for whatever reason and people started using the road instead)...
He got a prompt reply from the chief minister's office saying that he would look into the matter ...
After few weeks again there was a letter from the chief minister's office that they have raised the matter with the relevant area BMP and they will look into it ...(They had also sent the copy of the letter sent to BMP office ) ...
But as far as we are concerned it is back to square one .. because the area BMP knows that the problem exists , because they did not do anything my F-I-L had raised the issue with CM's office ..

All these correspondence requires lot of time and patience ... Time is something which we are all running short of ... especially if it requires that we need to be physically at home to reply to them..

Web based / e-mail based communication is the best thing

Shruthi said...

Anu: Oh yes, Janaagraha. I keep hearing that it runs into red tape too often, and is not able to do the kind of work it could. I am not too familiar with what they have done, and not done, so I will refrain from commenting further. But yes, definitely, there is one group worthy of emulation.

Nirwa: They most certainly do! And they enjoy it too! :) I am sure your dad would like reading your posts too ;) Why don't you give it a try? ;)

Anitha: Hmmm.. very familiar story, right? I forgot to mention "patience" in my post - very important indeed, much more than time.
Actually my mother does her bit for the road she lives in. Constantly calling up corporators and the like, and getting bushes cleared, roads cleaned. It does work.
Probably mails and letters are easy to ignore? But what if they are sent constantly?

chitra said...

Yuppu....bug them till they cannot ignore it ! It works...it definitely works.....

Anonymous said...

It would be more than an achievement if this post can get atleast as many comments as the connected one had. All the best to your blog revolution.
- Raaji

Supremus said...

Lovely stuff.

this is exxactly what is needed - instead of complaining and bitching, ppl should try to make their voices heard. I thought janaagraha is a good idea too.

Suyog

anoop said...

yes, we should cease to exist just as talkers and convert some energy spent in talking into concrete efforts.
I feel its about time, when youth like us who are financially stable should start doing our bit to improve the current situation.

I wil try to list down some possible activities that are practical also:
*Im definitely not advicing anyone to shout slogans against government, have demonstrations. But we should have a means of contacting the government representative(corporator), maybe by forming a group of responsible people from the effected constituencies. Im sure when there is a group involved anyone has to take notice, and then there is the media to be used.
*We being educated, responsible citizens of this country, have we ever tried to get more info on the development activities going on in our area. for ex: the money sanctioned for a road work, have we ever complained on the poor quality of the road. we dont have to do much, but, just small things like; keeping tab of the activities going on, when will they finish, whos responsible for the activity, if to complain whom to complain to.. etc.
*there should be other useful things than just complaining that we can do to assist our government in improving the situation. nothings coming to my mind as of now. maybe other readers can suggest something.

myself, have not done any of the above things that i have written, but am very much eager to start doing them..

Its the mindset that has to change, not the country..

Shruthi said...

Chitra: Yes :) Need that kind of positive response from people :))

Raaji: I doubt it, Raaji! It is very easy to complain and crib. When it comes to thinking and doing, most people shrink from it. Yes, I am not excluding myself, but I think I at least have the will to do something...
Thanks!

Shruthi said...

Supremus: Thank you! :)

Anoop: Great suggestions! Thanks a lot!
Its the mindset that has to change, not the country - So true - if the mindset changes, so will the country. Automatically.
I have not been doing anything much about it either, Anoop, but I want to start.

Anonymous said...

Rightly put shruthi. My brother often says "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought, much less the discomfort of action." (I don't know where he got this from though).
- Raaji

Shruthi said...

Raaji: Thanks a ton for that wonderful quote. I googled for it, found out that JFK said it, and have updated it in my post. I have credited you for it. Please have a look.

Vinayak said...

It is sad to see people cribbing only, and not taking any action to analyse why they crib. Like you say, the mindset needs to change. take for example, the traffic during peak hours in Bangalore city. I willing to bet my life on it, the people who crib the most are guys in cars. And these guys are travelling alone! Thats around 30 sq ft for one person, taken up on the road. Imagine a scenarioo with about a million such people. Doomsday, inn'it? These guys heard of Carpools, or company transport??

We have degenrated into a society that just plays the blame game, and is unwilling to take up social responsibility

Harish N Jeyavel said...

Wonder if i messed anything up with my comments, anyway, here is something i commented if thats lost,

Response by officials to emails would still surprise me, although some do follow up promptly, most prefer a game of Solitaire on their comps to answering or acting on an email.

I dont have any statistics or scientific evidence, but i feel when it come to Govt. officials, their response it better to a letter compared to an email, personally i prefer a hand written letter to a typed or printed one.

Approaching the department's chief or superior officers and consumer action groups is a good thing to get things done. Personally i havent gone to the media, and would prefer it as the last resort.

I do have a pdf document with emails and contact address of some Govt. agencies, some official and some NGO's, the link is here. not sure if the mumbers are still the same and if they update their website.

Forming a group and taking turns to write could help, Shruthi, i'd be glad to do my part if given the opportunity, but one needs to be focussed and not deviate from the goals and set limits. How about a group blog or a user group?

I'm just a bit tired to comment on other comments now, anyway i dont want to deviate (i tend to hit back at people who only have good intentions)

But just one thing, as Rajji points out if this could get as much comments as your other post, Shruthi, dont you see the similarites with the recent riots? we people here happen to be educated, hence we would not riot but that dosent stop us from hurting others feelings and spark off some sort of debate although not violent, i guess we are all frustrated in a way!

would it be a good idea to get contact the commentators and ask them to take the Janaagraha's Citizen Quotient (CQ) Self Test ?
The test though does have a small glitch in its scoring.

Shruthi said...

Vinayak: Right. Actually maybe awareness is nil, or even if it is present, there is lethargy to act accordingly. That warrants a post of its own! :O

Jeyavel: Thank you for the links! I did take the Janagraha citizen quotient test, following the link from your blog. I did not need to add up anything to see that I scored pretty low in it. There you have it. The painful realization hit me - I am a terribly passive citizen.
Group blogs or user groups might help. Needs some thought. Will work on this.

raj plus said...

I admire the commitment and zeal that runs in your family, Shruthi.

I used to hear such good reports about the work being done by the Bangalore Action Task Force (BATF) in gathering public opinion, engaging the local citizens in admin processes, ensuring a semblence of accountability ( for example, 100% of property tax collected in one area would be used up for constructive projects in same area).

In fact, we had invited the BATF team to Chennai to replicate the model here.

One day the BATF simply folded up!

But it was an excellent initiative and I hope that it is revived in some form or other.

Ashok Karanth said...

Ever been cheated by an auto driver with a faulty meter? Stupid question perhaps. My mom was, and she called up the local RTO with the auto reg. number. They asked her to call the other RTO where this auto was registered. That RTO noted the complaint, but asked her to send a written complaint as well. Now how many people write any letter anymore - let alone to the RTO? So we called up the Transport Commissioner's office in Blore, and requested them to make changes to the complaint system to accept emails and phone complaints and publicise the same. His office asked us to send an email regarding the same - so we have done that. Now if more and more people call/send emails/write letters - I am certain they will change the system. Go for it - it is not the 20 Rs that matter!

Anil The Great said...

well, we can do something about it.

we can form a chapter of different cities and talk about it. And we can use the contacts of our blogger friends and other pals who are in media and News agencies. And after all that , we can hold a march against the officals , once we get sufficient number of people.

It sounds a little unrealitic, but together we can make it a reality.

-ATG

Shruthi said...

Raj plus: Thanks! But there is a great deal to be done, yet!
BATF? Yes, I have heard of this, but it kind of disappeared, didn't it? Wonder why. Thanks for mentioning this. I need to look it up.

Ashok Karanth: Great start :) My parents have tried this too - I think they were told that the matter would be looked into. Lots of time and patience needed to follow it up.
And you are absolutely right - its not the money, its the principle of the thing. I have been generous with polite and helpful autodrivers. But I fight tooth and nail for one rupee, if I think the auto driver has cheated me.
Btw I think email ids have already been introduced in most of these organizations. Maybe it has just not caught on.

Anil: According to me, a demonstration should be the last resort. Unless we try milder means, we should not really go in for extreme reactions. But yes, we could get hold of people who are already doing something about this, and proceed from there.

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