The great morality meltdown

It’s been a year of massive moral churning that’s turned our conscience, and our country, inside out, paving the way for a better tomorrow

Morality, let’s face it, is tricky business. Is it all black and white, or is there room for grey? Is it about knowing where to draw the line, or also about knowing when, and how, to cross it without getting caught? Really, how do you evaluate morality in a country where shoes are stolen from mandirs and wallets whacked from masjids. Where gas is funnelled from cylinders and petrol mixed with kerosene. Where everyone, from politician to physician to plumber to friendly neighbourhood doodhwaala, is out to rip you off?

Now, these are minor misdemeanours in a larger picture where husbands subject wives to daily abuse. Where uncles and fathers habitually molest and rape minor girls in their families. Where riots break out in the name of religion and ‘enemies’ are routinely raped in fits of rage. Where female feoticide, dowry deaths and honour killings are accepted as a way of life. In short, a scenario where muscle muzzles the truth, where might dictates rights.

No question of it, our moral compass plummeted to a new low in the year gone by which witnessed all of the above in ample measure. From our homes to our workplaces to our political arenas, our moral fibre continued to fray. What to talk of the common man when even keepers of our faith (as in Asaram), guardians of our rights (as in AK Ganguly) and champions of our freedom of speech (as in Tarun Tejpal), stepped out of line, banking on their personal power and the weaknesses of the system.

But as long as for every Asaram, there is a police force persevering enough to hunt him down; for every Ganguly, a bench of his own colleagues that censures him; for every Tejpal, a young journalist bold enough to stand up and say no, we know we’re on the right track as we head into a brand new year.

Hope holds out when a Nirbhaya gives rise to a mass awakening that in turn gives us a stringent anti-rape law. A light is lit when an entire country rallies behind an anti-corruption movement, eventually causing our parliamentarians to pass a Lokpal Bill they’ve been sitting on for the past 45 years.

Hope also springs when a rank outsider, his personal integrity his only calling card, dislodges a veteran in one clean sweep to give Delhi a new direction. He promises the capital — and in due course, the country — a corruption-free government that aims to serve the people, not rule them. How that pans out only time and electoral tides will tell, but at least a beginning has been made.

Actually, the past year has seen a moral churning like never before. Which is no more than the culmination of a consistent erosion of values over the years, points out Ghaziabad-based psychiatrist, Dr Anandi Lal. “Largescale corruption, unbridled ambition, unleashed acquisitiveness, unchecked sexual harassment and public apathy towards other's distress are all pointers to the growing malaise of moral degeneration,” he says.

Lal also blames this on poor role models in society. Where have all the good men (and women) gone, he asks. What kind of role models do our youngsters have today, except filmstars who make Rs 200-crore films or kings of good times whose unpaid employees reel under bad days?

Agrees Allahabad-based Reema Masih, principal of YMCA Centenary School. “I shudder to think what historical figures will our next generation of students read of in their textbooks?” Masih also rues that schools have scrapped moral science classes from their timetable. “In the race for marks, the first casualty has been our curriculum. As we cram ‘scoring’ subjects into our timetable, we have done away with something as socially relevant as moral science,” she says. Ah well, who cares about low morals as long as the marks are high.

Not just our education system, fingers need to be pointed at the corporate world as well, says Pune-based corporate counselor Ian Faria. The greed to have more money, the speed at which to make it and the need to flaunt it, actually originated from here. “We need to do something, and we need to do it quickly,” he says. The simplest way forward, feels Faria, is to stop pointing fingers and start taking corrective action. “As leaders, let us lead by example rather than bark out instructions about rules we ourselves balk at following. As good human beings, let us understand rather than judge. As parents, let our children witness our honesty rather than our white lies,” he says. Like charity, morality too begins at home, he feels.

But what happens when our homes aren’t an ideal breeding ground either, asks Kochi-based life coach, Sajeev Nair. The wealth of our ancient philosophical wisdom has been cast aside, he says, in favour of shallow modernism. “While globalisation has given many good things to India, the chipping away of our morals has been its major side effect. In the recent past, what we have seen is not an economic explosion, but a media invasion. Satellite feeds from the west have changed us even without our knowledge.

The Santa Barbaras and Bay Watches of the world have shattered our culture, our behaviour patterns and, most of all, our value system.” That need not be so in times to come, adds Nair. “I find that GenNext is very open to learning. If steered in the right direction, it can change this country,” he says.

Delhi-based sociologist Susan Visvanathan, too, sees huge promise in today’s youth. “This new generation is so clear of its indictment of evil in society, has a voice, is computer literate, and uses media to spread its message, which is ‘don't tolerate evil.’ I have great hope in this large swathe of the population, drawn from the countryside, as well as the cities.”

Visvanathan believes that in days to come, activism will be widespread against corruption, inefficiency and amoral worldviews. When ideologies are used to debase communities and individuals, then whether it is religion or common practices, there is a new generation that feels it can contest it. Through the process of education and socialisation of the recognised principles of human rights, a morality that saves and helps, rather than confuses and obliterates, is bound to rise. People will keep their religious identities but work with legal charters of what are human rights issues.

“I am certain this will happen, that democratic impulses are very strong, and in spite of the lumpen proletariat or those who support their own vicious propaganda, the freedom movement will resurface through the small details, and the mosaic of hope arising from common people's aspirations,” she says.

Now that’s a clear note of hope to begin the new year with.


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