26 October 2006


Sometime ago, as I stepped out of a retail store in Mumbai, I was confronted by a group of college students who wanted to interview me on the growing corruption in our country.

I’m afraid I gave them all the wrong answers: that corruption is a fact of life; that it’s everywhere, and not confined only to India; that money corrupts, power corrupts, sex corrupts, materialism corrupts, our greed corrupts; that the situation is likely to remain so despite our efforts to reduce it; that I had no idea how corruption could be managed apart from public awareness and action.

Looking back, I feel ashamed.

How could I have been so insensitive to those students and their desire to bring about a better life for everyone? Isn’t corruption a social evil we could all do without? At least, those students were attempting to address the issue of corruption in India. With all my maturity and experience, I was doing absolutely nothing about it.

If those students could not rely on the support of elders like me, who could they turn to? What kind of social and moral order was I presenting to those students? Has corruption permeated to such levels of morality that people like me actually give our consent to corruption by not challenging it? Does that mean my moral values need re-evaluation as well?

I believe people, individually or in groups, create social and moral orders for themselves as a natural process. I believe they create these orders on common shared values that build societies and civilisations. I believe India is a prime example of this, and she has a 5,000-year-old heritage to prove it.

I believe, in recent years particularly, the media in India has helped broadcast these common shared values to millions of people across the country, accelerating India’s growth. I believe this has resulted in positive shifts in values within families, within communities, at work, and between partners.

Yet, I see a breakdown of the family structure that India was so proud of. I see a hedonistic individualism replacing common shared values. I see ‘personal gains’ as the driving force behind the new social and moral order. And, for the weak, I see apathy as its greatest corrupting influence.

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