Friday, August 20, 2010

Differences: Security

One of the pressing issues in India at the moment, I was bound to note the differences in security in Netherlands. Despite the flaws in security system here, I am not willing to speak about it. I will tell the differences in the planning, not the implementation (implementation here loses hands down to the implementation there).

Consider a Supermarket in India selling goods of day-to-day use. Although the number of cash counters is very few, the numbers of security men aren’t. There are men at the door, and other staff members who start asking if they can help in case they find an idling person for long. Despite the presence of CCTV cameras, I often catch the eyes of a suspicious staff member.

So the surprising difference was despite being at least 6 times as large (back in India, I noticed the size of the whole store was the size of one of their Supermarket’s blocks), the entrance doors were automated and not a single security member was present even inside. The concept of malls was almost absent, but huge shopping centers bigger than almost every mall were there, which had the same security status. None provided their services asking what we wanted, although many staff members would be busy arranging products et al, and would help happily if asked for. Apart from that, there was huge technical backing (for example, machines to tell cost of products, sign boards, product dispensers) to help ourselves and be self-reliable and not pester the staff members. Of course, there were cameras but I didn’t know if any of them was looking at me. Maybe, if I had picked up a small thing and put in my pocket it would’ve gone unnoticed. Of course, I didn’t commit such a stupid crime. Nor did anyone else (I suppose) as everything proceeded peacefully in order. There were many cash counters for exit, as well as an empty exit in case of window shoppers (often me) where maybe it was possible to leave without payment.

At the hotel’s entrance, not a single member stood at the doors. Anyone could enter, and there was ample scope to plant a bomb and cause havoc. In the markets, I could enter any shop and wander any corner for it as long as possible. Often I spotted the perfect opportunity to commit some minor theft. However, I never committed it for two main reasons: out of fear of the unknown and as a repayment of the trust instilled by the system on me. In trams, you were supposed to get the ticket stamped for yourself from numerous machines inside although there was always the option of getting it stamped from the driver. On the roads, despite the almost sure absence of a policeman, not even the cyclist broke the red light and even the pedestrians waited (pedestrians crossed the road, if there were no visible cars in reach).

At large, it seemed to me that the authorities trusted the citizens of the nation and vice-versa. However, I got a better view of it after asking a few people. On one instance, the person being asked was a female shopkeeper. There were souvenirs inside as well as outside her store. The latter I felt was highly vulnerable to theft. I picked up some stuff to buy from outside, and when I went inside (frankly) to make the payment, I asked her “What if I didn’t make the payment and ran away. How would you know?” She smiled and replied, “Of course, there is a camera but I don’t look at it all day long. So all I can do is, I have to trust you. Either I keep an eye outside all day, or trust. Sometimes young boys do take away stuff, but mostly they don’t”. On another instance I happened to ask my Ph.D. friend (Greek) while roaming in Amsterdam in a souvenir shop with similar situation, “Why doesn’t anyone pick up something, when no one is watching?” Stunned he replied, “I don’t know here, but in Greece maybe someone in the public may shout at you for doing it. Maybe if it is some small food item, you are hungry and no one will say anything. But not something else, because then you are stealing to be rich.” When I asked my supervisor about their adherence to the rules, he said “If you are caught breaking the law, the fines are so high you wish you had not done it. The officials don’t spare you.” In the specific case of traffic lights, he said “Well, if I break the light the chance of an accident increases and we don’t like risking our lives. In case, I hit a bicycle with a car, the onus is on the car and its best not to break the law.”

For me, being a foreigner, the fear of the law was much greater to break the law. Moreover, the system of trust was very comforting. It allowed me to be a flaneur and roam freely, with breathing space without being surrounded by people offering help in shops. Security, in comparative terms (at least superficially) was absent. About them, I learnt it was a mixture of fear, integrity and upbringing which let them be the way they were, and an essential drive within them to perceive things as “Right is the Easy Way”.

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