Sunday, 16 October 2011

Ideal State

Deccan Herald, Sunday Herald. Cover story. Oct 16, 2011.

The foundation of a ‘Welfare State’ has been most magnificently illustrated in Amish’s epic debut novel, The Immortals of Meluha. Its governance rests on the instruction of ‘give and give’, where each citizen is, by law, duty-bound to always do for the other. With everything taken care of for your self by the next person, no one is left wanting. Each citizen partakes, automatically, of a generous society that cares equally for its upkeep as it does for the sentiments of each other. Equal opportunity and abundance of resources and goodwill are a natural consequence and the state prospers under a moral framework poised on ethics and righteousness. By law. An ideal citizenry, in and of an ideal society. The Indian sentiment reveres it as Ram Rajya – the quintessence of ‘truth, tranquillity and peace’. Agencies of administration call it ‘Ideal State’ – a seemingly Utopian dream, every honest leader, anywhere in the world, strives to establish.

A far cry from the grimy reality of our lives, you would say. But what is sad is not so much the apathy of people to what is right, but the almost venomous scorn that meets anyone who stands against what is wrong and seeks to bring about a positive difference.

There is not a single road in Bangalore, for instance, that is not under various stages of continuous rebuilding. Traffic ‘non’sense is the standard public anthem. People reach appointments late and later, but they get there – somehow. Not a single person outside your personal cordon of resources can be trusted for timely turnout or total delivery even, but that does not stop the work getting done, however post-deadline. Compromise is the only way forward, generally, and yet we manage to laugh about it soon. Mediocrity is the new high and those who are sticklers for better, will most probably be left without. Local vendors know this, smart consumers learn it fast.

And India works! That’s the marvel of it.

My question to you is: Is that our problem, or is it where the solution hides? Because for every four cars that will come out suddenly from the lane on the left and swerve in front of me to take a right turn, there is one motorist who will stop and take the time to reprimand the erring driver and even summon the cops. For every baton-wielding cop who will make some cursory notes only to say ‘aiyo! hogli bidri’ , there will be a scanner-brandishing sub-inspector swiftly keying in a challan. For every other hundred rupee note that quietly finds its way into a law enforcer’s pocket, there is a diligent press wallah working overtime, camera clicking away at the evidence to be plastered across front pages the next morning.

‘Jaago graahak, jaago’, the advertisements urge and educate. Too much has been spoken about malpracticing politicians and tyrannical governments. So much more has been spoken of public responsibility. Tremendous anti-corruption movements have taken on nationalistic proportions that even our children will remember. Obviously, deep within the trenches of our upbringing and culture, something, somewhere, is quite solid and binding. But why is it so hard to find?

Question 2: Is awareness only a tool to ensure your personal safeguard, or does it aim to instil a silent and all-pervading scrutiny that keeps all orders in check and consequently in force?

The basis of all civilisation is a cohesive society. There is trade, there is exchange, there is custom, there is negotiation and for these to prosper, there are ethics. The Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians ... all hold testimony as traders exemplar, consumers of their own wares and strict adherers of modicums set down by senates across ancient seas. What was achieved in our own Mohenjodaro and Harappa is beyond astounding! Today we call it civic sense, but really, it is simple social ethics – unwritten norms that dictate and guide social behaviour so as to bring about a progressive and intrinsically happy community. Naturally, organisations come about to maintain this code of conduct. Now we know it as government policy, aimed, always, at public interest.

It is the purpose of Law to assist order and maintain decorum. Try to remember the first chapter of Civics in middle school, where we were taught the Constitution of India. A boring lesson then, has the utmost importance in our lives today, as we become victims and perpetrators alike, of depleting humane concern and deteriorating common sense.

The three main sections of the Constitution detail our Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties. They, together, form the foundations upon which duties of the State and citizens, towards each other, have been laid out. They seek to shape the behaviour and conduct of the people of our country to make it a successful, peaceful and progressive nation.

While most of us are quite aware of and happy to demand what are considered ‘rights’ protected by Law, we are quite complacent in the ignorance towards our ‘duties’ to protect the same laws. And this is in spite of the fact that these ‘duties’ are listed out as meticulously as our rights, in the same Constitution. The Fundamental Duties, as they appear in Part IV-A of the third section, have been defined as “moral obligations of citizens” to one another, in their pursuit “to help promote a spirit of patriotism and uphold the unity of India”. As citizens of our country, it is our ‘duty’ to “cherish heritage, preserve composite culture, promote spirit of brotherhood, protect environment and public property, abjure from violence and strive towards excellence in all spheres”. But because they cannot be contested in court, they have become ‘mere morals’ in the hands of a few conscientious people, who will not be taken seriously unless they hold hunger fasts and gather large crowds.

Question 3: Does even basic ‘good behaviour’ have to become an enforceable law, the violation of which must be a punishable offence to ensure that a civilised people abide by each other? Does individual pride not matter enough?!

How many times have you heard glob-trotters lamenting that the same people who think nothing of spitting on their own roads at home would never fathom it in a foreign country? Reason? Not self-respect, unfortunately. It is the fear of crippling fines!

This is where education plays its role. Certain countries abroad are respected for their law-abiding ethos and general sense of pride among its people because these sentiments have been made an intrinsic part of their upbringing. And to ensure that learnt behaviour is always maintained, strong laws and penalties of consequence do their bit. Even the Indian ethos is structured on the psychological principle of sama, daana, bheda, danda ̶ explanation, incentivising, selective discrimination, and, when all else fails, punishment. Social ethics need to be ingrained as deeply as our family values. Only when behaviour or manners, becomes a subconscious reaction, can it propagate outwards as consistent and amenable.

In school, Moral Science taught us to respect our elders, obey laws, stand in a queue, help the other when in need, keep our city clean and share our joys with those around us. But these ‘values’ have been forgotten in the melee of shark mentality and first-dog-gets-the-bone attitudes that govern our fast-tracked lives today. It is, inevitably, the poor law-abider who gets pulled up, because he didn’t run away fast enough.

Which is why, when soon after Dasara, the headlines screamed that the Chief Minister has refused to fund festivities, a practice, which was until now, rampant, it came as hope. With potable water a constant risk and electricity in remote villages as elusive as an honest administration, the CM’s decision is rather encouraging.

For India to prosper and be respected in the world, basic values have to be practiced by us Indians, in India, first. And when inspiration comes from the top, it is bound to percolate. This is what we need. It is not just a superficial code of conduct, but a change in conscience that needs to come about. A promising step towards this end is Bangalore University vice-chancellor D N Prabhu Dev’s proposal to introduce Civic Sense as a non-core but compulsory subject in colleges, so as to instil responsibility among our youth. But to make civic sense truly intrinsic and to propagate the idea across the masses, maybe this classroom initiative will be better supported by vast public service campaigns and similar programmes in schools, where minds are still impressionable.

The Constitution of India has done its duty to its citizens by laying out a code of conduct. In keeping with time and requirement, new amendments are constantly suggested. Now with the 86th amendment of 2002, eleven Duties, on an official list, pan across social requirements and consider all possibilities. Since independence, to promote social welfare, government policy has used the charter of Fundamental Duties to pass laws like the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 that empowers workers across the economic spectrum. The Consumer Protection Act of 1986 remains a solace for many. And now even our educators seem poised to make our future citizens more responsible by making them intrinsically ‘fair’ and ‘responsible’ as they get ready to, effectively, run the country that has given them their identity and the indemnity to call it their own.

India will always work. The Government can lay down a law but it is ‘us’, as conscientious parents, responsible organisations, law-abiding, enthusiastic and proud citizens, who can take it forward from here, in glory. Like Swami Vivekananda motivated then, now again, it is time to, “Awake! Arise! Stop not till the goal is reached”.

Ram Rajya or Ideal State, call it what you will. But for the sake of your own dignity, take a stand.                  ■