Indians' disregard for human life all too evident

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am


Nothing will change after the inferno at a top Calcutta private hospital recently in which at least 90 people died. India has gone through the obligatory drill: protestations by politicians that such a tragedy must never happen again, outpourings of indignation in the media and on the internet, and candle-light vigils for the dead. But it will soon be back to normal.

The fire, at Amri Hospital, was gruesome; but such disasters are routine. They happen in trains, wedding halls, schools, markets, mental asylums and slums. I suspect that a combination of four factors is responsible: nonchalance, Hindu fatalism, rampant individualism and corruption.

You can see the casual approach to safety every day on the roads where motorcyclists careen gaily, leaving miniscule amounts of space between themselves and other vehicles. Likewise, when it comes to people's homes; they are built on a larger-than-permitted area and the result is that the roads between the houses are so narrow that no fire engine can squeeze through. The people living in the homes are unperturbed because that is the norm. Safety regulations are ignored. Fire stairways and evacuation drills are rare. This insouciance is so deeply embedded in the culture that Indians barely notice.

Then there's the controversial topic of Hindu fatalism. If everything is in the hands of the gods, events are predetermined and catastrophes are bound to happen, then why bother taking precautions or preventive measures? What can any individual possibly do against the force of fate?

That's why Hindus are obsessed with astrologers: given that misfortunes are destined to occur, they are desperate to learn about them in advance, to try to minimise any personal damage. Sadly that's as far as it goes; if only this aspect of fatalism were applied to society as a whole, it would result in much better public safety awareness and preventive measures.

Corruption makes it possible for safety violations to be ignored. Municipal officials can be bribed to provide a certificate showing that all regulations have been complied with. This corruption is, in turn, linked to the lack of basic regard for one another that you see all over India. It's everyone for him or her self. As long as you can make some money renting out wedding venues that are death traps, why should you care about other people's welfare?

The crux is that Indians do not value human life. The latest tragedy, in which scores of people died after drinking toxic alcohol in West Bengal, merely validates my point. No one ever learns and nothing ever changes.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India