India and the Value of Human Life

Amid the euphoria and excitement around India's ongoing ascendency to one of the world's leading economic and political powers, have we been completely forgetting or consciously ignoring the exponential drop in the value of a common Indian's life?

Utkarsh Sharma

10/23/20233 min read

girl and woman sitting beside cart
girl and woman sitting beside cart

Value of a human life is a tricky metric to measure, almost impossible to quantify.

While economists may think otherwise and balk at the above generalization, this has nothing to do with numbers and percentages. It has nothing to do with literacy rates, mortality numbers, or GDP per capita figures. The statement is a summary of how inured India as a nation has become to completely preventable deaths and injuries.

Pick up any day's newspaper and there would be scores of snippets about people dying in freak accidents on highways, labourers getting crushed or falling from height at construction sites, women getting raped and murdered in both rural as well as urban areas, people falling prey to seemingly natural but actually man-made calamities, dozens getting fatally caught in stampedes during large congregations, etc. Most of such incidents would lead to ferocious outcries in developed nations and initiate public as well as political debates and introspection whereas in India we have become so accustomed to them that there is little public reaction to regular 'incidents'. Only events as disturbing and inhuman as Nirbhaya and Manipur incidents are able to wake us up from our collective stupor.

At the root of the problem is the 'chalta-hai' or 'jugaadu' mindset that has sunk so deep into our collective existence that it has become a way of life for all of us. It's one thing to be frugal but another to violate all possible safety and civic rules with impunity just to save time, cost and effort. Unfortunately, our leaders, bureaucrats, administrators, and their supporting staff i.e., almost the entire government machinery has become consumed by this disease inasmuch as they have become a part of the problem. All in all, both the government representatives and the citizens they represent are gripped with this 'chalta-hai' phenomenon.

We, as a country, feel okay when we come across poor governance - unplanned residential areas, badly designed road network with improper support facilities, unsafe last mile connectivity especially for suburban and rural areas, inadequate policing and surveillance, delayed or poorly executed projects owing to complete lack of sync between local civic agencies, waste (mis)management by city municipalities, gross neglect of government schools and colleges, criminal neglect of the homeless, etc. The common response from us is to serve some expletives to nameless government executives and move on. Noone cares to question the authorities and seek a solution. Eventually what we collectively accept is what we are served year after year by the authorities.

This 'chalta-hai' attitude or in other words the acceptance of the status quo is what has contributed greatly to the exponential reduction in the value of an Indian life. When the city, state and the authorities themselves believe that providing sub-standard governance to the general public is fine and the people too accept the services as is, loss of lives is inevitable. There is no explanation for deaths in accidents due to potholes, unlit highways and poor speed control. There is no explanation for deaths due to electrocution and seasonal flooding. There is no explanation for deaths due to stampedes at congregations and collapse of bridges. There is no explanation of deaths due to summer heat and winter cold. There is no explanation of deaths due to unavailability of adequate facilities at government hospitals. We are not talking here about natural disasters or unavoidable catastrophes that are captured under Page 1 headlines. We are talking about less than 100 words' snippets that are scattered from Page 2 to Page 14 of every newspaper and we casually flip over them to read the next big news story. These are the ones that keep on happening on a regular basis and reflect the gradually deteriorating value of a common Indian's life.

There needs to be a civic revolution to make us Indians realize that what we accept as regular events and don't care to bat an eyelid for, are dealt with utmost seriousness in developed countries. True the massive population doesn't help but we don't have to accept everything that is dished out to us by the civic authorities. Unless we ask, nothing will be change and unless there is change, the value of a common Indian's life will continue to remain abysmally low.