Tuesday, December 6, 2022
HomeOpinionPoVCoronavirus or not, Indians still can't respect personal space

Coronavirus or not, Indians still can’t respect personal space

It has been a week since coronavirus has been making headlines but people travelling in Delhi Metro continue to 'share' a fifth of a seat.

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More than 3,000 dead and close to a lakh infected in over 60 countries from coronavirus, but even this may not be enough to make Indians respect other people’s personal space.

Just this morning, as I was on my way to work in the Delhi Metro, armed with my N95 mask, a lady came and made herself too comfortable on the seat next to me, which was already occupied. Sitting uncomfortably close to two people, packed like sardines, the only thought racing through my mind was: What will it take for Indians to stop invading personal space?

Not coronavirus, clearly.

In a country where 24×7 commitment to work is worshipped instead of being treated as foolish, India’s workplaces offered one bottle of sanitiser to get us through this deadly outbreak. Meanwhile, multinational firms like HSBC, UBS, Nestle have curbed business travel, governments have shut down schools, and people are emptying sanitisers and buying masks like there is no tomorrow. And yet, Indians just won’t stop invading personal spaces in public transports. It’s almost as if the fear isn’t real and the Delhi Metro is a safe (read sanitised) space.

Also read: Buses, metros to be regularly disinfected to stop spread of coronavirus: Delhi CM Kejriwal

What’s personal space

The Delhi Metro, while making the lives of millions of people easier, has turned into a chamber where the concept of personal space simply does not exist. Standing in queues at the ticketing counter or at the security line, there is always someone who creeps up close to my neck as if doing that will fast-track him/her to the metro.

But let’s face it, this is not exclusive to the Delhi Metro.

Getting off a lift in India is a tough task. Everyone getting in thinks s/he is in a race. Empty or not, they must set foot inside first, because God forbid if that doesn’t happen, they will lose precious few seconds of their life reaching that coveted floor they would otherwise fly to if they could. I can’t remember the last time I stood at a distance from someone in my office building lift or at malls.

Indians in aircraft are so popular they inspire memes now. Even movie theatres are not exempt from such behaviour. The last scene is barely off the screen and people are ready to get up, stub on some toes, drop popcorn on someone’s head and rush out as if a bomb was discovered or the fire alarm went off.

Also read: One thing common in most pandemics: They begin their deadly work in Asia or Africa

It lives among us, like a virus

This practice of invading personal space is so ingrained that knocking on one’s door is hardly a common practise in Indian households, locking your room door can earn a grave punishment. Respecting one’s personal space must seem as alien to us as an uncorrupt government.

The fact of the matter is, Indians don’t think it’s incorrect or impolite to nudge the person in front of them in a queue, or peep into the text messages of the person sitting next to them, or even rest arms on someone else’s shoulder for added comfort. Can you even fathom that Japanese consider it rude to stare? Looks like our Indian aunties didn’t get the memo.

India’s population has crossed a billion. There are way too many people and not enough space or resources. It’s going to get much worse before we realise that population control is something to seriously think about. Our ever-increasing population could be a reason why respecting and acknowledging one’s personal space is not the norm. It is, in fact, a part of our ethos.

Also read: Conspiracy theories about coronavirus are as dangerous as the outbreak itself

Learn from others

Countries from across the world are adapting safer methods of greetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even appealing to the citizens to avoid shaking hands and go for the Indian Namaste instead.

The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a widespread change in global habits. Videos of a new “handshake” from Wuhan have gone viral with people coming up with the foot-to-foot shaking. One of Spain’s oldest traditions — kissing a statue of the Virgin Mary in the week leading up to Easter — has also taken a hit. The country’s national health official Fernando Simon said banning the ritual “is one of the measures that are on the table”.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation has undertaken measures to prevent the spread of the virus and instead spread awareness. Now in the mornings at Central Secretariat metro station, precautionary announcements reverberate. It has been a week since the virus has been making headlines but people in the metro continue to “share” a fifth of a seat. Maybe they just can’t believe they could be victims of coronavirus.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more with the writer. It’s horrifying that a large percentage of people among us disagree to this argument. Manners and ethics take a back seat whenever it comes to public places. Adjusting 9 people in a seat meant for 7 is like a birth right to them. The other day a woman was sitting on a seat reserved for disabled and old. A pregnant lady came inside and stood right in front of her. Instead of getting up she looked to her left and asked the person next to her to shift and adjust. This is just a single example and not my generalised ignorant thoughts about every metro traveller. I have been taking public transports in Delhi for about 6 years now and although everyone isn’t as rude and selfish, majority of the people undoubtedly do hijack a person’s personal space without any guilt or shame. This lacking of ethics matters so much now as we are now facing a pandemic level disease on a global scale. As no other means of transport for people travelling everyday to work and putting their health and life on risk, it’s high time that we realize, accept and act immediately on it.

  2. And anothet thing, please write “we, Indians” instead of Indians. You sound like “They, Indians” . And please don’t sound stupid by generalizing one experience to billions. Racist crimes, thefts, burglaries and thug behaviour are much more common in ‘your’ USA and european countries than in ‘our’ India.

  3. Firstly, I don’t read print articles anymore because you can guess the content before reading the article. I feel pity for your journalism.. just leave that metro seat and take an Uber.. or a flight to your dream place where there is loneliness all around

  4. Hahaha what personal space , I can smell a girl in Delhi metro , push an uncle , thrust my armpits on someone’s face …….it’s wonderful , why behave like Europeans I wish we still had Bullock carts .

  5. I don’t think the author is complaining about the metro being busy. I get his point. People in our country don’t respect personal space even when there is plenty of space available. They’d still prefer to touch each other, sometimes unintentionally in inappropriate places. People are just not mindful. I don’t know what they are thinking most of the time.

  6. Bloody firangi!
    Get real, my man! You live in one of the most highly and densely populated places in the world. Keep your “personal space” ideas to yourself and read/watch/visit more of the world than just Europe and America. Check out Asia and realize that India is in Asia, and like Asia. Japan has horribly crowded metros, china does too, philippines, indonesia, malaysia – these are asia and india is like them. BTW, when was the last time you actually read an asian book? Murakami and Viram Seth are firangi content, btw. Read the life of people who live here, in this country, dealing with indian ideas and indian concepts. Don’t like it? Adjust!
    And Focus on what you get – cheap labor (maids at home?), cheap and tasty food, spices, low cost of living, close-knit family, friends who are deeply involved in each others lives…
    maybe i need to write an equally snooty article that shows how pathetic these gora nations are, with their concepts of personal space, wokeness, veganism, and turmeric latte.

    • Go visit Japan and other countries in South East Asia and observe their behaviour in public places despite having a very high population density. You will realise that they are *not* like us. We have a lot to learn from the rest of the world. Its time we accepted our failings and stopped giving excuses.

    • I am a regular reader of The Print but I seriously want to mock this article. Even I used to bother myself with such issues, but later realised that it’s a trade off between things that we get in life. I appreciate what you did there.

  7. There is no dearth of articles in The Print, which run down India. Everyday, one can find half a dozen of them. This is one more. The writer ought to have taken birth in Iceland. He expects personal space in Delhi Metro! Need I say more about irrationality of some of the writers in The Print?

  8. Indians like to live and die together. To expect them to behave like antiseptic Europeans shows a complete lack of what we are all about. There is nothing that can be private in a nation where even the Gods are the target of much gossip. Corona or no Corona this mass of humanity, will keep reincarnating forever…so stop complaining.

  9. When idea of personal space has wrecked havoc, it is actually comforting Indians don’t mind invading other’s space and privacy. Otherwise we’ll have isolated, alienated, too individualized populace. This is better.

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