Indians take too much risk – answered my US-lived Indian friend when I was asking his opinion about a train accident, which killed a dozen people travelling on top of the roof of the train at high speed. Risks are everywhere in India. An entire family riding on one motorcycle without a helmet on a busy highway. A young man jumping on the moving bus that is already full of passengers not only inside but also outside. A lady with a traditional saree and a pair of sandals working at a construction site without any safety equipments on. In any case, only a small dose of misfortune can easily trigger a fatal accident.
Are Indian pro-risk, thrill-thursty, adventure-minded people in nature? Probably not. Rather, this risk taking behavior in India can be explained from different angles.
Risk is Relative
First of all, what you think is risky may not be considered risky by other people from different background. For example, handling and operating firearms are considered risky for ordinary people in many part of the world but in the United States. Firecrackers are dangerous (and even illegal) in some countries, but are treated just as a toy for kids in other regions. Perceived risk of an activity changes even among the same people. In the not-so-distant past, it was considered risky to find a date on the Internet.
The point is, what you think risky is relative to your sociocultural background.
Stake is High
People take more risk when the stake is high. You won’t risk your life to get a 5% salary increase, but may do so if you could find a brand-new life with wealth and freedom or could become rich by finding your own gold mine. It was this high stake that motivated Europeans to take off a long and risky journey to pass the Atlantic Ocean and Americans to cross the entire continent with a not-well-equipped coach. What the Indian father driving a motorcycle with his entire family on the backseat sees is the same thing – a big chance of success that is worth taking a risk.
What is Alternative?
Another angle is the alternatives, or the scenarios of not taking a risk. For my friend, who has lived in the US for years with a nice home and a stable job, not taking a risk means continuing the same successful life. However, for some people, not taking an action means staying under the same unfavorable condition. The Protestants left for America to escape from religious persecution. The Gold Rushers headed West to leave from the poor immigrants’ life on the East Coast. For them, taking a risky action is better off than not taking any action. The same may be true for the father on the bike, the young man on the bus, and the lady at the construction site.
They are not mere risk taker. They are brve action takers.