G. L. Batra, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
“History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.” B. R. Ambedkar
It is a historical fact that civilization first dawned in India. As Indians, we are proud of our rich culture and traditions of ethics and morality, which have permeated our national consciousness since time immemorial; and were, and are the backbone of our national character. India is the land of wisdom; of the great saints of the Bhakti and Sufi movements, philosophers and scholars. Their teachings were directed towards spreading a feeling of brotherhood and respect for each other, and essentially stated that a human being is incomplete, if lacking in humaneness. These great men guided society onto the right path, whenever social ills and wrongs threatened to distort our culture, and spread the message of patriotism, valour and reconciliation. A defining characteristic of our civilization is that more than the kings and warriors who have ruled this great land, it was the saints and the Sufis, who ruled the minds and hearts of India’s people. They wielded greater authority with their sayings and teachings, than the kings and emperors ever could with their swords and guns. The tales recited by the lute players of ancient India, and the songs and ballads of wandering minstrels and storytellers provided a framework for the evolution and growth of the composite culture of India. They wove the diverse pearls of Indian society, into a single necklace. As Indians, we are lucky to have inherited a culture imbued with values. Our ancient religious texts like the different Vedas; Bhagwad Gita, the Ramayana, the Guru Granth Sahib, and even the Koran, all teach us that every person who is born on this earth belongs to God, and every human being is equal in all respects.
Culture, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, means ‘the customs, institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or group’ or ‘the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively’. Culture encompasses everything from dos and don’ts, beliefs, values, myths, folk tales, rituals, institutions, customs and religion. Culture spans all aspects of living and even beyond. As such, culture sustains and binds together divergent elements.
Culture is the foundation, the undercurrent of every civilization. Civilization does not refer to education alone. Education, coupled with knowledge and recognition of cultural traditions and values, patriotism to the core of human character, and adherence to the laws of the land in their true spirit alone, form the basis of civilization. Respect for others, for their culture, religion and opinion, is the bedrock of society. Possession of human values and adherence to them is the very essence of human life.
Man is a social being. It is of fundamental importance that every human being cares for the needs and recognizes the rights of others. To live and let others live peacefully, is the philosophy which forms the backbone of a civil society.
Human values and morality depend upon the inevitable obligations to be discharged by all. Non-recognition of others’ rights leads to conflict and erosion of moral values. The success of democracy fundamentally depends upon the State and its people. If the citizens violate the law with impunity, it can lead to dissatisfaction, and ultimately, to anarchy. Indians all over the world were and still are recognized as the best citizens because of their inheritance of human values. However, after our independence from the British yoke, it has been seen that a degeneration of fundamental human values has occurred. In the beginning, this degeneration was gradual, but over the years, its pace has accelerated, especially in the after math of the rapid economic development which India has witnessed recently. This degeneration of morality we are witnessing, has affected every aspect of human life, and its very fabric.
Degeneration of Morality in Society
In ancient India society was, and to an extent even today is, composed of multifarious traditions and customs. Many of these were positive and fruitful, and some, like the concept of sati and untouchability, were unacceptable. But overall, our traditions and customs are rich and meaningful. After our written Constitution came into force, several of these valued customs and traditions have been wilfully ignored. Even in the United Kingdom, from whose system of government we have been inspired, due importance is given to precedent and convention. Our religious books like the Bhagwad Gita, the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Dhammapada, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are comprehensive and complete in all respects, and teach us not only spiritual values, but also the true way to live life. We have become disconnected from the valuable traditions of our forefathers.
The Indian society today is at a crossroads, as it is being exposed to conflicting cultural influences. On the one hand, there is the traditional Indian culture, wherein the value system is based on traditional agrarian ethos steeped in the ethnic milieu. On the other hand, is the industrialized western culture of individualism? The average Indian today is thus faced with the opposing and conflicting influences of these two cultures, and this has created a situation where the cultural continuity which had existed in our country for the past several centuries, has come to a standstill, and our cultural identity has become fragmented. This has had its effects on every aspect of life – home-life, education and work organizations; in short, society as a whole has been affected. Today’s Indian is confronted with many choices, which will eventually affect his life, and the future of our country. This fragmentation of cultural identity is in some measure, responsible for the dilution of India’s traditional moral and ethical values and ethos.
The effect of economic progress on moral values
More than 70% of the population of India lives in the villages and their occupation is agriculture and allied activities. Thus we can safely say that India lives in the villages. A large percentage of the India’s population is illiterate and have not had access to formal schooling. That does not mean that they are not knowledgeable steeped as they are in the traditional knowledge and culture and groomed in sincerity, honesty and simplicity. They also have sufficient knowledge they require for the purpose of maintaining their accounts and daily dealings. In fact, they are, in several ways, wiser than the well-educated urban citizen. In India, society has always had a traditional agrarian ethos which provided continuity. The subsequent encounter with the western ethos generated discontinuity and resulted in the transient culture which is the characteristic of our society today.
In Indian society, caste has been a predominant point of conflict from time immemorial. Great saints like Guru Nanak, Kabir, Baba Sheikh Farid, Meerabai, Tulsidas and Baba Bulle Shah taught us to live in peace. The essence of their teachings was that though India is a land of different religions, God is one, and there is no difference between the God worshipped by persons belonging to one particular religion from the God venerated by the other. They believed that the love of humanity and human bonding is in fact the other name of God, and God lives in the hearts of everybody, not in mosques, mandirs or churches. They perceived religion to be a binding, a uniting factor, rather than a divisive influence.
In India, the customs, the ethos, the beliefs had a surmounting effect of discipline on the individuals in India. The family traditions were great binding forces and acted more than a law in the form of customs. Truth was recognized in its true spirit and the words or commitment orally made had the binding force than written agreements. A famous couplet from the Ramcharitmanas goes,
“Raghukul reet sada chali aaye, Praan jaye par vachan na jaye”;
which means, “the tradition of Raghukul (the dynasty of King Raghu, in which Lord Rama was born), has always been that one’s word must be kept, even at the cost of one’s life”.
Till the 1950s or 60s, most of the rural population were not even aware of the written agreements. In the villages, commitments of any kind including sale transactions were made orally and abided by truthfully, and the requirements of law were complied with as per those commitments. All these things depended upon the moral values and ethos in which the Indian society believed. The degeneration of morality started as we started developing. It is not that people became aware of their rights and therefore they started violating their commitments or even by passing the written documents by way of wilful schemes, but it was for the purpose of undue personal gains alone.
After the 1990s, in this period of free trade and liberalization, there were drastic changes in the lifestyles of the people which led to conflicts and competition. Modern lifestyles have come to mean living beyond means and therefore, as a fait accompli trying to earn somehow a higher pay to meet these modern requirements of living in today’s competitive environment. In cities, working for a multinational firm or big business house, and western ways of social living, implying drinking, going to pubs, clubs and parties and being visible in the settings of conspicuous consumption are the way of life now. Such a lifestyle resulted in the need to project an image of a well to do, successful individual, who could afford the graces and conveniences of sophisticated western culture. It implied an elaborate western style arrangement of space in the home with western furniture and décor. It meant the inclusion of western dishes in food and observing festivals as social occasions while ignoring the religious and ritualistic aspects. Traditional lifestyles came to mean the average, middle-class, urban or semi urban mode of living.
This degeneration and decay of our values led to socially unacceptable ways and styles of dress, leading to crimes against women. The invasion of electronic media too, in spite of all its advantages, has had a devastating effect in the village style of living where the elders surely cannot see the television and various programmes along with the family members. Even sometimes, in middle classes, it becomes very difficult for the parents to see some programmes along with their children. The electronic media, cinema, serials, western programmes as they are unrestrictedly free on the television, have created a great intolerable desire to live and adopt a life style as is shown there. In the rural side, though there had been some economic progress, but it is surely not commensurate with the slightest desires to adopt the lifestyle as depicted in the media. Lifestyles shown on television are depicted in an exaggerated manner – more colourful than reality. For example, the rich and exotic dresses worn by celebrities on television are not those which they would wear in ordinary day-to-day life. The medium of television requires that the actors and models appearing on it, wear designer clothes. Television has thus created a false glamour in the minds of the general public, and people try to emulate this in their day to day lives. I sometimes perceive a few of the television channels, and programmes, which are driven by corporate interests, to be worse than an army aggressing on our borders, as they are eating into our culture from within like ants.
In India’s villages, it is only around 5% of the students, who after matriculation, can afford to go, for higher education, and it can be safely said that an average of approximately 200-300 matriculates are unemployed in every village. They are neither able to do agriculture, nor do they have sufficient education to earn, resulting in a great burden on the parents, who entirely depend upon the meagre agricultural income. In the face of a burgeoning population, partitions and divisions in the family and the fragmentation of land is a necessary corollary. All this has led to an increase in crime.
The rapid economic progress which our country has seen in the post-liberalization era has resulted in the creation of a large number of jobs, and an increase in the per capita income of our country. We have reason to be proud of this progress we have made. However, there is a moral and ethical flip side to this success story. The great opportunities available to the people today in terms of employment and earning potential, has created a situation where money has become the centre of the universe. Everything now-a-days seems to be seen in the financial and economic perspective. The intense competition for jobs, and the rat-race for higher salaries, and the attainment of the material comforts of life, has distorted the perspective of the youth. In today’s world, due to the hype created by the glamour industry and the media, more and more emphasis is being placed on material riches and comforts. In the quest for better financial prospects and a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle, more often than not, the individual may be compelled to use unethical and illegitimate means as a short cut to ‘success’, as defined in today’s context. There is an ancient saying that, money is a good servant, but a bad master. Though money can give us a stylish, sophisticated and comfortable lifestyle, when a person’s lifestyle becomes comfortable beyond acceptable limits, it is bound to adversely affect him physically, mentally and emotionally, and will surely erode his love, dedication, respect and affection for his loved one and his country. When one gets used to the comforts of life, it becomes difficult to sacrifice it, to deprive oneself of all these comforts, as is sometimes necessary for the sake of the nation. Material riches beyond the basic comforts of life may also make a person more ‘hard’ and less emotional. This has a great negative effect on the mentality of a human being, as emotions are the very essence of humanity.
To be continued………..
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