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It is not a crime to be decent

It is not a crime to be decent
The Urdu text probably describes this best: “mehfil ki <g data-gr-id="78">tehzeeb</g>”- a civilised exchange is the nearest English equivalent. The search for civility, courtesy, and respect for the <g data-gr-id="79">counter point</g> in our public discourse has few votaries. Shrillness and shouting <g data-gr-id="94">is</g> rampant and <g data-gr-id="93">let</g> us not blame the uneducated or the illiterate or the village dweller. This is most visible among the well-dressed, well-schooled, and the opinion influencers and makers. On any platform, the one who shouts the loudest abuses triumphs the day for his point of nonsense. It does not matter if nobody is convinced because tomorrow is for another argument and another shouting contest as if all that matters is the shouting. That gives joy, so it would appear, to the listeners and the partisans. It is also about partisanship, you have to keep your tribe of supporters incited so that all those who oppose or dare to do so are in peril of their lives or at the least their livelihoods. The ability to imperil settles all arguments, without <g data-gr-id="90">doubt</g>.

Yes, the societal discourse is getting rowdier. The visual media leads the noise makers brigade. There was something like a prime time news when the television industry had just made an appearance in Indian homes. Although a government channel, what the viewers got was news. No views were aired and for that kind of an exchange, separate slots were provided and that conversation could be considered staid and perhaps boring by today’s raucous standards. Come the open era of the television channels when they multiplied and moved into 24x7 mode, it seems that making news has become the most imaginative industry. <g data-gr-id="84">Allege</g> and <g data-gr-id="85">scoot</g>, the media version of hit-and-run, is the content for round the clock views providers. There is no onus of proof or substance. Even though biases are evident, the authors and anchors carry anyway, every day. Words like transparency and accountability are thrown across to the antagonists with the exception of the self, who generally posits his podium as above and beyond the law. This position is reserved for the representative of the party in the government. The opposition <g data-gr-id="86">netas</g> are the seekers of power and hence pushing for ethics and standards of morality they have no intention of upholding, if and when their turn comes. And the citizen is caught in this vicious circle.

Sure, a hundred charges can be made against those who are supposed to govern. The governed, in turn, indicate their preference for the might is right instead of the rule of the law. Roads are the public space for the spectacle of might is right to be displayed and we have all been guilty of usurping the other person’s right of way. We are a nation of left side driving. No longer, as somewhere along with the advent of six-lane highways, we have become right side drivers and all overtaking is from the left, putting to risk lives and limbs every minute. Size matters and the bigger one has all the rights of usurpation, no matter if you think that you had the right of way. Life is precious, so caution and timidity are strong weapons. Pedestrians and cyclists are unwanted obstructions and do not deserve any consideration as they have no rights to public space. They feel the same way when they get their hands on the steering wheel. Arguments have to be won on the roads as well and obviously size matters here too. Even if someone scrapes your car, the golden rule is to not scrap. Pay for your loss and move on, as it is a part of the cost of living. The battles have been carried into the residential colonies and inventive methods are used to grab parking slots alongside the boundary walls adjacent to the public roads. You can only contest these spaces at your peril and sometimes with your life.

The bullies have taken over our spaces. The tyranny of the process of seeking redress only serves to embolden the practitioners of might being right and fast. There is a “goonda tax” in some parts of the country, there is the “<g data-gr-id="76">hafta</g>” in other parts, there is “slush money” across engagements with most public offices. No wonder people do not want to pay the legitimate tax. The business of governance could not have become so arduous and cumbersome that regulation and adherence to law seems like a liability. Or is India an ungovernable land which will have a semblance with <g data-gr-id="83">law</g> but very little compliance? Are decency and civility signs of weakness of character or the backbone of our civilisation? The ruins of our heritage need a resurrection. And better now, not later.

When are the good guys going to take charge and be counted? Governance cannot be only a management of perceptions. It has to be about creating perceptions through a fair and just dispensation of services. Digital India or <g data-gr-id="81">Swaach</g> Bharat cannot happen unless the substance of service delivery becomes substantial and not an illusion. Any policy architecture will become a waste if the instruments of delivery remain disempowered and <g data-gr-id="88">biased</g>. The challenge is to get the good guys in the front and lead by simplifying the rules for total compliance. We do not need more policies, we need to spend all the effort only on simplification of laws. Examples of the onerous process are all over one’s life. Try notifying your change of address to your bank and it sets off a chain of steps which a marathon man would find exhausting. It will make you wish, you had never moved. Any other more complex need like a mutation of title deed on <g data-gr-id="89">inheritance,</g> can be a mission to Mars. For the poor and the voiceless it is an unspeakable misery to get their right from even a primary health care centre. Why can he not exchange his ration entitlement for health services depending on his need of the hour? Simplification of the policy only can make it happen.

The answers are within the system and well known. Resources are not in deficit, their application is. Yes, scarcity breeds misery. Even if we take our love for a galloping GDP to 20 per cent without accompanying simplification of laws, the governance deficit will remain. The great liberalisation of the 90’s did not achieve equity because the complexities at the ground level were not unscrambled. Reality and perception will continue to vary and the divide will only widen unless the interface of the citizen and the public official becomes an obligatory performance of service. The struggle continues - law versus the people. But maybe, one day, it will be laws and the people because being on the same side is being decent, not criminal.
Raj Liberhan

Raj Liberhan

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