Humour humanises, and a bit of it in life doesn’t hurt anyone. Thank Mumbai Police for reminding us that. Thank it again for sending out the subtle message that all government communication need not have majesty and authority written all over. Authorities can interact with citizens at a human level and appear less condescending and less domineering if they give it an honest try.
"Your creepy comments on her photo will get you a long date with us," reads a tweet from the police commissioner. “If you roll, we will weed you out,” goes another. “Be a hero without heroine,” goes yet another. These are a few of the series of recent awareness tweets sent across by the Mumbai Police which have been received with a huge round of applause by the generally cynical social media users. The response shows that the light-hearted communication has managed to catch attention the way the usually glum and grave sarkari talk never did.
The realisation that the social media generation is different from the earlier lot dawned a little late on the Mumbai Police, but it’s catching up quickly. The others who have been on social media for sometime now have not really been able to get in sync with the generation which is intelligent, informed, irreverent and keen to be heard and counted. It is a little low on patience, always in a hurry, opinionated and unforgiving but that’s the nature of the beast. While the others are aware of the platform, its depth and reach, they are totally ignorant of the thought process that keeps it going. Mumbai Police have shown them the way to go.
Now, let’s get serious. Why must everything related to the government be dire? Perhaps it comes from the notion of power its offices and their incumbents possess. Every official position is a unit of power – it could be interpreted as the capacity to influence the lives of others – and what is power if it is not visible and exercised, mostly to the detriment of others? Go to block, district levels, notice how offices function and you get a clear idea what it means. Since it is matter of mindset it holds true in most government offices in urban areas too.
The lowly peon can harass a villager no end, simply because he controls the access to the officer by the sole merit of standing outside his door. The clerk is the lord of the files, unless he is pleased nothing moves to the next table. The officer has to speak to the illiterate villager in English because that makes him important. To mark the distance from the masses all players in the bureaucracy must behave in a certain way. The behaviour is almost institutionalised across the country.
Humour and casual conversation are a strict no, no in this arrangement since they tend to make equations easy and kill the fear or forced respect that the bureaucracy seeks to have for itself among the ordinary people. So all official language has to be grim and they must reek of superiority. The common folk have to told, not necessarily in words, that they are inferior human beings.
It has created a virtually unbridgeable gap between the government – which is a sum of its offices – and people which it is supposed to serve. It goes without saying that it has helped corruption survive and flourish. If there’s a sense of alienation among the ordinary people from the government, the blame rests solely on how it communicates with them. The extent of public anger against this was visible during the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare four years ago.
The times have changed. If the earlier generation was respectful to officials and bureaucratic niceties, that’s not the case with the new one. It is intelligent and cannot be fooled by officialese. Technology has given it the power to network, which is proving to be strong counterforce to institutionalised firewalling. It is not as helpless as the earlier one generation. To boot, it has the audacity to question. If the government wants a conversation it has to be in their language and wavelength.
There are clear indications that this generation won’t be cowed down easily. And it won’t be averse to a call for combat either. If the government is keen on being in constant dialogue with this generation and understand it has to dump its ego. Mumbai Police has shown how to do it. Others must follow.