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Spiritual & immoral

Published : Mar 11, 2011 00:00 IST


THE CONTROVERSIAL APARTMENT complex of the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in Colaba, south Mumbai.-PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP

THE CONTROVERSIAL APARTMENT complex of the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in Colaba, south Mumbai.-PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP

Bureaucrats and politicians, even senior Army officers, have all easily spanned the divide between what is moral and what is spiritual.

IT seemed, some time ago, to be a contradiction in terms; how can a society that is spiritual be immoral? But India has demonstrated that it can be, as have so many other countries. This is not hypocrisy; it is merely that the two are seen as being completely separate from each other.

One can be deeply spiritual; meditate every day, pray, observe the many rituals and then proceed about one's business. One can then proceed to cheat, swindle, take and offer bribes, deprive the state of crores of rupees that are secreted into different funds under different names, and come back home a satisfied man. One can do all this without being psychotic. In fact, several people do just this and have been seen to be stalwarts in society. Many are associated with organisations that serve the less privileged, poor children, and destitute and abandoned women.

They can do this without any sense of guilt because the concept of a devout person being an honest person is not part of our culture. Our sacred texts say nothing about day-to-day dealings and how they should be conducted. They do say that one should do one's work and expect nothing.

Observe all those who have been involved, apparently, in the numerous instances of bribery and plain thievery that are reported in newspapers and on television news channels. Does one see any sign of remorse or guilt in them? A husband and wife, both members of the Indian Administrative Service, were found to have amassed crores of rupees and stashed them away in over 70 accounts and in cash. I am certain that in their work they would have been conscientious, have taken the right decisions and done all that was expected of them. That they also did what was not expected of them had nothing to do with their work.

So is the case with all the rest. Bureaucrats and politicians, even senior Army officers, have all spanned the divide between what is moral and what is spiritual. Morality was linked to everyday life by concepts brought in by the colonial powers, who enacted such laws as the Indian Penal Code. Suddenly cheating became a crime. It was a problem to go about one's business as a consequence, but there arose the profession of lawyers, persons skilled in not just the law but on how one could evade the consequences of the law. There also arose a body of police investigators who could bungle simple straightforward cases, making the lawyers' task even easier.

Maybe those busy amassing money do not comprehend the terrible damage their actions are doing to society; after all, if over Rs.7 lakh crore that belongs to the public exchequer is spirited away, possibly to havens overseas, it leaves society poorer. Society? What society? To such people, society means their kin and little else. This is how our society is immoral. The concept of society is alien now; it may have existed long ago, but was forgotten, then imported by the British and left behind, alien and in the way. Only those who have gone to English-speaking schools have these strange ideas. And even among them just a few do, the rest are taught at home to forget all that rubbish.

Does all this sound very cynical, an overstating of the case? Is it sensationalism of a rather low kind? Cheating a country of Rs.7 lakh crore does, one has to admit, tend to make one tilt towards sensationalism. And, of course, there are other revelations of similar activities, if not on the same scale. The allotment of flats in the Adarsh Housing Society, for example, which reminds one of what a friend once said of the regular visits he had to pay to a certain country. He told me that he always took two of everything he needed to take, because at the customs desk the official on duty would take all of them out and say One for you, and one for me, one for you and one for me, putting one of everything to one side, his side. That way, my friend said, he got through with friendliness all round, much smiling and waving of hands as he left.

And one hears that one IAS officer some secretary or the other in the Maharashtra government then has the stupidity and presumption to ask what is wrong if his wife or daughter gets a flat when they have paid for it. There was an article in a newspaper about how this works in the private sector, specifically when it came to new electronic gadgets. The gadgets are advertised with a huge amount of glitz and glitter, but when one goes to buy them one finds that many of the features either do not work or do not do what they are advertised as capable of doing.

This is besides, of course, such standard procedures as passing off older versions of a product, especially cars, as newer models when they were on the roads elsewhere two years ago; making them underpowered (for Indian roads) and tinier (to make them affordable to impoverished Indians). But all this pales before the sheer brilliance of a bank official who helped himself to large amounts of his clients' money. Doubtless, he said his prayers scrupulously and is probably praying even now. For all one knows, he and his family it seems his whole family was involved in this scheme went to Haridwar or Varanasi regularly and prayed sincerely, and went through the process of bathing in the sacred river. Except, as one said earlier, that is something entirely different and has nothing to do with their financial activities. One had to do with spiritual upliftment and the other with appropriating other people's cash.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Mar 11, 2011.)



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