I don’t subscribe to the view that natural disasters are an instrument of God’s wrath aimed at tempering man’s insolence. I see them as a test that we are subjected to every once in a while to gauge our growth as a species. The Japanese Tsunami of 2011 demonstrated the Japanese people’s resilience and discipline. There was barely any looting and I’ve seen photographs of people lined outside 7-11s in an orderly fashion for basic supplies.
Similarly, the severe flooding in Calgary showcased the indomitable spirit of compassion present in Canadian society. I heard on the Radio that one fellow drove to Calgary and began pumping water out of people’s basements for free. Various blogs and media outlets were full of stories centred around providing shelter to strangers. Menonite churches began sheltering people and once the word was out, volunteers began bringing in food to the church. Both of these societies are driven by different values that have produced the same result. The Japanese believe in conformity and putting the good of their race and nation above personal interests. The Canadians, being westerners, are motivated by the morally universal ethics of compassion and charity as stressed by the Bible. Moral universalism can only be the product of an individualist society and Calgarians have carried themselves with dignity throughout this crisis.
How do Indians respond to crisis? The recent flooding in Uttarakhand should serve as an adequate example for analyzing the values of India’s Hinduized society. Disasters bring out the true character of a society’s values as illustrated above and India is no exception. The floods adequately showcased the two dominant values of Indian society: Opportunism and Pessimism. Uttarkhand is a popular pilgrim destination for Hindus and during the chaos many of these pilgrims were cut of from food and transport. Far from offering these displaced people food and shelter, the locals began selling them the most basic supplies at exorbitant prices. Veteran Indian journalist Aakar Patel writes:
“Harmanpreet, a 3-year-old Sikh pilgrim to Hemkund Sahib, said he was asked to pay Rs.500 for a rice-bowl and Rs.180 for a roti.
Harmanpreet, along with his two brothers and grandfather, “starved for a marathon 43 hours and resisted their hunger pangs until his grandfather spotted Harmanpreet scavenging on garbage picker’s collected food. On Friday, upon his return aboard Punjab government bus, the teenager and his family broke into tears, while narrating harrowing tales of trauma of spending five days with little or no food.
“Locals refused to waste their own food on us. They started screaming at us, asking us to run away from their neighbourhood as water reached their terraces.” When they managed to secure transport, they were asked to pay Rs.15,000 for a 200km journey for four people, according to the boy’s grandfather Balwant Singh.
But one encounters similar tales when reading about the public response to many of the disasters that have plagued India in the past. Regarding the famine of Gujarat in 1900 (referred to colloquially as ‘Chappaniyo dukaal’), Aakar Patel continues by quoting Bhailalbhai Patel:
““The cities of Gujarat had money during the Chhapaniyo. The textile mills had started about half a century earlier and they were now well established. There were many wealthy people in the cities but it did not occur to any of them to step in to save people from dying.”
Patel wrote that
“lakhs of rupees (ie Hundreds of thousands) lay in the coffers of the Swaminarayan temples. The wealth in the Jain temples multiplied as interest gathered upon interest generated by the fortune there. Yet not one dharmaguru had the good sense to keep alive the starving people by generating work for them. The well-to-do lovers of the Hindu religion, who profess to believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakam did not think of extending a hand.
“Only foreign priests believing in a foreign religion felt compassion for the multitude. They begged for funds in Europe and America and used the money to rescue lakhs of people from the jaws of death without a thought to their caste or status. A majority of Gujarati Christians today are those who survived due to the mercy of these foreign padres.”
India’s Hinduized caste ridden culture is a natural foe to fraternity and moral universalism. Even if caste barriers seem to be breaking down today, centuries of forced segregation have all but eroded the Indian’s sense of compassion for his fellow man. India’s culture also divorces ethics from piety where a liar and cheat can still be considered pious so long as he fulfils his ”dharma” (religious obligations). Some Hindu apologists claim that Dharma is a code of morality but this is false as Hindu theology fails to differentiate ritual injunctions from moral ones.
The politically correct western media dutifully reported how ”outraged” Indians were when news of the stories above reached them. However such ”outrage” is generally shallow and short lived in India. The floods of Uttarakhand and Calgary occurred within a short interval of one another and perhaps Indians need to reevaluate their appraisal of the situation; that this disaster wasn’t a punishment from God but a nudge to learn basic civilization from their betters in the West.