The Telegraph
Friday , January 11 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Indians need to rescue themselves from total self-centredness

It is only some months since the Ramlila Grounds would be jammed by thousands of the citizenry, both from Delhi as well as from the neighbouring states, to listen to Anna Hazare’s haranguing on the great evil of corruption at high places and the imperative need for a powerful lok pal. They have disappeared in no time. Is it not wise, therefore, to be a wee bit cynical about the supposedly awesome display of people’s power in the national capital everybody is talking of? The throngs, led by determined-looking women, which choked the ramparts of New Delhi continuously for three days, frightening to death the shambles of a government, might end up as an ephemeral phenomenon as well. Delhi has its strong points with regard to organizing rallies that focus on emotive issues, big or small. It is the seat of power. It is also the alcove for intrigues. Almost all the political parties have chosen to base their headquarters in the national capital. The lobbies, domestic and foreign, are well entrenched; so too are espionage agents. To top it all, the national media are present in full strength to pounce on happenings that have an interesting story line. Grisly incidents involving attacks on women take place in every nook and corner of the country, with frequency greater in some regions than in others. But there are
few convulsions in their wake. Outrage is expressed at the local level. A few excited statements appear in the press. Police are blamed in a routine manner for their alleged absentmindedness and grosser failings. The police and the authorities make a show of stirring themselves into action. After a while, everything, however, goes the way of all flesh.

That has been the pattern of developments in the country following reports of rapes and such other grisly atrocities against women in different parts of it. True, the assault on the young lady referred to as ‘Nirbhaya’ — now dead — in a moving bus on a late evening in a Delhi street has caused the massive kind of resentment that has broken the pattern. It could be that feelings of fear and helplessness and anger and exasperation accumulating at various levels created a situation assuming the form of almost a general uprising against those manning the administration. Ministers and administrators at different rungs, rendered targets of the collective wrath, were rattled, their nerves took a beating. For a few moments the illusion reigned that the people were about to take over governance. That moment of passion did not last long. It could not. Collective emotion, a compound of disparate motives and inclinations, has no sustaining power. The government recovered from the cramps it was suffering from and has again got away with not too many specific promises for action for the setting up of a committee, presided over by a retired judge to assess the merits and demerits of various suggestions likely to be argued out before it and act on the committee’s recommendations with expedition.

There is thus no certitude that this time too, the outcome of conversations and debates currently taking place would be much different despite the frightening reality of a woman being violated in the country every 20 minutes. For there are broader issues which could be their shadow. The promises enshrined in the Constitution notwithstanding, India is already a republic of hunger. Whatever jugglery with statistics is undertaken under the auspices of official agents, it would be difficult to refute the cold fact that, even after near-seven decades of independence, at least one-fifth of the country’s population go to bed hungry. The kind of shenanigan the authorities have been indulging in in the recent period to sabotage the public distribution system, and substitute it with a dubious cash transfer scheme, actually portends a further enlargement of the republic of starvation.

Sociologists and other learned people go on referring to an abstract concept which passes as the moral fibre. Once the nation’s moral fibre is recast and reformulated, rapists and aspiring rapists, it is argued, would disappear once and for all. Are they not merely airing a tautology? Trouble arises over the definition of morality itself. It could get shifted in ways beyond the imagination of sociologists. Besides, the inhabitants of the great Bharatvarsha have always existed at two levels, preaching holy precepts while drifting generously away from these in their daily perambulations. Meanwhile, other processes have been at work. The reign of hypocrisy has expanded spectacularly ever since the regime of economic liberalization arrived on the scene. The neo-liberal stream of thought places the worship of self-centredness on the highest pedestal: each individual must be left free to pursue his/her own preferences; she or he should also have the freedom to optimize the gains derivable from the system. In pursuing the chosen objective, each citizen, the neo-liberal philosophy further says, must not be enchained by any interdict: it would be left to him or her to decide by what means to maximize the gains. For instance, it has been seriously argued that the offer of a bribe should be no crime in case making such an offer is necessary to swing a contract or get a file moving expeditiously in a government office. Under this new set of moral rulers, the identification between sin and crime is not acceptable. Once the identity between sin and crime is wiped off, the notion of shame too disappears.

The present government at the Centre has itself set an example in the matter. The prime minister agrees in the first instance that financial irregularities have been perpetrated in a particular wing of his government; since that wing, however, came under the jurisdiction of a political ally, he could not be held responsible for those irregularities. The value system is being overhauled: official actions and decisions over which the prime minister himself has no direct control are not his responsibility in spite of his being the head of government. When a similar irregularity is proved to have taken place in a department directly under the prime minister’s control, the argument is altered: the present administration might perhaps have slipped here and there, but, look here, such irregularities took place even during previous regimes. Committing, or facilitating the committing of, a corrupt act is no longer reckoned to be a matter of shame, the government proposes to brazen it out.

Political leaders having shown the way, there is a mad rush to follow the lead. Shame is fast disappearing from society’s moral fibre. The pursuit of self-interest is above all. A rapist could therefore see nothing wrong in satisfying his carnal urges by exercising force upon, and in some instances even killing, his intended target. He had unleashed, he might claim, the animal spirit the prime minister so fondly refers to.

Suddenly, a thought occurs about how cheerleaders could play a useful role in a cricket encounter. Cheerleaders should be there, picked by the home team, but they would be under instruction to cheer only when the visiting team does well, one of its players hits a magnificent century or runs through the batsmen of the home team by his devastated pace bowling. That would be one way to teach ourselves to creep back into civilization.