I don’t know how it works elsewhere in the world, but in India politicians scramble to announce what’s called “ex-gratia” whenever people lose their life due to natural forces or en-masse or in case of “sarkari” (governmental) negligence. Given that India’s nominal per capita hovers at $1570 and the one based on PPP (purchasing power parity) is pegged at $5350, guess what a human life is worth in India? What’s the ex-gratia paid out to the family members of the dead?

Well, the figure I’m mentioning is not a constant per se, it’s not a fixed amount by law or any accepted standards across the length and breadth of the country, the amount that Karnataka (India’s 7th largest state and the state in which Bengaluru / Bangalore is located and is the capital of) deems human life is worth is $7727 or INR 5 Lakh!!

So let me tell you what that amount can fetch you. Let’s say you’ve lost someone to floods, bomb blasts, rain (yes, people die because of heavy rains here), building collapses etc. You’ll be paid INR 5 lakh and you can buy one of the following –

  • A 4 seater AMT based petrol car
  • About 200gms of Gold
  • 2 Nikon 810 D-SLR cameras

What you can’t buy –

  • A 1200 sq. ft. land in any of the tier-2 or tier-3 cities
  • A house
  • Person you’ve lost
  • Peace

It’s an irony that we’re a culture that teaches to respect people, our elders, the forces of nature, our Gods and Demons. We chide kids who’re rude to their parents. These are the values we believe our culture is based on. I’d say it was, once!

Our modern culture values only two things – Money and Power. It probably has something to do with the fact that a majority of the population was really poor a few decades back and money was hard to get, something millennials like me can understand but rarely experience, because our parents have now earned enough to give us a certain lifestyle.

The aspirations of older generations to provide their future generations with the comforts they never got have often led to unethical ways of earning money or gaining and retaining power. Money and Power may be equally important in other countries and cultures too, here I’m not debating who’s better. What worries me is the fact that today Indians don’t place human lives and humanity at the same level as money and power.

It’s very common to see politicians announcing ex-gratia amounts during such losses, even as they advertise themselves and the political parties they belong to. They tom-tom all the “benefits” they’ve accorded in such situations, how they came to the rescue of farmers during droughts and floods, how they helped families of accident victims etc.

A lost limb will fetch you about a lakh. The amount would remain the same even if you lose two or all four. So what if you can’t move, it’s not like you’ve lost your life. Oh, let’s not forget that the person who issues the cheque on behalf of the government usually takes his cut, a commission.

Politicians are corrupt everywhere. May be politicians in other countries do the same. Right?

Well, in India, we show our lack of respect towards humanity and human lives in almost every aspect of our day-to-day routines. We don’t give a damn about following traffic rules, we think it’s okay to jump a red signal just so that we can reach office early. We don’t bother if we’re carrying passengers in the car. When I don’t care for my own life, why should I care about the other three sitting in the car, or four, or even eight! Yeah, we can fit 8-9 people in one car, I’ve done it once!

Seat belts are considered a nuisance, they’re just not comfortable. And helmets, do they really save lives? Are you saying whoever wears helmet never dies in an accident? Do you know it can cause hairfall?

We clean our house well, we use ample amount of water to ensure our floors are clean, and then we throw all the garbage and waste water across the street from the first floor of the apartment. It’s not like I’m throwing it into your compound, why are you worried?

As an Indian, as a person who believes in India and believes we can do better, I’m not painting a great picture of my country here. But, truth is truth.

It hurts when I see politicians announcing “a sum of INR 5 Lakh” to the immediate family members. That’s what they reduce us to, there are cars worth more than our life here. Some cars are worth about 100 times more, but only about 10-odd cars may cost less than your life.

When we, as people and as humans, don’t respect our own lives, the politicians who bathe in money and power day and night are, in fact, being generous in pegging the value of your life to that of a car. You can hope that when you die, your family gets to experience Silk Board traffic jams in an air-conditioned four-wheeler.