She is interacting with her superiors as she gathers the files. Bowing low, speaking softly, smiling cautiously, as if to avoid accidentally treading on their feet. It is a posture I have seen before. It makes me grimace. This is a person who has enough talent and technique to assert herself. Yet month after month I see her pay obeisance to her senior officers. She is almost deferential. She needn’t be.
It is a scene which repeats itself in office after office. And the origins are at home. You are expected to be a respectful child. You are praised if you are obedient. So far alright. But the moment it stops one from being assertive when required, the downfall begins. And so you hear that familiar story, where children choose the professions of their parents’ choice. Or marry a partner who they didn’t prefer at all. The pressure to conform is almost claustrophobic.
When you look at the leadership, the implications of this attitude are more clear. A subordinate who offers an alternate suggestion is viewed as a threat. If a junior questions an action, you can be certain that that voice will be stifled immediately. Look at our schools. How many children are comfortable in voicing their differences of opinions before their teachers? They know they will be reprimanded. And it is here that they learn to walk the straight line. All forms of questioning are viewed as rebellion.
Behind all this is the notion that the person who speaks out is against the leadership. It doesn’t even occur to people that this person might have an interest in improving the system. The boundaries between discipline and devotion get blurred before you know it. And the power to assert oneself is stamped out.
What is the impact of such leadership on their subordinates? How many times do they have to act against their own will? Does it let them sleep comfortably at night, knowing that they have acted against their own sense of right and wrong? Or do the implications of speaking up seal their silences? After all there is much to lose: jobs, salaries, security, izzat. And when it comes to it, they are the ones who lose their lives as well. Even if they didn’t agree with what they were directed to do.
If the junior police forces look into their collective consciences, would things be different? Can they distinguish between discipline and duty? And stand up for doing the right thing without fear of oppressive authority? Reminds me of a man called Mangal Pandey, who set off a chain of events.