Vantage point

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Public Servants - America vs India

I usually don't partake in the "XYZ is so cool in America, but the same XYZ in India sucks!" talk. But a recent observation drove me to think that way.

In New York City, I got into a subway train at its first stop at evening rush hour after a day spent on my feet. The compartment had only a dozen or so people - an exhausted me, 6-7 exhausted looking young uniformed guys, and a few others. We all sat on the easily empty seats, as anyone getting on at the first stop of a commuter train would. I looked at the uniforms. They all said "New York City Police Academy". So the guys were all new recruits in training to join the New York Police Department. They all were drenched in sweat and looked tired. It was clear that they'd spent a day in training or drills so demanding that my own day seemed luxurious in comparison.

The next stop was one situated in a busy office zone, and where a lot of subway lines intersect. So as the train pulled into the station at rush hour, there were heavy crowds waiting to get on. It was obvious that the remaining seats would be filled in a matter of seconds, AND there'd be dozens of people standing.

Just as the train was about to stop, ALL the police academy guys got up from their seats, without a word. I assumed they were going to get off at the stop. But no! They got up. And they stood, clutching the bars. The door opened, the crowds came in. the quick ones took the seats, the rest stood. And the police academy guys, who had rightfully earned the seats by the universal public transport law of "first come first serve", voluntarily stood with them.

In the grand scheme of things, a minor incident. But I couldn't help stare at them all in admiration. These young men, still in training, had the sense to think - it's the public we serve, and it's not fair that we sit while the public stands. There's no law requiring that cops give up their seats for civilians. yet they did it, without comment or provocation, in tandem, indicating that all of them thought it was the most obvious thing to do.

I could not help but contrast it with the hundreds of occasions in Indian buses or trains that I have seen Indian cops claim scarce seats as if they were royalty. Indian "public servants" take the phrase to mean that the public are their servants. In the US, it is clearly the other way around.