The Unfreedom Of India

Posted on by Nachlasse and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Returning from a month’s trip to India, it’s clear to see that rubbish disposal is a huge problem. Talking to the locals, the main consensus is due to corruption of government, therefore lack of bins, cleaners and care for the land. I will not disagree that this is a huge point, but all the same I would like to approach it from a different perspective.

I perceive that the Indians have no notion of ‘personal space.’ It could be due to overcrowding/lack of physical space, therefore their perceptions come from their environment. However, I believe it’s due more to the caste system. The olden culture of the castes in India relies on personal relations in order to establish a way of social hierarchy, relying on direct relations as it’s economic value. There is no space between both parties to agree/disagree on the transaction, economic deals go directly through the social caste. This culture still remains partially.

Therefore with no personal space, all the space around them is perceived as public, as the other’s space. You can litter on the streets of the other.

Also, a slightly silly point: that Indians have no formal way of expressing thanks. Their answers are usually ambiguous: ‘Fine’ or the headshake which means nothing out of their context. This inconclusiveness perhaps shows a kind of victimization, of resignation/ acceptance to fate.

The lack of personal freedom/space allows them claim to everyone else’s space.

I’d sincerely appreciate it if you tell me how wrong I am. 

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11 Responses to The Unfreedom Of India

  1. Guy Fox says:

    1. Personal space as a concept might have been invented to help sell hand sanitizer and deodorant. It might be a holdover from some prudish old religious traditions. I haven’t done the genealogy, but there’s no reason to believe that personal space is necessary, universal, eternal or good.
    2. The lack of a means to express thanks could also be read in exactly opposite direction, i.e. that to express thanks would reinforce one’s being beholden to someone else, would reinforce hierarchy. Imagine some perfect Marxist utopia. Do people still thank each other, or does holding everything communally at some point obviate the need/utility for thanking?

    Oh, and you’re wrong, wrong, so very wrong! Stop playing amateur Ruth Benedict. That’ll be $49.99.

    • Nachlasse says:

      Thanks for your reply, Guy.

      Firstly, sure – personal space could have been an invention of capitalism, or from ancient traditions or anywhere else. But, the question is, does it exist now, today? And if it does, how does it affect us?

      Any form of civilisation can be equated to a non-freedom in regards to littering. Civilisation can be said to be a respecting of the Other’s symbolic rules. In that regard, western civilisation respects that non-freedom to non-litter, even if it comes internally in the form of identity: “if i litter, i’m uncool.” In North Korea, the external rule is non-litter so nobody does, or else consequences are abound.

      In either scenarios, there is no personal space to do otherwise.

      But for the litterbugs in India, I believe they have no personal space externally. The only freedom they have is inside, which extends to whatever limited space they have outside. No civilisation so no non-freedom. That’s why they have the nonchalance to littering or other public space misdeeds.

      As much as I know what I’m saying is probably wrong, I would really like you to break all of what i’m saying up. Not just telling me there’s no reason to believe this is this.

      Secondly, your point can also be put to my advantage. I agree that a communal way of life might obviate thanking, but isn’t that like the indian way of life? That a way of life is already set, that there is no avoiding it. That fate is what is as it is.

      In my original post I do not mean that the Indians are still adhereing to the caste systems, what I instead believe is that as the systems are no longer much in use, the perspective of life, their culture still retains that notions that things are what it is and you just do what life requires you to do.

      Thanks for the reply again. Cash or cheque?

  2. Minerva says:

    The locals are right.

    Walk around a lake in Germany. You’ll find no garbage, despite an abundance of visitors from every conceivable cultural background. And yes, there are garbage cans everywhere which are emptied regularly.

    Most people want to do the right thing but you have to make it easy for them.

  3. MikeWC says:

    Therefore with no personal space, all the space around them is perceived as public, as the other’s space. You can litter on the streets of the other.

    I really think there is something to this. I live in South Korea, and have thought along these lines many times, though as a mirror image.

    Streets are not perfectly free of liter; some areas are pristine, others can be fairly dirty. But there is a near total absence of graffiti, and very little vandalism. Every personal items are basically safe; computers and ipads are left unattended in coffee shops. Drunken people pass out on benches and their wallets fall out of their pocket – theft is remarkably rare.

    On the other hand, one’s personal appearance is fair game for comments. Not in the nasty way that women around the world put up with (though of course that exists here) but just as commentary – “you’re fat” is just a thing people say, without intent to shame.

    So you say that in India all space is public space; I’m inclined to say that in Korea, all space is private space, and we all in each other’s private space all the time. That sounds like a contradiction, like I’m just describing public space, but what else could explain the lack of vandalism and theft, and the assumption that it is ok to comment on another’s appearance? Because we all already own each other and everything. Everything is private, so private that it comes back around to a weird version of publicness.

  4. FreeSocrates says:

    There is definately something to what you are saying.

    I actually just finished the book above, and it was a really great read. Though this book was written in 1975 – it sounds like it might still apply to India today. If not more so than it did then.

  5. triliana says:

    You can’t blame everything in India on the caste system.

    Texans have more sense of personal space than New Yorkers. It is absolutely directly due to the population issue. India is a third the size of the United States and has three times the number of people.

    There is a general lack of the Western civic sense (litter in the roads, etc.) and although class *may* play into it (it’s someone else’s job to pick it up), everyone, from the MP’s son in his Mercedes to his driver, is dropping their ice cream wrapper in the road. It’s not just something the rich do to oppress the poor, or the Brahmins do to oppress the Shudras, or whatever. The lack of civic sense is widespread and I don’t think it has anything to do with caste at all. I think it has more to do with the lack of proper bins to drop things in and keeping things neat and clean not being a priority.

    If you absolutely must reduce things to a duality when thinking about India, think of it this way. India, in general, has a culture of scarcity. Lots of people are competing for few resources. Priorities, as you can imagine, will be different from where you are from – which has a culture of abundance. Working government (even if you don’t agree with it), running water, constant electricity, relative gender equality. You simply cannot judge India with a Western yardstick.

    Also, about that thank you thing, there are definitely words for thank you in Hindi and other Indian languages (dhanyavaad and shukriya) but they are used in formal situations and do carry a bit of connotation of indebtedness. You don’t just run around thanking everyone for doing things for you. They will do them for you because they are paid to, or because they are your friend or family and that’s just what friends and family *do.* There is a lot more emphasis on what is done than on what is said. Anyone can say one thing and do the opposite. In the West we say thank you without even meaning it, because it’s “polite.” What else do we say without meaning it? How are you? I’m sorry? I love you?

  6. RK says:

    I think Nachlasse has some excellent insights here, and it does indeed apply to around 80% of the population which lives on less than a dollar a day. It isn’t necessarily about caste, but the more affluent you are (we Indians have a word for that- “aukad”) the more you can afford to have your own space. Check this link out:

    (The house in the background is meant for 4 people alone. The slums in front house over 20,000).

  7. misanthrope says:

    Just found this post and thought I’d comment. Littering in India does have to do with notions of private vs public space, but in a different sense. Indians think (or traditionally thought) of space not as private vs public but as inside and outside. The inside–the home, inner space– is to be kept as clean as possible; it is safe space. Outside is the space of commerce, of opportunity but also pollution, of danger. It is not public in the sense of belonging to everyone, but rather in the sense of belonging to no one. Therefore, littering is okay because it is already no one’s space, it is already impure and dangerous. This was of course the way of thinking before the introduction of colonialism and capitalism. Some people are more conscious of not littering, and perhaps with time and an increasing entrenchment of capitalism, where public health and lost productivity become concerns, this will change. The corruption and lack of amenities, of course, worsen the problem.
    There’s a good analysis of this in this piece: