We have discussed on several occasions the problems India is faced with today apart from the most obvious one of lack of emotional integration.
During our parleys at Build India Group meetings, Sudha, Sanmugha and Kiran lamented the fact that Indians despite being God-fearing indulge in corruption. All of us agreed that corruption and terrorism are two major impediments in the country's progress. These are spreading in our system like cancer.
We need to first see the symptoms of and reasons for corruption and terrorism being so rampant in Indian society. For this we need to make a rain check of the strengths and weaknesses of India and Indians.
Indians of all faiths fear god. As we know, witnesses during court trials take the mandatory oath in the name of God to speak the truth and nothing but the truth. Some may still lie in court but such oaths do make them think twice before doing so.
The Indian Constitution is our Supreme Law. This solemn text governs every aspect of our lives. The Constitution has ensured Fundamental Rights for all Indians. We speak of these Fundamental Rights very often when it comes to protecting our own interests.
Our country has one of the largest network of schools and other educational institutions in the world. Millions of our students form a huge reservoir of promise to contribute to nation-building. They are the nation's future.
We also have a large number of lawyers in this country. Lawyers are generally eloquent communica-tors. They had played a stellar role in our Freedom Movement. Now we are to fight for a different kind of freedom from within ourselves: freedom from corruption, which is actually a reflection of one's state of mind.
India has a large number of teachers at the school, college and university level. Notwithstanding the fact that education has been greatly commercialised, teachers all over the country can still shape the minds of the young so that they are equipped to face the challenges of the life ahead.
India's media, keeping in mind its enormous reach and connect, is probably the most powerful instrument in the country to mould public opinion. It is an effective and excellent medium for information, entertainment, education and empowerment.
The wonders of 21st Century technology have reached even our villages. If the 20th Century saw the advent of the radio, television and computer to revolutionise communication, highly advanced versions of software have now penetrated even our remotest villages. Communication is easy, fast and cheap. Websites and other such tools have proliferated. Distances have disappeared.
Another huge strength is perhaps the sheer talent in all fields including medicine, engineering, management, English education, enthusiasm and motivation of our youth. And there are many more attributes which we could cite as our inherent strengths. There is a vast untapped reservoir of talent not only in the cities but also in rural India. Despite poverty and illiteracy, Indian villages continue to foster traditional moral values.
What ails us?
India remained enslaved under foreign rule for a thousand years. Even today most Indians do not necessarily have an "independent" mindset. We have not come out of centuries of obeying a master. This is what I spoke about in the first chapter. We require instructions and directions and guidance and a host of other aides on even issues concerning our welfare.
Most of us do not think positive. Any independent step in the right direction is not easily appreciated. We do whatever we are required to do in our jobs simply because we feel someone else (read boss) has directed us to do so. Little that is ingenious or constructive is done of our own accord, and even less of initiative is displayed.
Our governments do not spend lavishly on education. The Economic Times in its June 1, 2004 edition carried a report that India was spending 4.1% of the GDP towards education and its literacy rate was 65 per cent. Even today India has over 40 crore illiterates. We have many billionaires in India. We are emerging stronger as an economy. We have been making rapid strides. Yet we are lagging behind in literacy. Most of our teachers are ill-equipped, and therefore below par. According to recent media surveys, nearly 25% of teachers of government schools do not even attend them except for pay day. What kind of education are we giving our children? What kind of employment could we expect to provide them?
We are unproductive and un-enterprising when we are home. The same Indian toils unceasingly to notch up incredible success stories when he is on his own outside his state or country. We can toil without limit if we want to or if it concerns our personal gain, yet we have perhaps the worst work culture in the world.
We do not react when we are required to. And if we do, we react too slowly. Sometimes, or most of the times, we as individuals close our eyes to events which occur in front of us that are wrong and dangerous to the interests of society. For example, if a goon or policeman demands hafta in our neighbourhood market, we tend to remain silent. The best we do is to think about our personal safety. "At least I am not being harmed" is the refrain.
Individual liberty is the brightest aspect of a democracy. Democracy is a wonderful mechanism of governance in which individual liberty and freedom of expression are safeguarded. The Judiciary is the guardian of democracy. But many may wonder whether the same legal system, often the last or only resort for many who have been seeking justice, has met our expectations? It is because those who serve as the custodians of our rights and liberties are, after all, drawn from the same society.
The common man is, to say the least, skeptical about the institutions of the Judiciary and the police. The police are, in particular, not regarded as people-friendly or competent custodians of the law particularly when it comes to criminal justice system. A careful look at cases will reveal that out of thousands of cases filed every day by litigants, a substantial number of these are false, frivolous and luxury litigations. We do not trust the police. The police department is the biggest litigant in trial courts. So how does the average Indian repose complete faith in the trials or lower judiciary as a repository of justice?
Many a time I feel the whims of babus lead to the filing of writ petitions in the High Courts. The whimsical order of the babus forces the common people to come to the court for invoking writ jurisdiction. If the government loses a case, the babu would say he would not have to pay from his pocket. It is the poor litigant who pays money for the relief that he is entitled to. But he gets it at a price. A litigant never wins a case. He suffers endlessly awaiting for justice. File after file gets stacked in the racks of record rooms. The rate of Pendency, which includes substantially false and frivolous litigations, keeps on increasing in the absence of proper scrutiny at the beginning.
The Times of India in its Delhi edition of November 30, 2007 carried a report titled "Timely Justice at Re 1 per head per month" which said almost three crore cases were pending before the courts in the country of which 37 lakh cases are pending in the High Courts alone. The newspaper advocated increasing the salaries and number of judges for better efficiency and speedier disposal of cases.
Will increasing the number of judges or hiking their salaries introduce efficiency to the system? Don't we have the problem of inefficiency on part of the judges while handling cases?
Are only lack of infrastructure and commitment on the part of the court staff contributing to the delay in justice delivery system? Can anybody honestly say what happens if some judge is incompetent to discharge his duty as a judge or that a judge is not willing to perform?
A witness is always a great asset in establishing the truth during the trial procedure. But what happens to the witness who comes to court in support of the truth? The courtroom situation is too unfriendly to him. He is subjected to intense cross examination and at times he undergoes terrible mental stress. Imagine an eyewitness voluntarily coming to the aid of a road accident victim. He gets into trouble first with the police, and then while deposing as a witness in court. Consequently, an ordinary man would not like to come to the court as a witness to avoid harassment. A witness fears that he may have to face the music from the litigant against whom he is deposing. A rape victim who cries for justice has to narrate her sordid trauma before a litany of policemen, mostly males. She then has to repeat the story before the male officers who may be judges, lawyers and police officers. Either way, she has to relive the ignominy in the presence of the very man who violated her, and not be sure that justice will be her's at the end.
All who are accused are not always criminals. Yet many innocents languish in jails when justice is miscarried or awaited. Many keep running round in circles in the endless game of pursuing litigations. The most painful fact is that in India we get the feeling that we do not get justice and we have to spend money for it though getting justice is one's fundamental right. Trial courts generally accept the story of the police as the gospel truth unless something is very glaringly wrong with the investigation. Our High Courts many an occasion express their dismay pooh-poohing the practice of magistrates behaving like the rubber stamp of prosecution. In most cases, the perpetrators of the crime are the rich and powerful who can afford to hire the services of the best and most exorbitant lawyers. Very often the genuinely wronged person may lose the legal battle simply because he lacks the means to sustain exorbitant legal costs. Criminals, who have the power to pay, go scot-free in a large number of cases because good money buys a good defence.
It troubles me to hear news reports of a three-year-old facing trial for alleged rape in Bihar or a septuagenarian incarcerated for nearly four decades in Assam. Or about some judge being judged on charges of graft.
No human being is infallible. So are judges. It is difficult to ascertain on the basis of records as to who is the real culprit? It is possible that the real culprit may not be the one who is convicted.
Sometimes, I feel what is lacking is the right will and the right approach. Social obligation requires you to give something in return. This is what Justice Sanjiv Khanna, when he was my senior as a lawyer, used to say.
There is a recent trend in the media that we praise a judge whenever he sentences some powerful person to a prison term. Why should a judge be praised for pronouncing a judgment? He is only doing his job, right? We go on praising the Judiciary on many occasions for all the wrong reasons.
There are cases of judges calling reporters and giving them information just to see their names in print. This desire is fuelled by the unusual levels of enthusiasm of reporters to get access to the inner portals of the court to collect information. Many judges are under the impression that they are doing a public service. Is it just public service? There is also the desire to get fame and recognition. Most of them are interested in seeing their names in print in the national dailies and or being repeatedly broadcast in news bulletins. Arrogance and whim take their toll on justice on many an occasion. I know this would hurt many judges, but I say this with utmost humility and the greatest respect to the institution of the Judiciary. Give it a good hard look: Are such judges, though they may be very few, not bringing a bad name to the institution of the Judiciary? This is not to criticize the Judiciary but to state that the members of the judiciary are also drawn from the same society. If there is moral degradation in our society, it is bound to have an effect, howsoever small, on the judicial system as well.
No one regards the relationship between judges and lawyers as that of master and servant. They work in tandem. For both the Bar and the Bench, the interest of justice is paramount. The problem with the Judiciary can be tackled by judges and lawyers themselves. Delay, inertia, lack of commitment and sometimes the eagerness to dismiss cases simply to boost disposal rates erode the commonman's faith in the Judiciary.
Justice V.R Krishna Iyer and Former Chief Justice J S Verma speak highly in favour of Judges Accountability Bill, 2006. The country's top intellectuals also talk of greater transparency in the Judiciary. But it would indeed probably be hypocritical on our part to say that we repose absolute faith in the Judiciary.
Though truth is now being accepted as a valid defence in contempt after the latest amendment to the Contempt of Court Act, writers still run the risk of being thrown behind bars. If an innocent man is pronounced guilty, the media goes all out to demolish the accused. Nobody except for the accused knows for sure whether he is innocent. But for an innocent to prove his point, he may have to even sell off his home and hearth to be able to afford a lawyer to fight his case, and then remain in glorious uncertainty for years to come. And if he does wriggle out of the mess, it would only be at enormous cost. In such cases, the media cannot undo the damage already caused to him.
Bureaucrats lack initiative at work but yet complain about their work not being appreciated. Their efforts are focused not on improving the lot of the people they serve but on ensuring personal comforts and career advancement. The most corrupt sections of society emerge from this group and yet they are the ones who claim to hate corruption the most.
I am appalled to know that in India 57 out of every 1000 newborns do not live to see their first birthday. Or that the people of 157 of India's nearly 550 districts live under the shadow of the militant's gun. It hurts me no end to hear of a patwari or revenue inspector charging a bribe from even the poorest of the poor in states like Orissa or Andhra to issue a residential certificate. I feel like slapping the clerk at Tis Hazari courts when he charges cash from a lawyer for listing his case before the District Judge on an urgent basis. Is this the country we wanted for ourselves?
This is the stark reality. Our growth and successes have been lopsided. Cities have grown at the expense of the villages. We have nothing for the villages to invest in their development and bridge the gap between urban and rural India.
Indians have an uncanny propensity for all things foreign. The label 'Made in India' does not instil any warmth or pride in our hearts. That's because we have since our childhood been inculcated with the impression that anything foreign is something good. We are indifferent about our culture and heritage. We are obsessed with ourselves. We are not bothered about our neighbours, our communities, our society and nation.
The spiralling growth in population has negated many of our social and economic achievements since Independence. Millions of Indians go through the motions of life without basic education or access to decent healthcare. Millions of Indians do not get two square meals a day. We do not have a competent system of management of resources at the village level that involves the people. All this stokes the fires of angst among our people. This lead to dissatisfaction and disaffection among the younger lot, many of whom are easily misguided into joining violent anti-national movements which pose a threat to our collective security.
Our growth and development is neither planned nor balanced. While the cities grow rapidly inviting pollution, disease and a host of other problems, our villages continue to remain in the blind spot of our policymakers. We lack competent planning to boost the economy, education, healthcare, infrastructure and employment levels in our villages.
Despite all tall claims by successive governments since independence, rural India has been left in a state of utter neglect. If unabated migration is allowed to the cities, people will continue to cry out for water, clean environment, sanitation, electricity, healthcare and blame the government for everything that is wrong in the cities.
India has been making rapid strides in its economy. Yet Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen the essay titled "Class in India" in his "The Argumentative Indian" writes, "India's over all record in eliminating hunger and under-nutrition is quite terrible. The percentage of undernourished Indian children is a gigantic 40% to 60%. About half of all Indian children are, if appears, chronically undernourished and more than half of adult women suffer from anaemia."
The biggest challenge India is probably facing today is to uplift the life of about 30 to 40 crore people and the number is increasing. A serious and planned effort is needed to provide them education, healthcare and food. Unfortunately, in our country, we face drought in some areas while excess rainfall in others leading to waste of valuable rain water.
Over a period of 100 years, our forest cover has come down drastically from one thirds to one sixth. Water table at most places is depleting. The River Ganga is dying a slow death, while the Himalayan glacier reducing by 25 metres every year. There is very real threat of global warming. Pollution is revisiting us in form of calamities. We need to have serious and concerted efforts to change the situation and the masses should be involved.
But the common refrain is : "Who will do it?"
"We also do not champion issues leaving it to others to take the initiative. The others in turn do exactly the same, that is, to leave it to someone else. So we are left with a thousand issues facing the country and no champions in sight. What difference can I make? Is it our well reasoned attitude? What does it matter if I also do not vote? Will the country's corruption rating on Transparency International get any better if I stop greasing a palm," V Rathunathan says with pain in his book "Games Indian Play".
If we go on discussing what ails us, the list could be endless. These are some of the crucial points to ponder. Our country has a great pool of talent, intellectuals, writers, statesmen, technocrats, lawyers, doctors and teachers, who can add to the small list that I have stated. We have our strengths and we have our weaknesses. Our politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, judges, lawyers, policemen and doctors are talented citizens who can summarily change our lot with a little bit of effort. What they lack is the right will and approach.
But while our strengths remain strengths, our weaknesses have to be addressed with ideas and sincere effort. As all my fellow Campaigners agreed, corruption is the biggest and most conspicuous problem. Let us talk about corruption first.