India’s Picture-perfect Bureaucracy

These days the domestic airlines have evidently been instructed by powers up on high (so to speak) to warn the passengers that aerial photography of Indian territory is prohibited. Together with the usual instruction on how to fasten a seat belt (is it possible that someone who is able to navigate through the complex process of waking up in the morning and being able to tie his or her shoelaces cannot fathom the intricacies of how to fasten a seat belt?) and what to do in case of an emergency water landing (totally unsurvivable, if one were to be honest about it), they now are required to tell you that photography is prohibited.

Who, I always wonder, makes these rules? And why? Are these rules made so as to make criminals of ordinary people who may have a camera on hand and decide to take a picture of an interesting view from the air? Who can I ask the questions that arise from this sort of mindless stupidity? One may object to that characterization and say that it is for “national security” reasons. Waittaminit, mister. People who wish to bomb the nation to smithereens don’t have to board a commercial flight to get a good digital shot of the lay of the land. There are more sources on the web for that than you can click a mouse on. Take a look at this shot of the Taj Mahal. That is a one-meter resolution satellite image. (Click and hold over the “+” sign in the image to zoom — totally fascinating.) No one with the average camera can come anywhere close. So what is the whole point in preventing an occasional innocuous picture from the air?

There is something very peculiar about this anti-picture fetish that I notice in India. A few years ago I was outside a little run-down structure at Kushinagar near Gorakhpur in UP where the Buddha died about 2500 years. The place was deserted except for three novice monks who were chanting their evening prayers. I took a picture and immediately the lone security guy walks up and shows me the beaten-up sign which said that photography was prohibited. Why? And who makes these stupid rules and laws?

Democracy has been defined as government of, by, and for the people. By that definition at least, India is definitely not a democracy because what we have in India is government by faceless bureaucrats and corrupt politicians. Nameless unidentified unaccountable unreachable people in some vast bureaucratic machinery decide what the average citizen can and cannot do. The lack of accountability is pervasive. It stretches from the lowliest municipal commissioner to the secretary of the numerous central government ministries. Citizens are powerless and cannot question the decisions of these omni-potent idiots that guide the ship of state.

There is a partial remedy, of course. Each rule or law should have a name attached to it so that one knows who the responsible idiot is for the existence of yet one more silly idea. Perhaps it would shame these people into putting some thought into the matter before making another asinine rule. But perhaps I am too optimistic in this. These people must have hides thicker than rhinos’ skins and it would not make the slightest bit of difference.

Deva! Deva!