A country devoid of character

India is sick today, and what we are trying to do is to pluck off those yellow leaves in the hope that the next leaves that will grow will be fresh, green and luxuriant. However, just in case of the tree, it is the roots of the country that need to be nurtured.

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Jahnu Barua | January 3, 2013



December 29 in Indian history will go down as a day when the nation was shamed first in the eyes of its own people and then in Singapore when the 23-year-old Delhi girl succumbed to the brutalities meted out to her in a moving bus by six young men, who are neither beast nor human. An enraged nation is bruised and battered today with no explanation to offer to its people on the question: are we safe on our streets today?

There has been widespread condemnation of the case and while people from all walks of life have called for all sorts of punishment, some out of justification and some on purely emotional grounds. I too join them in expressing my sorrow for the family members of the deceased while trying to analyse and explore the issue.

The first thing in which I join my fellow-countrymen is to condemn the act and term it more than a heinous crime. I would also like to unequivocally seek death penalty for all the accused. Generally, I have been against capital punishment, but in the case in question, I have no doubt in my mind. The case, to use a legalese, will fall in the rarest of rare category. Nothing else, according to me, will do justice. I also remember while talking to the media regarding Ajmal Kasab and why I had then advocated capital punishment as well. Just as the blood of the nation had come to a boil after the 26/11 terror attack, I can see and sense how the nation has reacted to this particular incident.

There are two reasons why I call for death penalty to the accused. First is that the perpetrators do not deserve to live. They are worse than animals, if I am to use a general usage. However, a developed mind would put things in such a way where he will argue that even animals are better than man when it comes to sex. Have you ever heard of a rape in an animal kingdom? Animals have a higher degree of sexual morality and code of conduct. They seek permission whenever they want to mate and respect the decision of their partners.

The other reason is that death penalty will be exemplary and act as a deterrent. I am also aware of the arguments in the media that death penalty normally fail to act as a preventive tool. But I believe that it instills fear in the minds of those lurking for a chance to stretch their luck and taste the resolve of the Indian Penal Code.

The second issue I want to highlight is that amid the hullaballoo of what is going on after the incident, it is also pertinent for us to understand why we have come to such a juncture? Why New Delhi is today unofficially called the rape capital of the world? Why we get to read the statistics that there is a rape every 21 minute in the country?

My analysis is that since Independence, we have never taken character-building seriously in any aspect of our lives. Our classrooms, despite the hype, lack character building measures (CBM) and so do our offices and homes. In fact, CBMs are not encouraged anywhere in the country except for those rare institutions which today stand out. It seems as a nation we never considered it important enough. Surprisingly, we have never made any provision for this in any area of our lives at home or in office, at schools or even when we are at leisure. I advocate that this effort must be undertaken in the right earnest from now on, be it in a small office or in a gaon panchayat, be it an NGO or a multinational corporation working in India. We have various departments in big offices but have we ever found one on character building? We presume that once an adult has come to work, he or she has the necessary character, which is certainly not the case. It is thanks to our civilisational heritage that Indians are psychologically and spiritually very strong. However, the built-in teacher in the form of conscience has been badly missing in a great majority of us. Adding to this is the fact that the quest for the material has killed the spiritual in us. Under circumstances like this, it is important that CBMs are inculcated in all of us. Among the most important of CBMs is development of the creative senses. It could be through the form of art or music, dance, drama or films, or anything that is constructively creative. It is believed that the moment a child starts building something, the process of character-building starts in him. Creating something results in creating a parallel character, which strengthens the self. Sadly, this fact has not been recognised by most of us. We all feel that art school is just for learning art, and the one for music is all about music where the human element is generally not found.

The one thing that sets apart a creative person from a layman is his deep resolve born out of the immense sense of his creation or the will to create. An artist, like a lay man, also has his hidden carnal desires but he, generally, has a greater resolve to control it. I believe that the six perpetrators of the crime in the bus had no resolve or command whatsoever over their senses on that fateful evening.

In the last four decades, India has, without its knowledge, given too much importance to things which are inversely proportional to the CBMs. For example, the quest for things material has become the sole objective of a great majority. Moreover, liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation of the economy have given us the hubris where we have come to believe that money can buy character and even soul. In the process, we have collectively killed the last remnants of the urge in us to develop character. The fourth and final point I want to make is that the negativities in societies are the result of us not doing enough. Our punishment theory tells us that whenever a major incident takes place, the perpetrators should be caught and punished and that everything will become all right. What is not understood is that the symptoms need to be treated and not just the sickness. When a tree is sick, its green leaves will become yellow. They will start falling. One can come to know from a distance that the tree is sick. In my view, India is sick today, and what we are trying to do is to pluck off those yellow leaves in the hope that the next leaves that will grow will be fresh, green and luxuriant. However, just in case of the tree, it is the roots of the country that need to be nurtured.

The malaise of the country is that its roots have become decadent, and hence needs to be watered and taken care off. Just as a tree does not become sick overnight, so is the case with a country. It is the sickness of the 60 years in the country that we are where we are today. I would also like to draw an analogy with what is called the holiest of all rivers: The Ganges. The fall in the civilisational and spiritual heritage in north India is akin to the Ganges. The river was the cradle of spirituality at one point of time but had since fallen on bad times. The fate of the river is akin to the fall in the human values, especially in North India. Cleansing the holy river can only take place when the mindset of those multitudes who reside on either side of the holy river is cleansed. I firmly believe that the social norms that we all grow up with have become extinct because the country has become unmanageable due to population explosion and a concomitant fall in respect for the other.

Unless, we cleanse the mindset of those on either side of the Ganges, figuratively speaking, we will not be able to bring back value to this character-starved nation.

(This article first appeared here.)

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