One Nation, One Law – A Plague Called Professional Tribalism

This is my maiden endeavor as part of  the ‘One Nation, One Law’ series where I humbly attempt to take on and address issues that polarize us as a people and stand in the way of our collective progress.

Press, Army, Police, Doctor, Lawyer (denoted by that ugly love child of the bow tie and the neck tie ) are textual or pictorial signs you are sure to spot either at the header or footer of vehicle registration plates (better known in India as number plates) of two-wheelers or prominently exhibited on the rear windshields of four-wheelers. This is an ubiquitous pan-India phenomenon that is unmissable every time you step out of the homestead and take to the streets.

So the obvious question is why? Why do only a few select groups of individuals feel the need to explicitly identify themselves as a member of a particular professional tribe? Is is a professional imperative that is at play, or is it a distinguished badge of honor which is on exhibition or could it quite simply be a sense of misplaced entitlement that drives this perennial advert in a bid to assert their supremacy over others?.

Let us attempt to explore in a bit more detail the thinking behind the aforesaid action.

Let’s start off with the Doctors. I think the most obvious explanation is that they perhaps are in the greatest need to be clearly identified as they tend to the most precious commodity known to mankind. Life itself! Explicit identification helps in swiftly seeking their intervention (i.e. enabling them to throw their weight behind life) in situations that involve a tug of war between life and death. Therefore, the value proposition and the underlying rationale both do pass the smell test. That said, to prevent abuse (which is sadly second nature to many of us) the department of motor vehicles should be the sole entity which should issue a standardized rear windshield sticker to all medical degree holders (upon verification of the actual medical degree) at the time of vehicle registration or later if applicable.

What about the Police then? One could put forth the exact same argument as in the case of the doctors that lives do depend in many instances on the police personnel arriving at a spot in the nick of time when trouble is brewing. They do help save lives albeit in a very different way to the doctors. So why should we then begrudge them self-identifying? Well, here’s the issue I’ve with this. They conduct business using their government issued police vehicles which do not require any further identification as it were. But when they start self-identifying on their private vehicles it is tantamount to overreach and an abuse of their position and authority. This holds true more so in a country like India where the Police is feared not respected. This is directly a product of the infamy they have garnered over decades by being being an organization where corruption, ineptitude and malfeasance is the norm rather than the exception.  Moreover, it is a widely acknowledged fact that the mere awareness that one is a police official results in many businesses voluntarily giving a hefty discount or giving away merchandise completely free in a proactive attempt to not get on their bad side. To the point around corruption and malfeasance not being vices that bedevil law enforcement exclusively I say this – You have a choice to shun the inept and corrupt doctors or lawyers in our orbit but do we have the same option with the Police??

The Free Press which is regarded as the fourth pillar of a democracy has a crucial role to play in any society and especially in a democracy. The press corps bring us news from the remotest, most dangerous and inhospitable places on earth and in the process invariably do put themselves in harms way. They ask the uncomfortable and unsavory questions on our behalf and keep the powers that be honest which sometimes begets them enmity with these powerful figures. I’ve the utmost regard for the men and women of the fourth estate but just don’t see even the remotest reason as to why they feel entitled to identify themselves on their personal vehicles. Unless you are in a war zone or inside an area in the throes of a civil strife you do not need to be identified for the sake of your personal safety. And in any case, in both those scenarios you are not going to just drive up in your personal vehicle and conduct reportage!  Why then?

The curious case of a Lawyer identifying themselves on his/her private vehicle does not even merit an exposition! They are a case study in how to turn a noble profession into an ignoble one! Oh yes, to add to that the symbol is clownish too!

Last and certainly not the least, I would like to discuss an institution that is generally associated with, feted and venerated for its culture of discipline, decorum, chivalry, bravery and propriety. I’m of course talking about the Armed Forces. The brave men and women of the Indian military have since independence (and even prior to that as part of the British Indian Army) fought gallantly at a humongous price to self and guarded the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of our great nation. That apart, their contribution to nation building has been phenomenal. They have stood shoulder to shoulder with the civilian population in times of crises like natural calamities and other man-made tragedies and have had an incomparable role to play in rescue and rehabilitation. All of us owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their valor and selfless sense of service to the nation.

That being said, why do they feel the need to explicitly identify themselves when not in active service by using signs and symbols on their private vehicles? What is the pressing need to be explicitly identified? Do they perhaps expect preferential treatment over others when they are on the road? Does this stem from a superiority complex that they have been conditioned to cultivate during their time in the forces? Is it a genteel reminder to the civilian populace to not step on the toes of a military person? Is it all of the aforesaid? If it is indeed any or all of the hypotheses proffered above then it is a hugely troubling sign. The moment a section of society starts to believe that they are somehow superior to the rest and deserve to be treated differently than the rest is exactly when the seeds of civil strife are sowed.

Therefore, to our serving military personnel and veterans I say this – I know you take a lot of pride in your profession. Most of us civilians feel exactly the same for our respective professions. I also think I speak for all my fellow Indians when I state that we have a special place in our hearts and minds for our brothers and sisters in the armed forces. We are already proud of you. No need whatsoever for a special reminder.

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