My rights and your duties
It’s easy to consume if one has the means to consume. It’s nice to have amenities to use. Rivers to throw things into. Roads to throw empty packets and bottles on. Parks to make a mess of, with wrappers and packets and bottles. Somebody is bound to clean up after us. And if nobody does… well, that’s okay too. Is it, though?
During random conversations with friends, we lament the state of general apathy towards most things. Including roads, rivers, trees, air, public places, traffic rules. (Cricket is an exception. So are the movies.) A friend was recounting the time when she was crossing the DND flyway (expressway that connects Delhi and Noida over the Yamuna river) and saw a man throwing puja offerings into the river. When he threw the plastic bag too, it was the last straw. The friend stopped the car, walked to the man and asked him why he did what he did. The man, while not expecting the question, was not to be intimidated. Far from it. With a smirk (that all-too-familiar smirk), he said, “Why don’t you jump in and retrieve whatever you have to?”
Whether this comes from a complete absence of consciousness or the arrogance of righteousness or an outright lack of any sense of responsibility, is difficult to tell. That attitude and that incident are not one-off episodes. Try telling a person to not spit in public places, or to not dump the potato-chips wrapper on the road, and then decipher the response you get.
Perhaps it’s true that we expect somebody else to take the lead, to say the very words that we wish to say. So that we can continue enjoying our rights.
We believe we have a right to clean air, clean water, clean roads, clean parks, a clean city. Isn’t it fair and logical then that we don’t do things that will lead to the very opposite? Come to think of it, doesn’t it become our duty to protect that which we believe is our right? In a way, we are consumers of the resources that we use. So, shouldn’t we consume with care, thought, restraint and responsibility—with as much a sense of right as of duty?
One keeps hearing of the rights that we have as consumers – right to know about any product or service, right to be secure from any dangerous product or service, right to choose anything, right to be heard by the seller, right to complain in case of dissatisfaction with any product or service, and so on. How many of us know of our duties as consumers?
At first glance, you may be inclined to dismiss at least some of these as ‘obvious’. Some examples: always take the bill of purchase; don’t get carried away by the big promises in the – do your own reality check, ask questions of the salesperson or manufacturer if you need clarification or further information; take your time to compare product features and prices before making a decision to purchase it; read all the terms and conditions carefully before purchasing anything; keep the guarantee/warranty card with you along with the cash memo.
Others you will not dismiss but may not really get down to practising. For example, will you complain if you are not satisfied with a product or service even if you are not personally affected? Will you demand a refund or replacement for inferior products and services even if the money involved is small? Will you go to a consumer forum if needed? Manufacturers need to know that their product has negative or positive potential so they can make adjustments or improvements.
Lastly, will you use the products you purchase in a way that does not negatively impact the environment or other consumers? Let us remember that conscious consumers are vital to creating a fair and competent marketplace—much like a proactive citizenry is critical to good governance.