We do agree that corruption, terrorism and other anti-national activities in India have to be tackled at all costs. And the mother of all these evils is corruption. Corruption is a kind of mental perversity reflected in one's actions, either to satisfy personal greed or bolster one's ego and beliefs. Crores of rupees have been poured into the investigation of corruption cases. Several major corruption cases have rocked our collective national conscience in the last two decades. In the recent past we have also seen the rise of several voluntary organizations dedicating themselves solely to fight corruption. In 1988 Parliament also formulated a special legislation, the Prevention of Corruption Act, to deal with corruption cases. We also have a host of legislations, apart from the Indian Penal Code, such as FERA and FEMA to deal with corruption. Our courts are increasingly passing judgments on corruption cases. But has all this really served the purpose of bringing down the levels of corruption? Have such judgments and laws actually proved to be a deterrent?
Legislation is the brainchild of a few individuals who, in their wisdom, believe that a specific punishment can check a particular malaise. However, most of the time many of our laws have failed at the execution or implementation level as a result of which the wrong doers have walked away cocking a snook at the system. One thing is clear: deterrence, rather, the lack of it, whether social or legal, has failed to curb corruption.
With none, minimal, or at best superficial understanding about the genesis of crime, lawmakers and researchers have proposed a plethora of measures that have gone on to form the edifices of new laws. But in many cases, if not most, these laws and legislations have not achieved the desired impact. Nonetheless, these are positive steps forward and should not be undermined.
The recently formulated Right to Information Act is one such instrument that holds promise in the fight against corruption and reining insincere babus taking advantage of red-tape. It could prove to be an effective tool of empowerment in future. Armed with it, an ordinary citizen can peep through the bureaucratic curtain and track the movement of dust-laden files. Computerization has also helped make things transparent in a big way. But has anything been done to change the mindset of the people? Several NGOs have resorted to novel methods to fight corruption, such as the one in Chennai which issued fake notes to pay for bribes demanded or beat up corrupt functionaries in their offices.
If we go back to our roots and take a look at the social justice system of medieval times, the theory of self-punishment would help us understand corruption better. Without glorifying any such activity I would like to cite certain self-imposed punitive mechanisms that proved to be powerful deterrents without being legal statutes. Such mechanisms have evolved over a period of time and are in vogue even today. In some states like Orissa, Bihar and Bengal, Hindus consider killing a cow among the gravest sins -- equivalent to murdering a Brahmin. One who killed a cow had to atone for the sin through a series of self-inflicted measures. He was supposed to wear a rope made of straw like a noose around his neck. He was not allowed to talk to fellow villagers or enter his own house till he had fully atoned for his sin. He was treated with the contempt reserved for criminals by his fellow villagers. In Orissa till the 1970s the village panchayat used to punish any person accused of killing a peacock or an animal considered auspicious for the village.
One very interesting feature of the village justice system was that the alleged offender had to take an oath in the name of the presiding deity of the village. The fear of God is inbuilt in the psyche of every Indian. It is such that no individual would ordinarily commit a crime in the name of God unless some kind of extreme perversity crosses his mind.
Let us also not forget that in India society does not forget or forgive a murderer or rapist even after he has served his sentence and is released from prison. Such people continue to be stigmatised and are looked down upon by other citizens. This is an extreme mental torture that convicts once released are subjected to for the rest of their lives. But unfortunately, our society has not yet branded corruption as heinous a crime as, say, rape or murder. Corrupt people are not ostracized by their communities or neighbourhoods. Social segregation is a bigger deterrent than segregation behind bars. As I have already mentioned earlier, corruption involving the misappropriation of public money in Singapore can invite a life term without parole. In India a similar punishment would be very difficult to implement. Just imagine what would happen to hundreds of our MPs, MLAs, contractors, police officers and babus if all the corrupt were sentenced to life in prison like Singapore. Lawmakers in India cannot draft such stringent laws here since corruption is yet to be stigmatized in the manner that is being sought.
I have often during my visits to various places in the country felt that being a god-fearing nation repulsion towards corruption comes naturally to Indians. In fact even the corrupt hate corruption in India, just as smokers hate the very tobacco they have been addicted to. A clerk with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Hari Malik (name changed), who takes bribes unfailingly every day, once told me that "I am honest merely because I am not caught. I take money just as anyone else, (But) I don't want my son to be corrupt. I want him to be an IT Engineer and go to America for a better future. But then how do I know if my son will not be corrupt? I hate corruption."
Be that as it may there is a unanimous opinion that deep within themselves, people in general dislike corruption but generally end up abetting it as a matter of compulsion. This dislike is, more often than not, latent. Corruption has to be given the label of a plague or pestilence, and this latent hatred has to be whipped up among the masses. Corruption should be likened to rape or murder if it has to be wiped out. And for this we need to create a wave against it in the whole country.
Hatred against corruption can be spontaneous only when it comes as a sense of duty to each and every individual, irrespective of his or her background. The contours of this sense of duty are yet to be defined. In 1976 we included in our Constitution the Fundamental Duties through the 42nd Amendment Act. The Constitution makes it binding on every citizen of India to bear in mind some duties towards our society and nation. These are:
* To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem;
* to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;
* to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
* to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
* to promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious; linguistic and regional or sectional diversities to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
* to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
* to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures;
* to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
* to safeguard public property and to abjure violence; and,
* to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement.
In a family, the duties of a husband towards his wife, of a son towards his father, a brother towards his sister and a father to his son are well defined. It is the emotion and love towards our near and dear ones that binds us and instill in ourselves the sense of belongingness. If we consider our country too to be like our home and family then performing all our duties towards our motherland would be spontaneous. So the key element required in discharging our duties towards our nation is the sense of being Indian. Kiran Patro and Nishant Dutta have asked how we can think of an instrument that will help us create a sense of being Indian. Shanmugha Patro says we can do so by an intense awareness campaign through the media and other channels. Avtar Nehru disagrees, saying we need to do much more.
We have already discussed that more than 92 per cent of Indians are god-fearing. Indians are by nature emotional, peace-loving and caring. Most people go to temples, churches and mosques regularly. We have a large number of students who say prayers to the Almighty every morning. The power of God, who may not be visible, is so immense that providence is also invoked in trial proceedings. Since we are expected to say nothing but the truth before God, we take the oath of veracity in courts in the name of Providence too.
Man became more and more rational as Civilization progressed. This rationality segregated man from the rest of the animal kingdom. Every animal has a basic desire for food, sex, greed and power. The human being is an animal too; he possesses all these qualities at the time of birth. When a child is born, parents pay great attention to him. The child too learns to respond to this attention, and gets used to it. As he grows up he hates to share this attention with anyone else. This is a manifestation of the inherent selfish quality in him. This is what we all are at the beginning of our lives.
When civilization began, human beings, as many philosophers and anthropologists say with certainty, lived in the forests much in the fashion of animals. With the passage of time they changed, refined themselves and altered their behavioural patterns. This was made possible by the sharing of experience, which we call knowledge, and the process of refinement, which we call culture.
This process of refinement that we call culture is an unending one. Refinement is never static. It keeps on changing, discarding the irrelevant to embrace the more meaningful. But what was meaningful yesterday may not be relevant today. Hence every process has some anomalies and grey areas and, thereby, room for improvement. In the era of the homo sapiens, fighting over food for survival and wanton sex were normal. Why then have our behaviour patterns changed?
Niranjan Mahapatra of my village Sarangadharpur gave me the answer to this question way back in the summer of 1985. He had then just joined Swami Chinmayananda and later given the title Swami Saranananda. Niranjan Mahapatra was trying to explain how the early human beings behavioural patterns gradually changed as he settled down to "civilization". He explained the philosophy of Moh Mudgaram, authored by the great saint and philosopher Adi Shankaracharya.
Niranjan Mahapatra explained that the Shankar-acharya had written Moh Mudgaram with one message: our bestial qualities must be hammered away to oblivion so that we can live life on the god-given path. When bestial qualities remain latent in our heart, punishment will not work as a deterrent till we would start hating those very bestial qualities. How would one do away with these bestial qualities forever? The answer is through samskara. Samskara teaches us to reject what is bad and accept and continue with what is good. This process of refinement is called "culture". Our culture has set for us, individually and collectively, the parameters that we are not to transgress. In retrospect I believe Niranjan Mahapatra gave me a beautiful mantra to fight one's bad or bestial qualities.
In primitive society there was no regulation of sex. A man could have sex with as many women as he could. A father could have had intercourse with his daughter. This is perverse, is not it? But why is this perverse? It is because such acts are considered taboo in all societies. Such relation-ships were considered sinful. A new principle was formulated prohibiting sexual relationship between a man and a woman other than husband and wife. Marriage could have come up as an institution to formalise the act of union, transcending all religions. After this, sexual relationships among couples other than husband and wife were viewed as immoral and illegitimate.
The same was the case with theft. There was no concept of legitimate ownership in the primitive world. Gradually theft and robbery were viewed as crimes, and the concept of property, both collective and individual, emerged. Theft and plunder were given a bad name. Those who still perpetrated it were reined in by the justice system that evolved from the edifice of such beliefs of right and wrong. The justice system prepared deterrents for those who did not adhere to the norms that governed society. These deterrents came in the form of social segregation, personal boycott and corporal punishment.
These deterrents were elaborately stipulated in Puranic and historical texts so that the human being would clearly be able to distinguish between right and wrong. The never-ending process of refinement continues even today, not only in India but the whole world. Unless you hate the bestial qualities in you, you are no different from that of a beast. These bestial qualities are manifest in a host of activities such as bloodshed, communal conflagrations, terrorism and corruption.
It goes without saying that the god-fearing people of India would hate activities of such nature. But it is also true that people representing vested interests encourage criminal activity to satisfy their selfish interests. Honest and educated people fail to unite themselves and others against such practices. This happens simply because we do not have enough courage to stand up to such men. It is something like chickens waiting their turn at the chopping block. In my discussions on this subject, many educated and thoughtful persons have expressed the fear that if this trend continues the impact on our succeeding generations may be irreversible. Do we want that?