The New Normal

February 2015, during a visit to the Akshardham temple as part of an international delegation in Delhi, it was noticeable that all Indians (and those of Indian origin), submitted to the intensive exercise unquestioningly and naturally. On the other hand, there were some foreign delegates who were offended and a German couple who was visibly rattled. They were livid at not just the aspect of having to leave their personal belongings in the lockers but outraged by the process of personal frisking.

Calm acceptance of such routines is the obvious response as per Indian common knowledge, but this one incident gave rise to many questions. Are we ‘normal’ or the German couple? More so because the topic of my architecture doctorate is ‘security’, this subject was especially intriguing and threw a completely new light.

In course of my research I discovered a lot of material that shed light on the mental and psychological aspects, followed by a research survey on the topic. Without going into the details of the same, it is sufficient that it was conclusively established that we Indians as a race have different levels of accommodation for security checks, bordering almost on a tolerance for the same.

Ordinarily this may just be the way we are in this part of the world with our resilience to pollution, traffic jams, chaos, anarchy and even corruption. But research into the subject actually shows alarming manifestations. While on the one side it indicates that we are more difficult to ruffle, it also indicates a baseline terror in our urban environment that we are already used to. The research shows that we Indians are evolving different from most of the world in our security expectations and responses. And this is true for all of us in India across socio-economic categories and equally for those who settled outside India after having grown-up here.

This means, that while our fear thresholds maybe higher, it is quietly gnawing at our psyches without us knowing it. Those who are a little more vulnerable would be affected sooner by the emergence of strange forms of mental illnesses, anxieties and even depression.

At the same time the visible display of securitymen and their weapons don’t have the deterrant effect on us that they should. Infact many of us, do not actually feel the security unless it is apparent and in the face. Covert security, privacy and personal dignity are long forgotten concepts for us Indians.

Inconvenience is something we fore-plan for. When going for a movie or similar recreational activity, we have to foresee what to carry with us or in our bags. If a packet of gum or a stray lighter lingers in our personal belongings then it is our fault and we must be ready to fore-go it, irrespective of its cost or preciousness. So much so that even when we go for a cricket match and have some coins in our pockets, we must be ready to part with them irrespective of its feasibility or be denied entry.

The socio-economic discrimination and racial profiling that happens at every checkpoint including those for public transportation or maybe even more frequent than that, is justified under the pretext of security. Nobody dare question it, last of all those discriminated in the absence of both the social status and financial ability. Research shows that our enhanced security alertness and acceptance of extreme levels of security demands in our daily life, puts our race probably second only to the Israelis- Palestinians. And significantly, we are not at war!!

When the governments can stipulate mandatory scans and checks in public buildings, why are related provisions for the public (like providing lockers or cloak rooms) not mandated?
When will police indignity in the garb of security NOT BE NORMAL?
What will make us shun the security theatrics in action at the mandatory checks as NOT NORMAL?
What will it take for us to reclaim our urban environments from the clutches of terror that is fast becoming the NEW NORMAL?