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By Rasana Atreya
Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition

Though consumerism has arrived in India in a big way, consumer awareness is still in its infancy. So who is a consumer? One who pays to avail of services or products, says Consumer Activist Aroona Nafday.

Convener of the Consumer Empowerment Centre (phone number 2543-8559), Nafday says their mission is to educate consumers about their rights. Herself a lawyer, Nafde sees the court only as a last resort because of the time and money involved.

Nafday says, “The Centre is like a helpline. We also take up larger policy issues, where you need to regulate.” In addition, they offer mediation. Nafday says though, for mediation to work, both parties have to be willing. As a matter of principle, her organization will not accept any funding from the government or from any corporate bodies; they prefer not to run into any “conflict of interest” situations.

Nafday is very emphatic that consumers first need to be aware of their duties before they can demand their rights. She says, “We ask, don’t actively take decisions that are bad for consumers. They may be good for me at that moment in time, but in the long run, they are likely to be bad for other consumers. If I am going to purchase something on the black market, then how good a consumer am I? How many of us even ask for a bill for the purchases we make?”

But what really gets Nafday going is the consumer apathy she’s witnessed over the years. “The Indian consumers are a completely apathetic lot. They do not want to fight for their rights. They only want to get free aid, and free help, and free counseling.” She is rues the fact that even after cases are satisfactorily resolved, people will seldom pay the fees to become members of the Centre.

As an example of the apathy, she talks about a case of overloading of auto-rickshaws with school-going children. After a couple of accidents, they decided to get the school management and the PMT involved. They chalked out bus routes so children could travel in safety. And yet, not many parents
bothered to sign up for the buses.

Nafday says unless consumers come together to do things collectively, it is difficult to bring about change of any kind. To illustrate the power of collective action to get results, she gives the example of a shoe store that has sold a defective pair of sandals that they refuse to repair or replace. She says, “You can just get together a group of people in front of the shop standing quietly and telling other shoppers about the issue.” Once other shoppers become aware of the problem, the management is going to want to resolve the issue pretty quickly.

Nafday says collective action is especially necessary because initially businesses were a little afraid because of the Consumer Protection Act. Now that they’ve realized that cases may take as long as 2-3 years to get resolved, they’ve reverted back to being unresponsive. She says, “Even though my organization lobbied for this Act, and we welcomed it, we must also do something. Sending every case to court is not going to help. There are too many cases and not enough judges to try these cases.”

Nafday talks about the time the Centre took the Consumer Awareness campaign to go to schools. She says, “There were very few schools who would respond. It was more the vernacular schools that were interested. It is an issue where you’d think a particular class would be more responsive. But that class is the couch potato class. Though they are huge consumers of products and services, they don’t have the will to do anything.”

Nafday says, “People need to realize, if you can have Nobel Laureates in America leading a march on a civic issue, why can’t people in Pune do the same?” She adds on a note of finality, “I’ve studied this psychology for a long time, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we are very selfish and individualistic people.

Published in The Times of India, Pune Edition


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