The ‘Babudom’ of our Bureaucrats Echoes a Colonial Mindset

Social Commentary

The ‘Babudom’ of our Bureaucrats Echoes a Colonial Mindset

Illustration: Arati Gujar

According to a report by Indian Express, over the past few months, athletes, coaches at Thyagraj Stadium in Delhi have been complaining about being forced to wrap training earlier than usual. Guess why? It is emptied for Delhi’s Principal Secretary Sanjeev Khirwar so he can walk his dog at the facility.

Now stop shaking your head. Is it not obvious, this is the least our esteemed bureaucrats can do to rub their privilege on our face? They have after all cleared that gigantic hurdle of an exam that most of us mortals cannot, or haven’t even considered competing in. Maybe they should do more with public spaces, have their chai at JLN Stadium, take a piss on the carpets at the National Museum or even better, have their get-togethers at Humayun’s Tomb. Who knows, maybe in the dark of night they even do. At least with politicians you can tell yourself they are illiterate scumbags but with educated, elite officers you have to be classier. Even their dogs have better rights than some humans. Okay, most humans.

With politicians you can tell yourself they are illiterate scumbags but with educated, elite officers you have to be classier.

Mr Khirwar, who has now been transferred to Ladakh, where half of Delhi’s Bullet-riding bikers were planning on heading anyway, is no ordinary bureaucrat. He got an entire stadium emptied so that his dog could walk on a 5 crore synthetic track meant for athletes. Athletes trying to make it in life, do India proud. But Mr Khirwar took that responsibility upon himself. When was the last time you did something this special for your dog, haan?

The Indian Civil Service is one of the few good leftovers from India’s Colonial period. But while the system and continuity provided by our bureaucracy has sailed us through periods of political instability and incompetent leaders, it has also festered the nasty ecosystem of Babudom. Babudom is the feeling you get when that red-light siren is attested to the top of your car. It makes your chest beam, your heart swell, and your mind go from 0 to privilege in 19 milliseconds. What could have been a tool for sustenance and growth has been reduced to a scar that resembles the discrimination of the erstwhile colonial overlords.

Babudom is a legacy that the Britishers left behind so that we do not mourn their absence even after seven decades.

Babudom is a legacy that the Britishers left behind so that we do not mourn their absence even after seven decades. A colonial mind-set that fancies itself as the lord and master of all. It doesn’t stop at getting a stadium being emptied for personal use but extends to whizzing through toll gates, hospital queues, airports with a fawning retinue in tow. It’s available for view in restaurants where the bureaucrat would rather flash his ID than pay and in the sprawling infrastructure that exists across the country just to accommodate ‘saahib’ when he comes back from a tough 3-hour workday. Your airport experience is incomplete if you haven’t encountered a species called the VIP that exhibits strange behaviour the moment it senses it is being treated as just another passenger.

From prime located properties to illegally acquired infrastructural assets, India’s bureaucracy has made a mockery of the very system they are supposed to guard. Frankly, these people might be doing far worse things than walking a dog in a stadium. Only we can neither question them nor apprehend them as mere mortals, at the mercy of their ‘service’. Part of the problem is also our veneration for these specimens. We treat them as gods, where in certain states they are auctioned as some sort of trophies in exchange for eye-watering dowries. Our bureaucracy expects to be treated as national treasures because we have elevated them on that pedestal. Like perhaps their political masters, a bureaucrat’s sense of importance thrives on the amount of inconvenience they have caused to the public they are meant to serve. Most of the time it doesn’t even cause outrage, but only courts jealousy and awe. Because as Indians we just want to be next to privilege rather than keep it in check or question its sway over us. After all, anyone would take being treated as special as that dog, wouldn’t they?

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