This morning, in the BBC Hardtalk, Stephen Sackur was talking with George Bizos regarding growing concerns on lack of human rights and freedom of speech in South Africa. One point that Sackur made, which applies probably more in India today, in the context of recent dangerous culture of intolerance on Prashant Bhushan is; how come, a nation that fought hard for human rights, and freedom of speech until 1994, today denies the same to all within South Africa. 

In India, the issue is not only about a dangerous culture of intolerance. Prioritizing the challenging issues facing the nation seems to be another challenge, and debatable task in itself. Dangerous levels of corruption in all places with a defeatist mindset to take on corruption, dangerous levels of lack of integrity and ethics in all levels, dangerous levels of poverty, illiteracy and semi-literacy or whatever one calls it, dangerous levels of inequality in socio-economic parameters, dangerous levels of lack of transparency as if asking for transparency is committing a crime, and many more – they all struggle to get due attention of the all powerful policy-makers.

But the policy-makers in India have one single minded ‘blinkers on’ road ahead. None of above actually matters much to the policy-makers. Amartya Sen calls it ‘growth-mania’, many others globally see it as ‘GDP-cult’.  

Going by traditional economic mindset, one may find nothing wrong with this approach of the policy-makers; however, if reality proves that increasing the size of the cake does not necessarily increase the size of the pie of the most deserving ones; one needs to learn lessons from reality quickly, and not from text books, at best valid in a different context. Galbraith termed same as ‘horse and sparrow theory’; whereas Warren Buffet felt that the yachts are rising faster with a growing tide than the boats (in the US or global context). In India, probably, many of the boats are literally not rising at all, because they have been anchored so hard with the ground of backwardness.

The reason probably lies in amount of trickledown effect possible. Unlike in developed world, where the trickle down starts from a significant percent of middle to well-to-do rich families (>50%) to the underprivileged (<50%); in India it starts from hardly 5% or even less affluent; and there exists a dog-eat-dog kind of war for survival for the bottom most 80% of the population. Adding size to this distribution does have a multiplier effect. It probably makes one understand why status quo, laissez-faire trickle down may take centuries to deliver anything in India.

To have a society pride-worthy of global human civilization in the 21st century, one must ensure human dignity, human rights, freedom of speech, intolerance to corruption, and to any type of unethical, illegal and immoral activities. ‘Have nothing poverty’ and ‘have nothing moral values’ probably best categorizes Indian populace in a simplistic way with exceptions, and have become part of Indian GDP-cult; and no one has time to think about implications of other challenges. The GDP-showbiz must go on.

The three key elements, in my opinion, that form the backbone of a healthy society of which we can be proud of are: (1) Good Governance, (2) Good Media and (3) Good Academics. In a developed society, all these three essential components of a healthy society are good, without facing a chicken-and-egg story, and thereby timely checks-and-balances are in place, whenever, and if at all, one slips.

Unfortunately in India, we have bad governance (barring exceptions), bad media (again barring exceptions). In such a situation, role of academics become critical. I would not have the stupid audacity to call Indian Academics categorically ‘bad’ as I probably did for the other two.

However, there clearly is an alignment and synchronization problem. The cut-copy-paste mentality of measurement system of Indian academics is not working. And in case we want to change governance from bad to good, and so for media; the only hope is academics. It surely would give results as global studies proved ample times, at times with a lead-lag period of two decades.

In the western society, integrity, honesty, academic integrity, truthfulness, abiding by the law – these are all taken for granted. No compromise ever can be made in any of these categories. In India, they are an exceptions; particularly with the top 10-20% of the population who decide the fate of another one billion, living in some sort of abject and vicious poverty.

Should Indian academics, starting from primary to higher education, have blinkers on approach in not seeing the dangerous social evils all around, and award the toppers in class in junior or senior schools, without promoting integrity of character from an early age, and awarding that too. How much time and effort should be dedicated in class discussions for moral values, barring the introduction of another book on moral values? Should the performance measure of teachers, in higher education, in social science areas particularly, be publishing papers for academic enrichment and promotions, and not telling their students never to commit an unethical practice, for whatever temptations?

Should IIT Kharagpur take more pride in Arvind Kejriwal (recognized duly by IIT Kharagpur with The Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2009) than UDCT takes in Mukesh Ambani? This is a complex social question. They both are great achievers. But when it comes to an academic institute taking pride in an alumnus, what standards should the academic institute apply? And what standards should the society apply in awarding the nation’s citizens?

There is one missing piece in the unresolved equation of Indian puzzle on dangerous deficit levels on all moral values. No one talks about academics. As long as we try and catch up with the West, or even with China in publishing, patents, and keep the GDP-machine running with supply of skilled manpower; Indian academics is doing a fine job. Most believe that taking care of the moral deficits of the society is the problem of the broader society, Government, and at best of the media.

There have been many criticism of Indian education system from CII, FICCI, NASSCOM, ASSOCHAM or other industry-lobby groups, as they often state that much of the product of Indian education system is not employable. The point is well-taken, valid and as academicians, we understand and accept. However, there has never been any criticism of Indian education system for producing students who may not be fit to live in a healthy society. Very few of them directly commit corrupt or unethical acts; most tolerate silently, may even suffer; but even in the 21st century information age, they are afraid to raise their voices.

Until and unless we get the equation right with this one vital missing piece, the equation will always remain unresolved. The pictures of the men who was hitting Prashant Bhushan, or that of many of the behind-Tihar characters, either from senior Government positions or from private sectors, along with their more-powerful-and-still-free backers on 2G scam, flash in my mind as I end this article.

They all definitely graduated; some probably did post-graduation studies as well. We never taught them moral values, and unfortunately in India, neither did the society. No attempt has been made in answering one single question from Indian teachers.

I invite you to visit my blog, Wondering Man (or take a look at my book,Wondering Man, Money & Go(l)d). You are also invited to join me on Twitter.

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