Has Morality Disappeared From The Indian Society?

Posted on December 6, 2010 in Society

By Ipshita Mitra:

This article examines or tries to come to terms with the dying state of the system of morality and humanity in the Indian society.

The principles of morality have become secondary to the system of pragmatism in the case of the recent judgment decreed against Ajmal Kasab, the prime accused in the Mumbai terror attack. For a nation that has not recuperated from the traumatic memories of the terror attack, the lone surviving convict (Kasab) has become a legitimate embodiment of barbarism and ruthless violence responsible for the wounds and mournful cries of many. The death sentence delivered against Kasab has brought in a wave of celebration among a section of people who hail the legal decision as an adequate answer to the agents of terrorism and mass destruction.

But things are not that simple. Sending a person to the gallows will not resolve the growing menace of terrorism that has become an all-pervasive reality, but will breed hatred and antagonism of an even higher degree (especially among communities of conflicting religious faiths and beliefs) where murders and deaths will become the only possible “effectual” means to fight problems of social and political order.

The need of the hour is to employ strategic methods and principles of non-violent character which in consequence will ensure a society of harmony and peace. Taking away of lives is not the answer, and therefore should be replaced by a more constructive and congenial method that will address the root cause of the problem in order to guarantee minimum deaths and unnecessary execution of human lives for perpetuation of a healthy society.

It is important to look into the reasons which push people into taking up of arms against the State (the ongoing Naxalite movement in Chhattisgarh can be taken as a case in point). The concerns and needs of the dissatisfied and the marginalised sections of the people should not be sidelined or “shot down” but should be patiently addressed so that outbursts of similar kind do not break out in future.

It is important for India to reinstate the peaceful ideologies that Gandhi had once espoused in the events of the Indian independence from colonial rule, amidst the present “modern” age that is more or less defined by heavy artillery, nuclear power and military machinery.

Carrying forward with the notion of the absence of Gandhian principles in today’s militaristic age, I would like to draw attention to yet another realm of social realities which face a complete negation of social attention and depletion of Gandhian views and values.

An extremely dehumanising practice of manual scavenging that strips an individual from even the vestiges of humanity and self-identity continues to be a living reality in the rural states of our 21st Century India. The continuing prevalence of the atrocious practice or let’s say “custom” of manual scavenging in the interior contours of Punjab and Haryana have completely dismantled the foundations upon which morality gets normally defined. It seems that Gandhi’s relentless voice against the practice of untouchability has fallen on deaf ears and souls in the 21st century’s society of “modernisation”.

A complete collapse of moral values and ethics is evident in the lives of the many Dalit men and (mostly) women who have been pushed into the denigrating “profession” of accumulating human excreta for waste disposal.

On the one hand, where the lone convict accused in the Mumbai attack has been denied the Constitutional Right to Live, the Fundamental Right to “Life” has taken on an abusive meaning for the victims of manual scavenging.

When we can question the nature of the Court’s order in Kasab’s case while trying to invoke Gandhian ideology of non-violence and respect for human life, why do we fail to uphold the very same tenets of Gandhi when it comes to fighting for the rights of people situated at the periphery of a graded society like ours?

The Dalit women plead for death night and day because it is only in death can they wish to achieve absolute riddance from the shameful social “obligation” that they have been thrust upon since birth, (as *Saroj’s, (one of the victims of manual scavenging) statement poignantly brings into light the plight of the Dalit: manual scavenging as a job “is something (they) are born with”).

Social and caste oppression in addition with gender discrimination have sealed the fate of the Dalit women “scavengers” to a tragic existence within the dark chambers of atrocity and inhumanity.  Society rationalises the association of the Dalit and Other Backward Classes with such menial and dirty tasks on account of their lower position in the hierarchical caste structure.  The decadent norms that perpetuate caste-based violence are not only justified but accorded with social character and significance.  The people of the villages stationed at the lowest base of caste hierarchy are made to internalise the redundant notions of those situated at the “seat of authority”; where any hint of resistance against the oppressive regime lead to severe punishment and castigation (e.g. the recent burning down of many Dalit villages in the Mirchpur village).

Sadly, we continue to live in a divided society where abolition of slavery and untouchability and exploitation of people of the lower strata of a structural society have not been fully realised. The very fact that manual scavenging as a means of earning livelihood continues to exist in the Indian society suggests that we as responsible citizens of a “democracy” have mutilated the sense of identity of the lower classes resulting in a total miscarriage of morality, humanity and justice.

Mainstream media of the 21st century is preoccupied with a plethora of national and global issues but practices a step-motherly treatment when it comes to lending voice to the voiceless. Development journalism in today’s era has been pushed beneath the overtly focused genres of lifestyle, page3, sports etc journalism. Hunger for TRP’s has made the “fourth-estate” of the Constitutional heritage fall prey to the temptations of sensationalism and commercialisation.

One thing worth noticing then is the fact that where the judgment of the court (with Kasab as a reference) gets scrutinised threadbare in almost all branches of media from top news channels to leading newspaper dailies, criminal acts of manual scavenging hardly merit a mention in the media world…why? Because covering stories like the above will not generate TRP ratings nor will they garner much public attention. It is true that Kasab and 26/11 Mumbai terror attack’ massacre left an indelible mark on the Indian consciousness and therefore justifies discussion on a wider platform but is it the only event that is eligible for large-scale coverage at the cost of other equally important development issues? The balance should be maintained at any given circumstance.

It is a known fact for example, that the Commonwealth Games is a mega sporting event, but it is also true that it not the one and only thing happening in the country. Other incidents and stories of socio-political relevance do not and cannot come to a standstill (which is sadly the current case) amidst the ongoing Commonwealth.

The role of media is to sensitise people against such atrocities, help build campaigns of awareness and provide platforms for the poor to articulate their grievances and difficulties. Social activists like Harsh Mander and Aruna Roy are some noteworthy examples who have fought for the cause of the marginalised sections of society. Still much needs to be done so that ill-practices like these are eliminated from the social infrastructure for the society to move beyond the shackles of class-caste distinction.

In an era of globalisation, industrialisation, commercialisation, Nuclear Bills, Commonwealth Games, IPLs, high profile marriages of global personalities and figures…. do we really have time for addressing and redressing “the marginal issues of the victims battling with such social ills?” Is this is the model of development that we are trying to build which strives towards an exclusion of half of our population? Have we descended into a realm of oblivion?

The answers lie within…

*Saroj’s statement on ‘manual scavenging’ has been taken from an article by Harsh Mander titled “Burning Baskets of Shame”, dated-May 9, 2010, Hindu Magazine.

Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sowri/1192005431/sizes/m/in/photostream/