The good people at the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) are lucky, perhaps, that Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade is fictional. Had he been around, instead of being a character played by Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (1992), the MCG would certainly have received a tongue-lashing for its Christmas week launch of the “Family Sanitation Challan Book”. Essentially, children will be taught, through “play”, to inform on their families and friends, “to make them vigilant and to create an atmosphere in households wherein people are aware and keep checking each other,” according to MCG Joint Commissioner Dheeraj Kumar. These young “Sanitation Captains” will write up their families if they do not segregate waste, use plastic bags or litter. Clearly, 2021 is a long way from 1984 — Big Brother, going forward, is set to become a cottage industry.
To be fair to the MCG most government entities like to create a citizenry in their own image — bureaucratic, officious, eager to prosecute. After all, why shouldn’t children be footsoldiers for the authorities? And isn’t it the responsibility of the government authorities to train good citizens, who will place the common, national interest over more prosaic loyalties?
Here’s where Colonel Slade comes in. In the film, he chews out the headmaster of a private elite school for rewarding students who “rat” on their friends, and punishing the only one who doesn’t. Integrity, he argues, consists not in pointing fingers at others but in taking responsibility. The character understood that it is in the defence of high ideals — nation, society, swachhta and state — that petty power takes root and innumerable little cruelties are put in place. What Sanitation Captains need to learn, really, is a lesson from a fictional colonel.
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