Eighty-eight years ago, Indians had responded to Mahatma Gandhi’s unifying call for a non-violent, mass ‘civil disobedience’ movement to force the British to leave India. It provided the momentum that eventually secured our country’s independence in 1947.
Today, India needs another mass movement. But this time it has to be all about ‘civil obedience’, which means citizens taking pride in their heritage and not only abiding by the laws of the country but also demonstrating their best civic behaviour.
It means taking our civic responsibilities seriously to play an active role in enabling good local governance and ensuring better transparency and accountability from our elected leaders.
High Cost of Civic Indiscipline
Civic indiscipline comes at a cost. Just consider the cost of our failure to obey road safety rules. In India, more than 150,000 people are killed each year in traffic accidents. That’s about 400 fatalities a day and far higher than developed automobile markets like the U.S., which in 2016 logged about 40,000 deaths, Bloomberg News reported earlier this year.
The Indian economy takes a 3% hit every year due to road traffic accidents, which is over US$58,000 million in terms of value, a study conducted by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) found in 2016.
It is unfortunate that so many lives are lost in our country every day just because a majority of Indians cannot be bothered to follow traffic rules.
But traffic indiscipline is just one part of the story. If we were to add the economic fallout due to littering, non-segregation of solid waste, defacing public assets, paying bribes, non-payment of taxes, imagine the high economic cost we pay!
We are squandering away the prosperity that could have been ours if we were more disciplined and responsible as citizens!
Civic Action for Good
There is hope yet. We are witnessing a rising spirit of public consciousness in our country.
Over the past few years, there have been several mass mobilizations around India, with thousands of people taking to the streets to support a common cause, notably women’s safety. These protests led to the definition of rape being expanded and harsher punishment recommended for rapists in India.
My city Bengaluru has been at the forefront of civic activism for a while now. Several spontaneous citizen movements against the apathy of the political class and the civic administration have yielded positive results.
One of the biggest successes for citizens’ groups in Bengaluru was the #SteelFlyoverBeda campaign in 2016, when thousands of citizens protested to force the state government into ditching its plans to build a steel flyover, which would have led to the loss of substantial tree cover in the city.
Civic activism around the rejuvenation of Bengaluru’s dying lakes is also gathering momentum and making a difference on the ground. Citizens’ groups are working with the Bengaluru municipal authority to not only revive lakes but also find sustainable solutions for their management and upkeep.
Through the Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), of which I am a part, we are trying to motivate ordinary Bengaluru citizens to engage proactively with government and civic bodies to tackle the issues plaguing the city. An apolitical organization, we have championed participative democracy, promoted women and child safety, spoken up for heritage protection, introduced sustainability initiatives by promoting waste management programs in schools, driving #KilBill campaign to support BBMP’s initiative to clear the city of illegal flex banners, which is an unmanageable political pollution.
One of B.PAC’s most noteworthy programs, which has truly made a difference, is the B.PAC Civic Leadership Incubator Program (B.CLIP). This program is grooming leaders of the future, who are passionate about socio-political issues and are willing to dedicate their lives to ushering in positive change. B.CLIP has trained motivated citizens to participate effectively as civic leaders at the grassroots level and address pressing problems.
B.PAC today has emerged as a powerful pressure group in bringing about a transparent and accountable political and administrative system in the city.
Citizens’ groups like B.PAC and others have ensured that the agenda for ‘Revitalisation of school education and higher education’ is included in Karnataka’s Vision 2025 document. The goals include assuring compulsory education for all children in the state in the age group 3 – 18 years by modifying school education system and achieving a 100% Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) in school education, as well as, achieving quality of school education equivalent to international standards with at least 75% of the students achieving 75% of learning outcomes.
In Bengaluru various Citizens’ groups are working tirelessly to catalyse social change, enable good governance and ensure a better life for all Bengalureans. They are successfully demonstrating that citizen engagement is an indispensable pillar of governance in a developed and functioning democracy.
The Bengaluru model of citizen participation needs to be adopted across the nation with the common objective of taking up the responsibility of improving governance and quality of life in our cities.
Reclaiming the National Narrative
If we really want to honor our country and pay our respects to the thousands who gave up their lives during India’s struggle for Independence, the least we can do is resolve to be law-abiding and civic conscious citizens.
We need to get involved, to demand better governance through engagement, to start taking charge of the national narrative. We the citizens of India cannot afford to stay apathetic and silent. We need to make our voices heard and more importantly come together as RWAs, clubs and apolitical associations to find solutions to our problems.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “To safeguard democracy, the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect, and their oneness.”
Democracy works best when it is hands-on and driven by voluntary action. So this Independence Day, let us aim at being the change agents for a prosperous, responsible and equitable India.
Each one of us should aspire to be model citizens with strong integrity and high social and moral values, who follow the law of the land not out of fear of getting caught and punished, but rather out of a desire to act in a socially responsible manner.