Every citizen is vocal about his/her rights in India, but none talks about any kind of social obligation. Heinous crimes take place with uninterrupted regularity in India, particularly cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad or Bangalore. The current public outburst is about the gang rape and torture of a young girl in a private bus moving in Delhi for more than 45 minutes without the police detecting the crime on a road leading to the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The male friend accompanying the girl was beaten with iron rods. The girl was severely injured. Both were thrown by the roadside. Someone informed the police and both injured persons were rushed to the hospital, where the girl is battling for her life. She has been so brutally injured that her private parts, intestines and other organs have been affected. In fact a part of her intestine has been removed surgically and infection is feared. She is on ventilator and only prayers might save her life. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and the whole country is angry and demanding capital punishment for the criminal driver and his younger brother and 5 or 6 other accomplices. Two are yet to be arrested. The parliament expressed its anger. The Delhi High Court has directed the Delhi Police to take stern action and file a status report in two days.
A cursory look at the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau reveals an increase in crimes in India year after year. Partly corruption is responsible for it. Partly politics. Mainly it is because of criminalisation of politics. A kind of nexus of politician, bureaucrat and businesses has been identified in a report of the former Home Secretary, N.N.Vohra,some years ago. Winning election requires support of criminals. Worse still, now the criminals have started contesting elections or are nominated to official positions like chairman of some commission or member of some committee. The position carries perks, privileges, status and even salaries granted to a Judge of the High Court. It has affected the lawful functioning of the official machinery.
The chaos in society is aggravated by individuals asserting only their rights. Take the rape cases for illustration. Once the crime takes place, angry voices say that nobody came to the rescue of the poor victim even at such a crowded place. Television channels express anger that the crime took place barely 100 metres away from the police Headquarters. They raise the question: have we lost all sensitivity? A valid question, and this is exactly the theme of this article. The answer is no, people haven’t lost their sensitivity but have become more circumspect, what with the harassment at the hands of the police or the criminals. Even the victim in many cases might turn against such a helper. Many people respond to the call of chivalry at the scene of the crime, only to get stabbed or shot by the criminals. They get no help from any quarter- government or society. Such a person turned out to be a young man who was the sole bread winner in a family of seven siblings including aged parents. Does such a case inspire misplaced bravery or sagacity? TV channels have not done even a single story of the trauma of such brave persons or their family members, suffering atrocities and regular threats to their dignity, person, property or honour of female members from the criminals or their patrons (largely politicians in power). When sensationalism is business, why should the television channels do such academic work?
In essence, rising crime and corruption in India is indicative of disappearance of “governance”. We have elected governments, but the Executive authority is exercised by the non-elected centres of control or for their vested interests and not the people. The people are expected to feel happy to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, whatever they make of such a political thought. The absence of people friendly government induces the citizen to demand rights enshrined in the constitution. They become so obsessed with the idea of “right” that they forget that others too have the same rights. If one person enjoys the right to life, the others too have the same right. If the media is vociferous about the right to freedom of speech and expression, others too have the same right. Unfortunately, at least in India, people demand only their rights without recognizing others’ rights. Such an attitude creates social conflicts, social disharmony and social disunity. The rising crime graph is a direct consequence of this weakening social fabric. What has so far acted as a deterrent to crime, at least heinous crime of the kind of the gang rape in the moving bus in Delhi, was the this social infrastructure of family, school, society. Corruption’s first casualty is social disconnect. What is society is a question hurled flippantly by the people today. It is followed immediately by the assertion “I don’t care for any society”. Clear indications of a disintegrated social setting. It is now the individual only who does not consider the existence or relevance of any organisation called society. At least he does not consider himself to belong to any such organisation. The woman of today is more assertive in her new found freedom- the freedom to dress, education, profession or relationship.
When the individual resents any kind of social oversight or connection, it is illogical to suddenly expect it to come to her rescue in any emergency. Society had certain norms, mores, customs etc for individual or group behaviour , which acted as an invisible shield for protection of the person in such situations only. It is simply natural and common for such occurrences, but social protection provides at least the first post of security. Objecting to exercise of such social authority deprives the person of its only defence on the spot of the crime before the police arrives. It is immaterial whether the scene of the crime is desolate or crowded. A strong social bonding is a kind of guarantee of relief on the spot. This used to be very strong till about a few decades ago. Unfortunately it has frayed.
There is a political government. But there is one more government- The Society. I would call it the Social Government. It exercises social authority and is run collectively. It imposes no taxes- rather it extends even financial assistance in deserving cases like hospital expenses. But this government can survive only if the individuals accept such a government. Individuals rejecting Society but asserting their Rights only, forget they have their Obligations to Society also. Citizen have rights and also duties. Social beings have obligations and get in return all the benefits like safety or security of the person or family or property. It is impossible to exist without Society. But how to revive the society?
Social obligation is misunderstood to mean something “moral”. Nobody is prescribing any moral code or religious code of ethics. It is a social code of individual behaviour. It is an agreed code- agreed by the society in general. It is in public domain. Patterns are set, norms are drawn and customs evolved. Living in a society demands a decent public conduct. Whether it is understood in terms of the provisions of the law as in the case of rape or civilized conduct, the goal is the same. Which one is better: to deter from crime for fear of the law when convicted and punished or conduct civilized in society so that one never thinks of committing a crime? Obviously, good conduct is preferable. It is unfortunate for those who are deprived of basic lessons in good conduct and end up branded as a criminal.
Social obligation has also been mistaken to be synonymous with Corporate Social Responsibility. It might appear similar but is different. While CSR(corporate Social Responsibility) is a kind of demand on the business profits of companies to spend a part on social welfare projects like education or health, Social Obligation is a kind of social investment by way of good conduct to make life happy for the individual and society at the same time. If the individual does not behave in an “unexpected” manner, she or he is discharging social obligation. Similarly, intervention by members of the society in a situation where someone is indulging in “unexpected” behaviour, amounts to delivering Social Obligation. The individual ought to welcome such intervention and thank the intervenor for it. It should not be resented nor discouraged by accusations of interference in personal affairs. Nobody has any time or mind to bother with personal affairs of others. Everybody is equally empowered and values her or his personal affairs. But it is only out of a deep sense of Social Obligation alone that members of the society extend such help even when not specifically asked for. A good Samaritan can sense the need for such help or request for help made through other than verbal means like the body language.
Individuals have to appreciate that “rights” are not “licence”. There are no absolute rights. All right come with reasonable restrictions. Good people understand these restrictions through family and education. Others learn when the law reaches them. The rich or the powerful or the rich & the powerful individuals should not entertain any notions of rights alone and no duties, responsibilities or obligations. The laws are applicable to all. There is no individual choice to accept some laws or reject others or accept a part of the provisions & reject others. The same doctrine governs Social Obligations. They apply equally. It is the law of the Society or the Social Government. While the punishment in the two kinds differs, the consequences visit both. Society practices laws that are not written but have become norm, more or custom. While there can always be some need to bring them up to date, their need can never be devalued. The rising crime graph in India is a direct consequence of the disappearance of these social values. Currently, both the political government and Social government are in a limbo. However, they shall revive earlier than later. Though such upheavals are costly, there is nothing more one can do excepting waiting for the appropriate time for the revival of both social & political authority.