I DO not think that India is an exception. Like other South Asian countries it is also lessening in fundamental values. In an unequal society, the urge to survive has come to prevail. The result is that the people have stopped differentiating between right and wrong. Politics or sheer greed may have accelerated the slide down the hill. But it is there for all to see and feel.
India’s case is worrisome because it has had an uninterrupted democratic and secular rule for the last six decades, except for a brief period of emergency (1975-77). What deepens my anxiety is that the public protest against social crimes, official excesses or human rights violations is becoming rare. It looks as if the society has lost the sensitivity and convinced itself that there is no dividing line between moral or immoral. Truth has come to be a relative term. Even the intellectuals seem to believe, to quote American thinker Robert Frost, that “most of the change we think we see in life is due to truth being in or out of favour.”
A few happenings in the last few days indicate that the democratic India, claiming its heritage from saints and Sufis of times immemorial, is weakening in moral fiber. An open society does not mean a valueless society. But we are reaching that stage.
Haryana is a next door state to Delhi. Singhwala village is not too distant. A girl and a boy marry from the some gotra (lineage). However, the Khap biradari (caste) to which the couple belongs pronounces death sentence for having married in the same gotra and tells the family to leave the village. When the husband reaches his bride’s village to take her—the Punjab and Haryana High Court gives him police protection—he is thrashed to death. The 20 policemen, his protectors, run away. The biradari is not repentant but wants administer the same punishment to the girl.
What torments me is that there is no protest either in Haryana or in Delhi. Not a word of regret by the state chief minister. His son Deepinder Singh Hooda, a Lok Sabha member who has studied in America, sheepishly tells a TV network that the death is because of certain customs in the area. Parliament which wastes times on trifles is silent on the cold-blooded murder. Believe it or not, political parties, including the Left, raise no objection because the state assembly elections are due in the next few months and, therefore, no party wants to offend the electorate which is influenced by one biradari or the other.
Whether the murder in Haryana was an honour or dishonour killing is for the nation to decide. But why is there a death-like silence? Why the intelligentsia has not spoken even a word against the incident? The All India Democratic Women Association’s estimate is that 100 boys and girls are murdered or forced to commit suicide every year in Haryana due to love affairs. The elite in Delhi discuss such tragedies at the over-loaded dining tables and merely shrug their shoulders if asked to comment.
Take another happening this week at Patna. A woman is stripped publicly in the heart of the city. Scores of people watch it as a tamasha but do not interfere to stop it. Bihar is a gone case. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar remains silent for three days and then takes action by suspending some police officials. Yet the people who stripped the woman, reportedly a sex worker, go scot-free. It is only when a TV channel shows the incident live and displays pictures of four boys, the administration moves. Again the matter has evoked little protest either in Bihar or elsewhere in the country. There is business as usual.
At Delhi, a student, an aide of Prof. H.S.Sabharwal, is killed outside his college. His fault is that he was pasting posters for a candle-light vigil to bring Prof. Sabharwal’s killing to the public focus. Sabharwal was murdered in the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh three years ago for having protested against the Students’ Union election. Six activists of Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarathi Parishad, the youth wing of the BJP, were tried but the court had to release them because all witnesses turned hostile. The judge said in his verdict that the accused might be guilty but he could not convict them because lack of evidence. He accused the police of “hiding something.” Obviously, the intelligence under the state could not probe beyond a point.
The police are yet to act. The accused may have gone scot-free because of legal technicalities. Yet the fact remains that Sabharwal was murdered. Who did it is not known. Here not even moral policemen of the BJP said a word to condemn the murder of first Prof. Sabharwal and then his aide. Once again, there is no public protest. Even students remain silent.
India’s topmost painter M.F. Hussain’s work cannot be exhibited at the country’s apex art exhibition. It goes without saying that the organizers are afraid of the Sangh parivar which says that nude pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses are not acceptable. These paintings are decades old. Why the paintings have become objectionable only in the last few years? What is shocking is that even artists and intellectuals do not protest much less demand the exhibition of Hussain’s paintings being at the apex art function.
On the other hand, the Lok Sabha is resounded by the voice of protests by former ministers that their security has been reduced. All of them get a contingent of 21 National Security Guards each. The public resent the expense because it can have that sum of money spent on better law and order than on VIP security men who have become a status symbol. The government ultimately gives in and announces that there will be no cut in their security.
What it boils down to is that MPs have a different standard of morality. For that matter, members of the elite have come to accept symbols of authority as part of life. If the government machinery in our country is to be rendered safe for our children, MPs, MLAs and panchayat members, along with bureaucrats, must give a better account of themselves by standing up for the basic values of an honest and efficient administration. That alone can resurrect the people’s lost faith in our services and politicians.
If a democratic heritage is to be left for future generations, we should want the truth again to be enshrined in its legitimate place in the social economic and political scheme of things in our country. There is nothing unattainable or profound in this. It is a simple human message.