The recent comments of the RSS chief on the dichotomy between India and Bharat and the attention they have attracted from all quarters present a great opportunity to bring into focus what I believe is the crux of the process of finding a meaningful solution to the problem of rising crimes in our society. This dichotomy has to be understood in full depth. If rapes are happening even in rural India, it only means that the Indianization is not leaving any region of Bharat unaffected. It doesn’t mean that there is no difference India and Bharat because Bharat is not about geography. It is about philosophy. It is about the way of life followed, if not by our rural cousins, by our ancestors who built Bharat.
I need to add before I explain my views, that my purpose here is not advance revivalist ideas about how everything was perfect in ancient Indian or how the Rig Veda is the sole-repository of all scientific knowledge in the world. In fact, it is well recognised that Bharatiyas have never shied away from recognizing their imperfections. What is worth studying and attempting to emulate in India today is how they dealt with these imperfections.
Ancient Indians were not known to have a great sense of history. Historians have had to rely a lot on accounts by foreign travellers and foreign sources to reconstruct our history. And all such sources, including Megasethenes, Fa-hsien and many medieval Arab travellers, have uniformly found that Indians were remarkably law abiding and that crime was very rare.
This was not necessarily achieved by draconian law enforcement or pervasive state control. Even the more critical Hsuan Tsang (a later traveller) says that “in their rules of Government there is remarkable rectitude, while in their behaviour there is much gentleness and sweetness…with respect to criminals or rebels, these are few in number, and only occasionally troublesome. When laws are broken…, then the matter is clearly sifted and offenders imprisoned. There is no infliction of corporal punishment…”
Most historians including A.L. Basham and recent writers like Abraham Eraly have treated such rosy accounts with suspicion merely because prescriptions in legal literature, largely comprising of the Smritis, reflected a more insecure and harsher society. This could either show that these foreign travellers were all fanciful in their writings on ancient India or that these ‘sacred’ texts played a very minimal role in governing the Hindu way of life. Apart from the absurdity of the suggestion that a traveller would lie in praise of a foreign land, the later scenario appears more probable because of another very interesting facet of ancient Hindu society- minimal State interference in the daily life of a citizen.
As Abraham Eraly (The First Spring: The Golden Age of India, Penguin India, 2011) writes “law was what any given group of people at any given place and at any time accepted as law. This made the Indian legal system extremely disorderly- but also infinitely flexible. And very efficient in its own peculiar way…It would have been impossible for any government to keep track of all the innumerable divergent laws and customs of its subject. Happily, it did not have to do that, for each of these diverse groups in the state was largely self-administering…”
Therefore there was no overarching government administering a code of laws or enforcing punishments to maintain law and order and prevent crimes. The codes of Manu, Katyayana or Narada were largely irrelevant to the common Hindu. There appears to have been a latent realisation that the State and its laws are inherently incapable of creating a crime-free society and the onus for this has to rest more locally; perhaps even on the individual. And it is this realisation that has to dawn in today’s India. The realisation that ‘12000 plus police stations in some 7 lakh towns and villages cannot regulate over 110 crore people’.
Prof. Werner Menski, in his seminal work on Hindu Law (Hindu Law: Beyond Tradition and Modernity, Oxford University Press, 2003), explains the Hindu view of dealing with crimes most accurately. He writes that despite the recognition of fall in human values from the golden period of early ages, law and punishment in the late classical period were never used to displace “self-control” as the primary social norm. He writes-“The conceptual expectation of self-controlled order in classical Hindu law would have empowered, in principle if not in practice, all Hindus to determine for themselves, as individuals subject to the highest order, what they should be doing. A ruler’s claim to make what Hart called ‘primarily rules’ could never have developed in such a conceptual climate, since in the classical Hindu systems such basic rules were to be cultivated in the social sphere and should then be implemented locally and individually in self-controlled fashion.”
Prof. Menski explains the change in later stages- “later in the classical period, perhaps more at its tail end this idealized vision of individualistic ordering through self-control processes appears to have given way to the assumption that self-control is ultimately not effective enough in safeguarding Dharma…the need for ‘law’ seems to have expressed in texts like Nararadasmriti which explains why Vyavahara, dispute settlement as well as the threat of punishment is now considered necessary…while statements of this kind are often found there is, to my knowledge, nowhere in the ancient literature an argument that state law is needed because without a state and its positive law there would be anarchy.”
While admitting that the Smritis envisage a greater role for the State and introduce the concept of punishment through administered law, he stresses on the need to understand the role of punishment in proper perspective- “…individuals need to be reminded of their duty to follow Dharma…this argument introduces a new concept, the punishing rod (danda) which should be seen as a symbol of ‘assisted self-control’, not necessarily evidence of actual punishment, but a deterrent threat designed to encourage individuals to follow Dharma of their own accord.
It would be quite wrong to assume that the traditional, classical reliance on individual and situational self-control was completely abandoned…threats of punishment of are not purely secular…as most legal commentators have assumed…transgressions of Dharma are also seen as sins, which require penance and/ or attract posthumous consequences.” (Emphasis supplied)
Therefore, the recognition that the primary onus of adhering to Dharma is on the individual naturally meant that external/ societal interventions in the form of laws and punishments were superfluous in creating a crime-free society. The emphasis instead was on encouraging a Dharmic conscience among citizens. Prof. Menski explains the current relevance of this idea- “In this regard it is instructive to refer to the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 which is widely seen as an example of the futile attempts by the state law to abolish socio-legal practices in Indian society…disgusted with the horrible stalemate over thousands of dowry deaths every year, some women activists began to call for a moral reappraisal. Yet, does this mean that the wheel of history should in fact be turned be back to Asoka’s idealism?
Postmodernist analysis recognises (albeit with some reluctance) that the old Hindu concepts of ‘examining one’s conscience’ (atmanastuti) and ‘model behaviour’ (Sadacara) retain their relevance today. While some modernist commentators have tremendous difficulty with this kind of approach, it cannot be just dismissed out of hand.”
What is needed in India today is a moral reappraisal on Dharmik lines. We Indians have come to imbibe amorality. In the western conception of Individual freedom and liberty, morality is a shackle. A variety of western thinkers including Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Marx joined cause in attacking allegiance to ‘morality’ as something that thwarts individual flourishing or sustains certain unequal socio-economic relations. We have subconsciously adapted this attitude of amorality as a natural concomitant of individual freedom or free market; without realising that unlike western morality which was fostered and sustained by the Church and the State Bharatiya morality is individual-centric and freedom-enabling. It is also important to emphasise, especially in the current context, that our morality is entirely gender-neutral. A Dharmik society or Bharat will render most kinds of activism that we have seen after the Delhi gang rape, especially the feminist variety, redundant.
In a recent land mark study (http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/morality-prevents-crime/) of teenagers and the community in Peterborough over ten years, the Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study – or PADS+ – at Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology has found that “a major reason why certain young people refrain from crime is not because they fear the consequences; it’s that their morality simply prevents them from even seeing crime as a possible course of action in the first place. The researchers found two main characteristics in teenagers resistant to committing crime – who they describe as ‘crime-averse’ – namely, a personal morality that closely matches the law and greater self-control. Those who committed little or no crime fit this model to a large extent.”
Professor Per-Olof H Wikström who headed the team says that “in prevention we need to focus on developing policies that affect children and young people’s moral education and cognitive nurturing – which aids the development of greater self-control – and policies that help minimise the emergence of moral contexts conducive to crime”
India unfortunately has forgotten to teach its children Dharmic morality. The only moralities we have come to follow are freedom and success. Today we stand in awe of a man from Gujarat who built a great business empire apparently through unethical and morally-suspect means; all in the name of his success. Seven centuries ago Marco Polo stood in awe of a different kind of Gujarati business men- the ordinary merchants of Lata who according to the Venetial traveller “are among the best and most trustworthy merchants in the world; for nothing on earth would they tell a lie and all that they say is true.” Isn’t this an example of the difference between India and Bharat?
Once success is measured only in terms of an individual’s achievement outside and once an individual’s motivations are entirely external to what is within him, his ability to exercise ‘self-control’ like our ancestors in Bharat becomes impaired. Punishment and law become the only ways of regulating his conduct. This form of regulation might be effective in Scandinavian countries with small populations. Otherwise, even the most ‘developed’ nations like the U.S will have one out of every five of its women raped or assaulted.
I hope I have been able bring out the difference between Bharat and India with some clarity. The difference is far too complex and even subtle in many respects. But there is no shortcut to dealing with rising crimes, be it rape or corruption, without understanding this difference and attempting to bridge it. For an Indian today, nothing that falls or is ‘interpreted’ to fall within the four corners of law pricks his conscience. But for the Bharatiya the law is irrelevant to his own conduct. After all, what written law was Ram abiding by and what punishment did he have to fear in sacrificing kingdom for the forests?
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