Jekyll and Hyde in public life
Pervasive deceitfulness corrodes the moral fabric of the society as our hydes grow stronger, breaching the integrity
It was not for no reason that RL Stevenson came out with his fictional book 'The strange case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde'. It was an intimate study of human nature and society. Indians, who have an endemic weakness for telling lies, stand out in this duplicity. We are often fork-tongued; double-faced. Be it in the family or social life, politics, public office, business, professions or any activity, the lack of integrity — both financial and moral, and ethics and values, is covered up conveniently with sugar-coat of lies. Cruel Hydes in us have only grown stronger. Breaching of trust, cheating, fraud, abuse of a position of authority, etc., are only a consequence of it. When highly revered godmen, with their sweet lies, can deceive and abuse the trust reposed in their godliness by gullible and credulous followers, there is no wonder people like MJ Akbar, the recently arrested superintendent of shelter home in Tirupati and others would indulge in amorous activities with their wards; those in authority would indulge in financial frauds and corruption; those in businesses and professions indulge in cheating and fraud, and so on. The MeToo and many such campaigns only expose the Jekyll and Hyde faces of such people and bring our focus on the need for integrity, more importantly, in public life.
Through the MeToo campaign led by the US-based journalist, Pallavi Gogoi, over 20 women have come forward to accuse MJ Akbar of sexual misconduct when they worked with him at several newspapers, Pallavi making a specific allegation of rape. After vehement denials initially, the journalist-turned-politician had to ultimately quit as minister. His new claim that it was consensual sex is being rubbished saying that the relationship was based on coercion and not consensus. One wonders how such a person with moral turpitude was ever hoisted to the position of responsibility by this government.
MJ Akbar is not a loner. In a recent incident, urban police of Tirupati nabbed the superintendent of a government-run shelter home for girls in a case of rape of a minor girl who was lodged in it when her mother died and her father was serving a jail sentence. The crime came to surface only when the good-natured Chairman of the Committee of Kadapa shelter home, where she was shifted in October this year, found her depressed and interacted with her. Only then the traumatised girl revealed her ordeal that the superintendent in Tirupati was raping her for the past four years under threats of beating and killing. Many other girls were also his victims and that he took all precautions to prevent pregnancy. The Tirupati shelter home housed about 150 minor girls below the age of 18. An innocent looking Jekyll in a position of authority and trust; and a predating Hyde in action!
Such incidents of abuse of authority and trust are countless. Many of them do not surface since the helpless victims have no way to complain. Moreover, some feel deterred, since rape is a social stigma. They silently suffer the ordeal and slip into depression. In the past, the escapades of the amorous casanova, ND Tiwari, are well-known. He continued in public life for ages denying all the allegations, suppressing everything with the power of his authority and money, until the son of one of his victims steadfastly fought the legal battle. The court-ordered DNA test exposing his falsities and he had to ultimately accept the claimant as his own offspring. Law will take its own course is what we all believe or are rather made to believe. But, there was not even a stigma attached to him, forget about punishment. Such is our approach to Hydes in our society!
Such incidents are plentiful. The tragedy is that our country is brimming with godmen, some genuine, but mostly dubious. Asaram Bapu and Dera Baba are classic examples of those abusing the trust of their followers. They built empires, with inbuilt hide-outs for their amorous activities, a facade of religion and rituals used to prey on credulous victims, and promoting the import business of aphrodisiacs. Ashrams resplendent with immoral activities and use of sedatives therein, being run in the Himalayas, are not unknown. Lies! And, lies! Truthfulness in India is close to godliness since it is an extreme rarity.
Outside the country, our image suffers because of our habit of telling lies. A friend of mine, a senior CBI officer narrated his experience in Hong Kong, where he went in connection with investigations on an important case. During discussions, there was a reference to three people. The Hong Kong police bluntly told him, 'Oh! They are Indians. They would only tell lies.' It appears that shamefully telling lies is our patent copyright.
We all tend to tell lies one time or the other; some are innocuous and some serious and dangerous. Lies are common in private and social lives – parents to children, children to parents, wife to husband and husband to wife, both to neighbours and friends, students to teachers, employees to the boss, etc. There could be compulsions or weaknesses, or they could be for defence, for escape, or to wriggle out of difficult situations. Often we laugh them away, but at times when exposed, end up with loss of faith. Since we are not bound by law, the act should only prick our conscience because we set a bad example for children, and others to follow. A child can graduate from telling innocuous lies to committing outright frauds; the Hyde in him gets encouragement and promotion.
However, in business, industry, professions, etc., it is different. Lawyers telling lies are common. The lie of a doctor to help a patient is welcome, while his lie to make money is outright cheating. The bundle of lies of those in business, etc., like over-pricing, adulteration, selling substandard goods, maintaining dual accounts and tax evasions, etc., are not only fraud and cheating but economic crimes. The Hydes rule the roost, for which law has to be set in motion.
Then, in public life, lying is a serious matter. All public servants, those in government, politics, etc., take oath in the name of God to stand by the Constitution and maintain absolute integrity, which is a larger concept to include both financial and moral integrity. They have trust and responsibility reposed in them, and the resources and national wealth are at their command. Yet, they make illegal money only through their lies. To extend it further, anyone in a position of authority, be it in government, be it in media, or be it a religious leader, or any such person, has control over the people he is dealing with; and they take advantage of it. These are deadly hideous Hydes.
Political parties making false promises, knowing that they are white lies, is common in our country. Yet, we keep listening to them, and keep forgetting them. Added to this are emotive issues like Ram Mandir. 'One word, one arrow, and one wife,' symbolise Lord Ram. For him, the cardinal principle is truthfulness, the virtue for which he is our revered God. Gandhi also stood for truthfulness. But, what is happening in the country? We only celebrate events, and rake up emotions in the name of the temple for Ram, without focusing on what their virtues are and what they strived for. Using absolute lies BJP created illusions in the country to come to power and are continuing with them to retain the power again. No one from this religion-oriented party speaks about the truthfulness of Lord Ram and Gandhi for reforming people. One should realise that one cannot ride the socio-religious cart if truthfulness, which is one of the wheels (the other being the rituals), is missing. Unfortunately, such Hydes are on the prowl across the country.
No one has forced anyone to hold public offices. It is they who volunteer, in their own interest, to hold public office. Therefore, we, the people of this country, have a right to demand truthfulness from every person in public office and expect both financial and moral integrity from them.
Mere oath in the name of God is meaningless; such is the decay in our moral fibre. There should be a provision in the Representation of People's Act requiring all who hold public office to undergo a polygraph and narco test if they face charges of moral turpitude or financial irregularities from anyone who is making the charge, after undergoing the test himself/herself; Professor Ford made the sexist charges against Judge Brett Kavanaugh after undergoing a polygraph test himself. It will also have a cascading effect on public servants and others to promote integrity in public life. A country cannot afford to have dangerous Hydes in public life.
(Dr N. Dilip Kumar, IPS (retd) and former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)