The year was 1948. India had just obtained independence from the British rule a year ago. As part of an agreement signed with Pakistan pertaining to the division of resources between the two countries, India had to pay up a sum of Rs 75 crore to its neighbour. However, of the total of amount, India had made only a part payment of Rs 20 crore.
Meanwhile, Pakistan set its tribals to raid Kashmir and a war broke out. In a counter measure, the Indian armed forces tried pushing back the marauding tribals. Due to the war, the Government of India decided that the remaining sum would not be paid to Pakistan, with the view that Pakistan may use it for the ongoing war. They decide that they won’t pay the amount until the Kashmir problem was solved.
However, Mahatma Gandhi insisted that India must stand up to its commitments on ethical grounds. He went on fast on January 13, 1948 to praying that the communal violence come to an end and for the payment of the remaining Rs 55 crore. “I would fast not just for the peace of Delhi, but for the honour of India. I would set a condition for ending it (the fast): India respecting the letter of her international agreement by paying Pakistan its due,” the father of the nation said.
Though there was public outcry against the payment of the due, the Government of India bowed down to the Mahatma’s appeal and handed over the balance to Pakistan. Such was the moral high ground the founding fathers maintained for the sake of the country’s honour.
Since then, we have come a long way and have rather taken the path deviated from the truth, in a country that had always valued truth and ethics over anything else! Lies have many colours but truth has only one. Maybe, this is why when truth pricks our conscience, we cry that ‘truth is bitter’!
Unfortunately, in the present day digital world, truth is getting battered and has assumed different shades of white. A popular politician of yesteryears has made a fine distinction of different shades of truth spoken from the mouth, heart and the conscience: vaaimai, unmai, nermai!
Leaders speak of destroying caste discrimination, but every decision they take - be it political, bureaucratic or governance-related - caste calculations play a major role in the process. These leaders travel in private jets belonging to corporate hotshots to attend huge conclaves, where they vow to destroy the same corporates. There cannot be a worse example of hypocrisy when it comes to those projecting themselves as the saviours of the society.
Tolerance is another often-repeated phrase in public debate. We take pride in claiming to be a tolerant society that accepts all religions and faiths, but does tolerance truly convey that meaning? The way we practise tolerance we seem to convey a meaning of qualified acceptance that though we do not fully accept we anyway tolerate - a condescending acceptance!
As we take pride in such acceptance, we expect the section receiving such qualified acceptance will be ever grateful and eternally thankful for such mercies. Is this not again another shade of the diluted truth? Why cannot we proclaim that we wholeheartedly accept all creed, ethnicity, hues and colours?
Public posture and private practice is another dichotomy in the society. What we profess in public and what we practice in close confines are miles apart. Unabashedly, lies and half-truths are uttered without compunction. Language is one such issue where diverse stand is taken without any thought to its impact on youth who get confused signals.
Our language policy is that while Hindi is regarded as the national language and English the link language, each linguistic state should take pride in the development of their respective languages. However, linguistic chauvinism to the extent of shutting out access to knowing other languages, which is required for employment and pursuing diverse avocation, is displayed with gusto, which is detrimental to the growth and the progress of youth.
Political leaders quietly send their children to the best private English-medium schools, while deny such opportunity to the rest of the ardent youth. While there’s no doubt that one’s mother tongue should be the most preferred mode of learning, knowing other languages as per to one’s individual preference must not be denied.
Some politicians take pride in smearing black paint on English signboards thunder against learning Sanskrit. Tamil poets of the Sangam period were able to produce epic literature mainly because of their knowledge about the classical languages.
Language skill is what makes Indians globally competitive and makes them the most sought after by the multinational organisations. Multi-tasking through different languages energises the brain, opens up new vistas and gives confidence in strengthening one’s entrepreneurial skills.
Sometimes, it makes one wonder whether genes make Indians the inveterate liars! We make compromises to justify an unjustifiable conduct. It is this propensity to discolour the truth that helps corruption thrive in public and private sectors. Public servants display arrogance while dealing with the grievances of public, little realising that they are meant to serve the public and that the public are their masters.
Maybe, it is because of their compromise with the truth, the way they handle their duties pressurises them and leads to anger issues while dealing with public.
There is a fine distinction between what we like and what we admire. When we like something, it has a selfish motive of wanting to possess. Whereas, when we admire something, we allow it to flourish the way it is and help its growth. There is an insatiable desire to possess and in the process, we fail to admire and celebrate the achievements. Failing to admire and appreciate good things in life like charity, compassion and nobility is another distortion of the truth.
Indiscriminate use of plastics and its adverse impact on environment is now well known and many states including Tamil Nadu have banned plastics. Implementation of the ban was and will be a challenge, but it is here that the voluntarily avoiding use of plastics should come into play. It was indeed refreshing to hear about a tender coconut vendor ingeniously devising a straw out of papaya leaves replacing the plastic straw and serving the public. If only knowledgeable people also had this sense of commitment to compliance, life would be lot better!
Our country has triumphed over many trials and tribulations mainly because of the adherence to truth and honesty by the common man. Let us salute the common man for his sincerity, sagacity and sobriety.
— The writer is Mylapore MLA and former DGP