Saturday, December 13, 2014

Checks and balances - What's that?

The #UberShame and subsequent cascading bans on the $40bn valued, cab-hailing app, and the vigilante-or-extortionists #RohtakSisters are the two occurrences that everyone is talking about in the past week across India. Admittedly the sequence of happenings in both cases have been quite extreme, shocking the nation into discussion, debate and argument, on every known platform, by every person who wanted to make a point. I did too.

Uber did not do relevant background checks of its drivers while promising ease and safety to its passengers. They flawed, and it is not a easy flaw to forgive - especially for the traumatized girl who suffered the consequences of their 'oversight'. The government did come in and recommended ban of Uber till the proper procedures were put in place and licenses were acquired. Other such cab services also suffered similar consequences. Many states followed through the ban. Uber, the giant which often got away when uttering unutterables was suddenly vulnerable. Everyone had a chance and everyone took a dig.

The other case that made top news most of last week was that of the Rohtak Sisters bus molestation and their return attack on the perpetrators, well captured in a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZopUkgU7CSw). Everyone rushed to give accolades (even I did) with the state government announcing bravery awards for the girls on Republic Day, the spokesperson of the Women's Commission applauding the two girls and the army cancelling the recruitment of the boys involved in the incident. That was the quickest action compared to any other case witnessed in the entire country. A few days later however, other videos of the two sisters beating other boys showed up on social media, with the latest one with commentary of anguished cohabitants of the girls village, complaining of repeated threat and extortion by the family of the girls in many cases. The media which extolled the act of the two girls was left quite red in the cheeks.

In my view the two issues arise out of the same problem and taking a cross section gives us the unpleasant view of the society we have created for ourselves. The issue is of checks and balances. The society we have created is one where there is no time to contemplate on options, there is only time to act. Rather, only time to react. We are constantly reacting to situations. Uber was only reacting to the pressures of growth. Apart from the competitive pressures to grow at all costs in this low entry-barrier business, the constant investor nudging could also be a trigger to set unprecedented growth targets. Of course, cutting corners is necessary if you want to compress growth cycles.

In the Rohtak Sisters case, this is not the first time that the media has jumped the gun. Its probably a case of becoming what/whom you compete with, and in this case the media is competing with social media - with knee-jerk reactions and with nearly no filter. I dread to imagine a society in which the media stops playing the role of a careful observer and begins to report everything that someone says. Technologies are changing and even my 8 year old nephew can make sophisticated videos with great effects. Unfiltered news can not only distort society's views, but it can also begin to create self-doubt in its people, bringing down the believability standards of society as a whole. We may soon not know what to trust and what not to. A generation that grows up now knowing what to believe, is likely to face anarchy and disruption such that we have not anticipated yet.

A society is a group of people living in an ordered manner, governed by a common good and bad. When checks and balances of that society, its businesses and people get uprooted, the one thing that becomes clearly visible about the future is that our children will live in dangerous times.