A cradle of civilisation, at its peak or its nadir?

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Our 62nd Republic Day dawned with the morning newspaper announcing—or more appropriately, screaming out—the news of the brutal lynching just a day before, of a sincere and committed public servant holding the high office of additional district collector in the not-so-distant Maharashtra.

As I picked up the paper which was lying on my porch, itself doubled up like a limp and lifeless corpse, and glanced at the headlines, the stark reality of what our country had come to hit me like a sledge hammer and a wave of disgust and outrage swept over me.

Our Republic Day, which shares its importance in equal measure with our Independence Day and which in fact surpasses it on a few counts, should have served as a proud annual reminder of how to govern ourselves better. We gave ourselves a Constitution that would uphold the rule of the law and dispense fair justice for every Indian.

Every Indian young or old, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, irrespective of his or her caste, creed, colour and social status, stands covered under its protection. It is a Constitution which has few equals today even among the most advanced countries many of which cannot even talk, let alone boast of a written Constitution.

Despite holding this sacrosanct commandment aloft to remind the world of our greatness, what are we reminded of, day in and day out, as we go about our daily lives?

Are we able to say proudly that we have all been abiding by all the provisions enshrined in it?

I am afraid not.

Yes, we have some of the best written laws that should do justice to our claim to being a great nation but are we doing justice to our Constitution by following it in letter and spirit?

I am afraid not.

The high and mighty amongst us have no accountability whatsoever and have nothing to fear. The law is a deterrent only to the handful of those who fear it while all the ones who thumb their noses at it can go about their evil deeds, undeterred.

It is a deterrent to the lowly office clerk or village accountant who surreptitiously holds his hand under the table for transferring a title deed from a dead farmer to his son but it does not deter the neta who collects suitcases full of money to transfer thousands of acres of land illegally to land sharks.

Today, by our own willingness to be sucked into it, we are helplessly trapped in a whirlpool of mafias. There is a land mafia, a loan mafia, a coal mafia, an oil mafia and a job mafia to name just a few of the scores of organised murky activities that thrive unhindered, eating away at the innards of our prosperity and respectability.

Our leaders who are suppo-sed to set an example of honesty are the best examples of the highest kind of dishonesty.

They live perpetually on the payroll of the kings of crime and depend so heavily on the huge sums of money doled out by them to win elections on false promises. In turn they promise to twist the neck of our legal system to make it look the other way while their mentors rule the roost.

We, the educated citizens who consider ourselves enlightened enough to know what is good and what is bad, cast our votes blindfolded in favour of candidates guided not by a sense of fairness but only by considerations of caste and community. And, when the election results come we hold newspapers in our hands and bemoan what our country is coming to because of how the poor, illiterate masses vote under the influence of money and cheap liquor.

Have we stopped to ponder what is happening to the social fabric of our country by our abject disregard for our Constitution? This only garment of respectability which we have been wearing is now virtually ripped to shreds, almost laying bare in its entirety our savage nakedness to the eyes of the entire world.

The ease with which the officer in Maharashtra was doused with petrol and set aflame on the roadside in broad daylight with dozens of onlookers simply watching the macabre act helplessly, speaks of two chilling things.

# One, it screams out aloud that our complex administrative machinery has buckled under the brute force of the Frankenstein that we have ourselves created by our ever increasing tolerance and acceptance of corruption as a necessary and convenient evil.

# Second, when you consider the inaction with which the mute bystanders chose to just stand and watch, it tells us in hushed whispers that with the law crippled by a total lack of honesty and commitment, the safest thing to do in any dangerous situation, if it does not concern you directly, is to mind your own business.

I wonder why the helpless man, who certainly must have been familiar with the ways of the underworld, did not think of first summoning the help of the forces at his command before venturing to question what some of its kingpins were doing.

We call ourselves civilised and announce to the rest of the world that we were the ones who first rocked the cradle of civilisation. We also claim to be riding on the wave of a cultural and economic revolution right now. But it is significant to note here that every wave has a nadir and a peak.

I am tempted to ask at which one of these two points on this wave do we Indians stand today?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)