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Crisis of Ethics in India

Dr. M. D. Thomas Dr. M. D. Thomas
20 Nov 2023

To make the title clearer, ‘crisis’ is a disaster. It is a failure as well as a tragedy. In other words, it is a calamity or a catastrophe. Obviously, what is implied here is the state of affairs caused by the shortage of ethics in the diverse areas of life. ‘Crisis of ethics’ is not only in India, but also all over the world. But, India has it in horrifying proportions and in a widespread way, symptomatically so.  

‘Ethics’ means ‘what is right and wrong in human behaviour’. It is about beliefs regarding what is morally correct or acceptable. It refers to policies and principles that govern the various arenas of life. It signifies means and manners that are dignifying for human beings. It connotes upright and honest ways of conducting oneself. Life as human beings is next to impossible without ethics, obviously so.   

The word ‘ethics’ derives from the Greek word ‘ethos’, which means character or conduct. It is also called moral philosophy or philosophical thinking about morality. Ethics is at times used interchangeably with ‘morals’. But, to be specific, ethics is a discipline required by an external source, while ‘morals’ is enforced by one’s own self. Even so, ethics are morals in action. Ethics and morals in concert make a complete sense. 

Further, ethics is well-founded standards of right and wrong. They prescribe what humans ought to do, in terms of rights, obligations, fairness, and benefits to society, or specific virtues. Ethics has individual and social dimensions. In other words, it has subjective and objective arenas. They correspond to external and internal sectors, too. Ethics is necessitated by all areas and proportions of human life, as well. 

India as a country is ‘notorious’ for the shortage of ethics. The bankruptcy of ethics has affected almost all the sectors and areas of the country. There is an erosion of ethical principles, standards and values, both in the private and public sectors. Ethical behaviour has become a rare commodity. It makes all human achievements in life almost null and void. 

Ethics is an essential component for development and progress. Shortage of ethics is an obstacle to development. It makes development ineffective, if not useless. Weeding out the ethical malpractices from all the sectors is inevitable for the real development and progress of the country, even for its survival. Otherwise, development would be rendered not only futile, but also harmful. 

Due to absence of ethical foundations, educational institutions have gone astray. Manipulation of data, plagiarism, outsourcing doctoral theses, and the like, have destroyed the culture of research and academics. The state of affairs disqualifies the educational institutions in India for global competition. Tolerating fraud and misconduct by leadership makes things almost beyond redemption, as well.   

Religion is a factor that is traditionally supposed to foster and strengthen ethics. But unfortunately, it is laden with silly stories, myths, outdated theological theories, superstitions, rituals, fasts, pilgrimages, and the like. Much of it produces hardly any fruit for life. They leave the devotees all the more scrupulous, addicted and enslaved, too. Mostly it does not build up an ethical fibre for life, badly so.      

Besides, the amount of time Indians spend in places of worship and in religious observances is beyond the scope of being calculated. The contribution Indian devotees make to places of worship and even to religious gurus, by way of gold, silver, cash and kind, is unimaginable, as well. But, the ethical result of such engagements is mostly nil. Instead, the conditions corrupt the system of religion, all the more.    

The political, administrative and governmental sector is seen profusely engaging in rivalry, scam, hate speech, telling lies, corrupt practices and extravagance. They seem to callously violate principles of not only democracy and secularism, but even basic standards of decency and fairness. They tend to ignore the ethics of the Constitution and indulge in selfish and autocratic ways. The half truths and full lies they callously keep on telling pollute the social air and are a great scandal for the entire country. 

In addition, divisive and discriminatory policies and practices tear up the social fabric of the nation and are plundering the dignity of its people. Attempts to gain and remain in power by hook or by crook overturn all sense of decorum and stateliness as well as ethical sense. A lot of diabolic ways are in the public space, leave aside the private space. Indians in general have not learned even to manage the waste in life. No wonder, speaking of ethics becomes nothing more than a joke.  

Coming to the world of economy, as per Oxfam India, it is utterly shocking to realize that the top five percent of the population possess more than 60% of the resources of the country, while the bottom 50% of the people have to be satisfied with less than three percent of the resources. A few top industrialists monopolize the financial firms and endeavours and run the economic show of the country in their favour, unfortunately so. 

Furthermore, India has the third highest number of billionaires in the world, 167 of them, according to Forbes International. Some 20-25 crores of people are forced to live a life below poverty line and are condemned to live in slums and streets and under flyovers and bridges. Global Hunger Index 2023 records that India has 111th rank, out of 125. Needless to state, ethics has collapsed in a major way in the distribution of wealth, creating an economic debacle and rendering all tall claims a mere nonsense. 

What’s more, the ancient mainstream tradition of caste has eaten up the sense of humanity, along with values of good will, justice, equality, integrity, dignity, love, fraternity and fellowship. Considerations of high and low, great and small, rich and poor, mine and yours, and the like, have been touching upon brutal proportions, off and on. It has very much damaged the ethics of harmony in social life, having disrupted the equilibrium among individuals, institutions and communities, sadly so.     

In sum, the crisis of ethics has inflicted immense harm to the various sections of the Indian society. It has damaged the good image of India in the global scenario. India is condemned to the backfield in most of the global indices. The cancerous state of affairs in the Indian society requires a treatment of major surgery, imperatively so. The mindset of Indians, by and large, has to be substantially revised. An ethical and moral revolution is called for. 

(The author is Director of Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi. mdthomas53@gmail.com) 

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