Are we LIVING or merely surviving?

7th Sept, 2012

By Dr. Ipshita Guha


We Indians have recently celebrated our Independence Day. Most of our children went to school following a specified dress code and some skipped school. It is not as though they are going to teach something in the class, are they? We grown-ups (sometimes along with our children) tried to attend the flag hoisting in our society compound and some of us sang the national anthem. Later many of us probably shared a cup of tea and samosas with our neighbors and fellow building residents while discussing road conditions, traffic, school curriculum, all pervading issue of maid servants and drivers, rising cost of living, unplanned power cuts, society upkeep issues and then went back to our respective flats sighing “Is desh ka kuch nahi ho sakta! The total system is flawed, nothing is going to change.” The rest of the day went in completing errands, watching TV, (maybe) meeting up friends or relatives, handling calls and office emails and gearing up for next day’s work.

I went through the somewhat similar routine and sat in the evening thinking about the monthly article that I am going to write for this magazine while randomly scrolling through Twitter posts. One particular tweet caught my attention. It stated that the determinant factor in the success or downfall of any business or nation is “The People”. Everything else is inconsequential. Because the systems, processes, institutions, rules, laws and the entire economic dynamics are designed by the people, implemented by the people and it is the people who conform to them not vice versa. I sat back to appreciate the profoundness and simplicity of the statement. Isn’t it so true? It is people who built American and the African continents. It is people who built the great railroads and cities like New York, London, Paris, Sydney and Mumbai. It is people who built the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Burj Khalifa. It is people who found Penicillin or invented the telephone. Under the backdrop of completing 65 years of our Independence, I decided to write about “We the People” instead of usually writing about business and management.

Let us look at some of the happening news that have surfaced in the media past couple of years (not in chronological sequence) – IPL and Mr. Modi, 2G Scam and Mr. Raja, CWG and Mr. Kalmadi, Niira Radia, (even the Tatas), the CVC Chief imbroglio, the age old Bofors scam, Satyam’s mismanagement and the role of its auditors, Adarsh housing scam, Swiss bank black money story, pilots flying aircrafts with forged documents, the alleged role of a high profile executive of Indian origin in the Rajaratnam – Galleon case in USA. The list just goes on and on. We are not even discussing the quantum of money that is concerned in each of the above issues or the number of companies and individuals actually involved.

The significant question here is how many people know what has actually happened in these issues and how does it affect us?

Is Mr. Modi really guilty? If yes, what is being done to him in the form of justice? Were the Tatas dragged into the Niira Radia issue to sensationalize it or they are actually guilty of what has been quoted and much more? What are the technicalities in the 2G scam or do we know only the number of crores that were pasted on the front page of the dailies? How did Satyam manage to pull off what it did? Why should we be concerned about the details of the Adarsh scam? How do the recent changes brought in by the Right to Education affect us? Why do we have reservation? What is the basis of the decision? How are the so-called measures helping in alleviating the problem? Who are the actual beneficiaries? How does reservation affect us? Why do we have shortage of power in our country? Why are we not able to keep up with the demand? What is the difference between the projections that are published in the media and the actual situation in ground zero?

Let us take another example. We saw the visuals of the tremendous support to Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal. People are very excited and the simple fact that Mr. Hazare’s initial demands have been met seems to have pacified a large part of the impassioned crowd. Is it really a victory to cheer about? Will it be the panacea to all problems? Or create bigger monsters? Have we gained any mileage at all through all this? What part of the bigger problem is this Bill? How are the dynamics of the people in Anna Hazare’s camp changing? What impact will it have on the common man? The merits of Jan Lokpal cannot be understood from the one pager comparison that our friends sent us as a group email. How many of the people who supported Lokpal understand the depths of it before forming an opinion? Lokpal is just a representative example.

Consider our Olympics performance. A country of billion plus population and we are happy with 6 medals (and none are gold) after sending the largest contingent. Participants from Dominican Republic (search for it in the map), Islamic Republic of Iran, Belarus, Ethiopia, and Kenya have won gold medals are ahead of India in the overall tally. There are others like Tunisia, Trinidad and Tobago, Algeria Bahamas and Uganda who have won gold medals. India was ranked a measly 37th in the overall medal tally and 55th rank by gold medals. What is wrong? Why we are not able to perform when others are with lesser resources at their disposal? One can understand specialized sports but what about athletics or swimming? Tomorrow it might be one of our children who might have the talent and ability and dream to compete and excel in sports? What will happen to him or her?

The Problem

The problem is very simple. Average Indians like me are poor in analysis, debate and asking questions. We just find it convenient to accept words aired in the media as the Gospel truth. We believe in what the media projects or writes and get swayed easily by the drama instead of trying to get the facts right. Debating on TV is not done intelligently but just to fill one hour time slots of some anchor’s show on television with all participants clamoring to speak at the same time including the anchor in some shows who hogs a larger part of the airtime.

That is the fundamental problem with our nation today! Average person is living an extremely shallow life devoid of any involvement. One that is dotted with ignorance, detachment, aloofness or indifference. We have developed an “Ostrich mentality”. As long as we do not see, nothing is wrong. We want to avoid unpleasantness or difficult situations hoping that it will just pass if we do not react. Female infanticide is not our problem. Dowry deaths or child molestation happens only to others and not us. Work place harassment of women is because of the women themselves and no one else is responsible or accountable.

But how long can we remain so? The news that we read in the papers or see on TV or surf on the Internet are all going to affect our lives one way or the other. Trust me, there is no escape. Even our progeny will not go unscathed. They too will bear the brunt of our indifference and detachment. The reasons are aplenty.

Reasons and Resolutions

It is an appalling state of affairs in our country today. Where are we headed? Does the words ethics, governance, responsibility or accountability have any meaning in our lives or are we just happy with one word – corruption? All walks of administrative functions are riddled with corruption. Industries want the easy way out. They are equally responsible for fuelling this monster and so are individuals. People are just concerned with instant gratification without bothering about consequences. We consider it as an achievement if we cross a toll booth without paying the tax or causing traffic violations and paying our way through. And then we sing paeans of Singapore and its cleanliness. But this joyride will end. The gravy train will derail. The noose will tighten soon. And that day will not be as far as we would like to believe.

The need has arisen for robust systems to break collusion at all levels. Politics and government along-with the administration needs total overhaul and has to be made more accountable. The whole election system needs to be more rigorous involving only merit. The rigor of entrance tests, group discussion and personal interview that students face at educational institutes are what is needed in the political election system. People must wake up to learn that politicians of a particular religion, sect, caste or creed will do marginally for their people and only bother to secure their families’ future for generations. How else do you explain the several thousand crores worth of scams? People who are involved in scams are not only at fault. The moronic porous procedures and systems developed by the people that have too many loose ends are to blame.

Culturally off late Indians are visualized as soft and shying away from conflict or showdown. That is why we are being pushed and shoved in every arena. The examples are aplenty and I need not list the same here. We are constantly talking about dialogue and people to people contact. It is not going to get us any solution or results. Why are countries wary of USA, China and the EU? These countries are now known for their clout and strength. No one messes with them. They have created the ability to respond to challenges both diplomatically as well as militarily. We do not even have a security-council seat. India has to seriously strive to become formidable so that it acts as a deterrent to other countries from bothering her. We allow people to walk over us and that is why they do so. I am not trying to propagate conflict or confrontation but we must stand for our rights and send out a resounding message to the world that when India speaks she means business. To the outside world, we cannot afford to be fragmented and disjointed voices like UPA or NDA or anyone else. We have to be one.

The government structure is one of the major causes of concern. Coalition politics is good for the parties in power but not for the masses. There is basically no consensus. The government functions through a set of continuous compromises amongst the stakeholders and continuously aiming to maintain the delicate balance. Coalition politics and government is all about bargaining and nothing really works. Who is responsible? Apart from other covert dynamics, we the people are also accountable. Why don’t we people vote seriously? Is it because we do not believe in discharging our duties and are not serious about exercising our franchise? Our poverty stricken illiterate masses love the claims in the speeches and the freebies more than the actual acts. They are not to blame because they are fighting for survival each day and have hand to mouth existence. Their condition is vulnerable and is easily exploited. Oh and the educated middle class prefers to go on a short holiday rather than vote and vote seriously. There are others who will vote and in a vast population like ours if I do not vote the sky is not going to fall!

There is a need for strong checks and counter balances to ensure accountability from the entire government machinery – political parties, politicians, bureaucrats, courts, CBI, police, paramilitary forces, defense, professionals etc. Nobody should be allowed to become all powerful. All kinds of one-sided dominion have to be broken down. That is how things can be kept under control and protected from exploitation. The Lokpal Act is expected to create something similar though the actual outcome will speak for itself. There is a serious case for total revamp and rebuilding of all the laws and making them relevant in today’s world. We need information technology in every walk of our lives to enable e-governance. A linked world makes it really difficult to commit crimes and get away with it.

Failures or lapses should be dissected under the microscope and the guilty brought to task immediately and not after fifty years. Issues should be debated intelligently and seriously by putting the ministers on the hot seat to respond to failures in execution. When such a culture develops in our nation, automatically governance will become effective.

Our history and philosophical books indicate that education and knowledge are paths to upliftment from the Cardinal Sins (namely lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy and pride). Unfortunately, religion has also lost its way and is no longer providing any guidance. It is being routinely distorted by vested interests. Today we have people with education and knowledge and then they mysteriously turn into the likes of Anil Kumar and Rajat Gupta (refer to Galleon Insider Trading case). Does higher education, professional success, networking, stupefying salaries all contribute to creation of God Complex instead of making us humble?

The answer lies in our cultural fabric, morality and value system which is fast degenerating. It takes generations to build but one man to destroy everything. Business is made up of people and these people bring their culture and ethics into it. It also reflects on the type of people who are further hired or retained as Mr. Sharu Rangnekar would agree about inferior managers recruiting subordinates who are their reflection. Why do we want this state of inertia? Is it because all we want is money to pay our bills and run our family. Maslow is all pervasive. That answers a lot of question about why we foster corruption. It is the easier way out.

This cultural shift cannot happen overnight but there needs to be a start. The people of our country are not to blame entirely. Due to the burgeoning population in India, and limited resources compounded with corruption at all walks of life, most people are stuck at the bottom of Maslow’s need hierarchy. The gap between the haves and have not are greater than ever. We need a WILL to do. Unfortunately, that is what is most lacking today because we do not believe that we can bring in change. We also doubt those who are trying to do something positive.

Closing Notes

India was invaded since ages and inflow of various races, culture and religion have taken place but with this diversity we have not become stronger rather hollow and vulnerable. Like genetics, diversity should have helped us grow robust but it seems we have got all the recessive genes in our basket. Inbreeding is said to be harmful, our heterogeneous breeding has also not sprung any Hercules. But all is not lost.

Yunan-o-misr-o-roma, sab mit gaye jahan se
Ab tak magar hai baqi, nam-o-nishan hamara
(Excerpt from Saare Jahaan Se Achcha by Urdu Poet Muhammad Iqbal)

What we need is radical change not gradual slow transformation. A resounding fundamental restructuring at all levels is the need of the hour. A sense of patriotism has to be ignited in the masses. Unfortunately, when it comes to mankind, radical change is an Utopian thought.

But we have to make a start and that has to begin with “Education”. We have to start educating ourselves and become more informed. In research, there is a method called triangulation where data is collected and analyzed in multiple ways and on reaching the same result, its authenticity, validity, rigidity and integrity is established. We need the same in our understanding and analysis of issues. Luckily this is the information and social media age with news and views bursting at its seams. We need to keep an open unbiased mind and soak in as much information as we can before reaching a conclusion one that we can defend objectively. We are not living an insulated life. The educated and literate mass should wake up to the power of serious blogging and alternate news sources. Huge amount of insight and detailed evaluation is shared in many blogs followed by serious comments and counter-comments. We must nurture our dormant limbic system. It is time to learn and act.

Have we pondered what will be the result of our actions on our progeny? The corruption and unethical practices in say education like Engineering, Law, Medicine, Accountancy etc.? Bridges will regularly collapse due to poor design and execution, innocent lives will be lost, there will be committees trying to analyze, media will create noise for few days, money will change hands, favors will be called in and everything will go back to status quo no questions asked. There is no accountability with responsibility and duty. What doctors will be treating us? Will we feel safe on the operation table? These unscrupulous doctors will breed clinics, open ultrasound laboratories, perform illegal abortions and aid in female infanticide. There is already blatant flouting of medical norms. Pilots with insufficient exposure or improper training will lead to more of Mangalore-like plane crashes. We will heavily text, email and post messages on Facebook for one day when disaster strikes and then fall into selective amnesia. It is time to get rid of the “Chalta Hai” attitude.

Our modern culture, flawed morals and contemporary belief system, will take ages to reset. But it is not impossible. I want a kid. It is my right! But can I speak with the same conviction when questioned about my role and responsibility in making the child a good citizen. We have to inculcate that in them. It is our job, our responsibility. We are accountable for them and cannot expect God or society to civilize them.

Change will not happen in a day. But it has to start someday. Have we pondered how our role in aiding corruption grows in geometric progression? What are we trying to bequeath to our progeny? How much money will be enough? Instead of ensuring that we have generations ahead of us we are just blindly amassing for the generations yet to come (who might not even come). It is the culture and heritage that will help sustain and not just money. We have become parochial and shallow and dispassionate living in denial and do not introspect.

The struggle for improvement, change and betterment is like an every shifting goal post. We have to keep striving for it and remain diligent in our zeal. Each desire will be worth dying for but if desires are innumerable then some will remain unfulfilled. The aim should be to prioritize them and attain the ones which are most crucial – for us today and for our generations to come.

We want to enjoy all rights and freedom. We talk of our fundamental rights. We talk of our entitlements. But we are never bothered about accountability. I have written this earlier too that when I go to watch movies in the halls and the national anthem is played before the start of the film – those 52 seconds are my moments of biggest enlightenment when I realize how blessed I am being born in India. I could have been born as a female in Somalia or Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

A Sanskrit shloka that I learnt in school states:

Nainam chindanti shastrani, nainam dahati pavakah,|
Nachainam kledyante aapo, nahi shoshyati marutah||

The soul is what remains intact in the end one that cannot be cut with weapons or burnt with fire. It is time to awaken that soul and deliver from ever escalating decay, decadence and degeneration. Jaago Re!