Jan 27, 2010 - Society    29 Comments

The disease of docility and deference


I read Arvind Adiga’s Booker prize winning novel “White Tiger” last year. Adiga has written at length about the subservient attitude of the people living in the ‘darkness’. The protagonist in the book repeatedly said that the desire to be a servant had been bred into him and hammered into his skull, nail after nail. In another chapter, Adiga wrote that hundreds of roosters and hens are stuffed into wire cages in meat shops. They see the organs of their brothers and sisters lying around, they know they are the next, yet they cannot rebel and how the very same thing is done with humans in this (India) country.

Like most things India and Pakistan, I started comparing the situation in Pakistan and came to the naïve and extremely biased conclusion that things are not as bad. Yes, we have bonded labour in parts of Sind and Southern Punjab but Pakistanis, in general, are not afflicted with the disease of docility and deference. I was wrong.

Yesterday, I was watching a TV report on Shazia Masih’s murder case. Our domestic help Parveen sat with me and watched the whole report. Once it was over, I switched off the TV and we both sat in silence thinking about the poor little girl who lost her life in such a gruesome way. Suddenly Parveen stood up and asked if Amanat, one of the accused, who was responsible for the Shazia’s employment at Advocate Naeem Chaudhry’s was really related to her? As there were conflicting reports, I said I really don’t know. He could be related to her or perhaps he was just an acquaintance. Parveen, a Punjabi Christian like Shazia, said that if he was Shazia’s uncle, he should be hanged in public view. I was surprised by her reaction, not only because Parveen is one of the gentlest souls I know but as far as I am concerned, the main culprits in this murder case were Shazia’s employers, the state and all the people who hire under age children to do domestic chores and ill treat them. When I probed a little further, Parveen said that one cannot trust the employers, most of them would want to discipline the maid by slapping her but if the guy who got her the employment is her uncle, he should have ensured that the employers would not beat her. The first thought that came to my mind was Arvind Adiga’s iron wire cage and the people in it, unwilling or perhaps too afraid to question or point fingers in the right direction. For Parveen, it is but acceptable that employers may want to use physical force to discipline an underage child.

While every politician from Nilofar Bakhtiar to Raja Reyaz and Sharif Brothers are using the murder as a godsend photo-op, and members of the civil society and intelligentsia are crying hoarse over lack of implementation of labour laws, is there anyone paying attention to the inbred servility of people, which in a way corroborate such heinous acts again and again?


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  • wow, I find Parveen’s reaction really fascinating as well. An alternative interpretation might be that perhaps she finds the wealthy class uniformly bad and so doesn’t see any point in blaming them? If that is the case, then I do understand her point of view – it makes sense that she has no expectation of justice or fairness from the wealthy.

  • Bechare ghareeb ke paas jitna hai, sabr shukr kar ke khaa leta hai aur so jaata hai. sochta hai ke bhai allah ta’ala ne hamare bas mein yehi daala hai, to hum isse badal nahin sakte. ke jo rizq humein mil raha hai,utna hi likha tha. Is hi baat ka faida utha ke mulk ke haramkhor us ke moon se niwala cheen lete hain. (no cussing…take the word haram khor literally).

    I’ve expanded on my opinions on my blog – I don’t usually promote the blog this shamelessly, but the post I’ve linked to is a direct response, after all.


  • On a slightly different note, I don’t think too much of Adiga’s novel as I don’t think too much of Slumdog Millionaire. Growing up in Indian cities, I have come across stories on the contrary, among the poor i.e. I feel that those people who want to sell their literary wares have understood what sells. It is in no way an indication of what actually transpires in the country.

  • So, how old is Parveen ? Does she get to watch TV sitting with you on the couch or is her place on the floor/carpet ?

  • Your last paragraph is a typical journalist mind set, they do nothing but critisize everone.

  • True. And they start believing this is exactly how it is and was perhaps meant to be… And then they feel they can say or do nothing to the employer- so they blame the relative. Sad.

  • Maybe in Parween’s pov, it is best to control what can be controlled. The uncle who got Shazia the job is in a position closer to her reach. The wealthy are way too far off in their own world. I think besides the inbred servility, it is a case of complete helplessness at the divide between the two worlds. I think “The White Tiger” is way too trivial for the subject it deals with. And it is an extremely uncomfortable book for those of us who dwell on the other side of the social divide. I also think that it is this reason that make us who live close enough to know that there is a divided world, to rush quickly to declare, this is not so in our world, our country. People treat other human beings in the worst possible manner and have done so for a long period of time- the bad thing in this is that we tend to distance ourselves from this abuse. It always happens to someone else- and it is always the fault of the person at the bottom of the chain. Sorry for the rant, but you made me think.

  • Alankrita,

    The purpose of this place is to rant, so don’t apologize for that and I agree with your hypothesis that those of us who live so close to the divide are quick to denounce it. For past so many days, Shazia is haunting and being part of this society, I feel that my hands are tainted with her blood as well.


    I don’t exactly know how old Parveen is but my guess would be somewhere between 50 – 55. She was sitting on a chair and I was sitting on the floor.


    I think it is the case of inbred servility, where people actually believe that some of the animals are more equal than the others, even when more equal animals happen to be others.

  • Tez, another thing that I found similar in another case (the Colonel Ikram case) to that of the White Tiger is that the Chief Secretary got out of the car and told the driver not to tell anyone he was in the car in the first place. I can’t say whether he was driving himself or not, but the driver has said that just before the accident, the chief secretary had slapped him and told him to drive fast. He is as much responsible for Ikram’s death as the driver.

  • Adiga is right. Why do you think we in the sub continent have the largest number of illiterates? We do not want the masses to think.

  • What Adiga wrote was accurate in many ways, on many levels. The people of the Subcontinent are raised in such a way that submission is considered a ‘value’ everyone better have. The rebels are chastised if they decide to speak up.

    I live close to where this incident took place. There are many households in DHA, Lahore (and I’m sure in other posh areas of the city) where young servants and maids are physically abused for the sake of ‘discipline.’

    No one is ready to do anything about it. The civil society has a mixed reaction towards it. Half of it is pro-Naeem Chodhary while the other half is lashing out against him. And you’re right: Politicians are taking full advantage of the situation. There is no solution.

    It’s disgusting.

  • Reminds me of Nusrat’s “Tum aik gorakh dhandha ho”. Dor suljha raha hai sira milta nahin…. kabhi to yeh takleefein khtam ho geen, kabhee to gham ke badal chatein ge, kabhee to khushee ke barsaat ho gee, kabhe to sukh ke roshnee chamke gee. Every since I can imagine, humans are suffereing. There may be some societies that have lived better than others but overall human continue to suffer and struggle..

    Banaeya mijh ko hone ne
    Na hota mein to kia hota.

  • Mehreen, I would be VERY interested in finding out more about the reaction of the community where this happened. What are the people saying? How is Naeem Chaudhry being defended? THIS is a great opportunity I think-these people who are defending what we at least consider to be inhumanity should be denounced openly and publicly. If you’re at a public gathering or even a get together of five or six or more people,and you see someone defending naeem chaudhry and the servant abuse, i would beg you to fiercely denounce what i think is indefensible.

  • Virtualy every middle-class Pakistani home has minor girls employed as maids, at some point in some form or way. These middle-class families are NOT your illitrate, uneducated or talibanized Pak variety. These are reasonably educated, respected (safaid-posh) and largely westernised professional and business class folks. These are the people who form the core and backbone of the so called civil society. These are not some abstract others, but this is you and me.

  • Parveen, a Punjabi Christian like Shazia, said …. May I ask why was their religion and region mentioned?

    If you assume what fiction writers write reflects that society, you better not come to Mumbai ever if you have read Shantaram. BTW, people in Saudi Arabia never write anything bad about that place – ergo, that sure must be heaven.

    I think over a period I had come to expect more from you as a long time fan.

  • Places where there is a thriving democracy (however flawed) are the only places where you will see opinion articles being written which critical of that very place.. and the level of criticism that place can tolerate usually depends upon the level of awareness that place has achieved..and this can vary dramatically within a few miles…

    Regions which have an alternate form of governance, religious, racial or any thing else, typically don’t tolerate negative opinions.

  • sameer,i don’t think tazeen needs me to defend her but indeed,fiction often does reflect reality – nowhere near enough to form conclusions and think that one knows what happens there (god knows there’s too much of that already) but i would say that generally the labor class is pretty oppressed (and this is the definition of oppression i’m using here: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/oppression)

    “BTW, people in Saudi Arabia never write anything bad about that place – ergo, that sure must be heaven”

    you’re right,that thinking is flawed. but you’re wrong in that people in saudi arabia never write negatively of it.

    shumaila seems to have picked up on that, and shumaila, how do you explain the frequent and widespread criticism of the saudi govt and many saudi policies by saudis and expats living in saudi arabia? even newspapers have denounced the monarchy,and they’ve been doing so for years. no democracy in the kingdom of saudi arabia…

  • Great post! Adiga is relevant to Pakistan because of the similar unequal power relationships that exist in the subcontinent and how they are abused. For that, one need look only to look at how class plays itself in society and even our households. Next time listen to the tone in which the naukar calls our patriarchs in the family by “sahab”. It isn’t out of love. We are friends with our servants but really we’re not and so it goes with any unequal relation.

    We’re trained to submit to our parents, to teachers, to society in general and it isn’t a surprise we are a suck up nation. The harder we suck the better we are in society. After all, speaking of Pakistan, wasn’t our country created by sucking up to the British? Call it ‘tactical manovering’ or ‘brilliant strategy’ it still doesn’t change what it really is.

    Anyways a humble suggestion. Read Adiga’s Between the Assassinations; not as riveting but oh is it a smack in our brown faces!

  • Sameer,

    The religion was mentioned because I wanted to point out the added empathy.

    I have been to India several times, including delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and some parts of UP, I have been to the world famous Dharavi, so I am slightly more informed about India than an average Pakistani. I think that fiction is relevant to real life because I firmly believe that anything that one can imagine is real. I also think Adiga is relevant to Pakistan because most of the class structures are similar.


    Will definitely look up Adiga’s other work that you mentioned

  • Good article.Radha has discussed similar issue on her bolg.it was a great read.



  • Taz u must read ” the story of my assassins”


    Kitni ajeeb baat hay parveen expects the sahibs to treat ppl like her in the same way the victem was but expects more from the uncle…its like she thinks the uncle is one of her and we are all one of “them”

  • wow… thats really deep thought..

  • ok im sick of people getting their back up when it comes to their precious homeland…what is shown in millionairre and adiga’s white tiger might seem exagerations but then that is what art and artistic licence is all about even a documentary has the narrators point of view..sometimes i feel patriotism is really over valued…

  • I liked ‘The White Tiger’ so liked the comparison you drew in your blog. I think physical punishment should be totally stopped against anyone. Students, domestic help or one’s own children.

    Parveen’s reaction was typical of what the most illiterate/semi literate population of our country have. My domestic help believes every corrupt politician and especially A2Z should be hanged in public.

  • Reading the account few days ago in the news strangely reminded me of Jack London’s ‘The Iron Heel.’ While we never tire of talking about Human rights and democracy and accountability and all sorts of bullshit, the fact is that a poor man here is as helpless as a slave once was – and the rich never really have to pay or can be made to pay for their crimes. One way or the other, the do eventually get acquitted and the poor are left to suffer.
    I agree that partly, it’s the docility on part of people that let other do away with such crimes committed to them. But then again, how exactly would you expect to have a poor faction not being docile in a country where their two times’ bread is made increasingly dependent upon the masters of their fate.
    I guess, it’d be eventually a settlement that’d procure – and that, now, reminds me of a scene off Dickens’ ‘A tale of two cities.’ 😉

  • Thank you for posting this! I really like your blog!!

    Common Cents

    ps. Link Exchange??

  • We all have our responsibilities in matter of child labor but also the government highly responsible. Its unfortunate that we never hear anything from current administration about any social issues like this.

    Proper education facilities must be provided for such children and there is lots more that government can do.

  • I am glad you have writen on the servile atitude of our people and its a fact that Pakistani society still after independence is caught up with such attitude at large.
    I like to share my own experiences here, i have studied in a univeristy which was governed by military personal both serving and retired.We aslo had some newly commisioned officers as our class fellows.Now why i talk about the servile attitude of our people with much distress is that i saw my civilian class fellows who had no obligation to call those uniformed students “sir”, they did so with much subservience and felt highly contended at gaining much sought after “friendships”.Not to mention that it was amilitary institute and being on good terms with uniform personal means being part of an authoritative group, even if it means compromising their own rights and self respects.The result was that those officers which were our age fellows,behaved badly with civilians considering themselves superior.But much to my disappointmen, there were quite a few amongst civilians who realisd this and preferred self respect on ignominy.

  • You have started a chain and many have aired their sentiments and I am no different. Feel the same way but have you noticed how soon Shazia’s case is being put away from our eyes? There was a murder before too when a maid was raped and burnt and before she died she even named her employer. Nothing happened then. How do you expect something will happen now? And let us not forget the poor colonel who was hit by an official car. Everything hushed up.

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