Is Our Country Becoming Ethically Bankrupt?

One can easily gauge condition of ethical standards of any state or country from its infrastructure, cleanliness and discipline of traffic on the road, movement you enter the state or country.


Most favorite topic of discussion in social circles now a days is corruption and religious fanaticism. Utter a word in any gathering, there will be numerous people ready to share their experiences from every walk of life. Even most shy and introvert might share a story or two. This topic was in my mind for long. I was ruminating over it. Being a difficult topic (Really?), was not able to decide how to go about it.

First few thoughts went about whether it should be a scholastic writing, researching through mounds of literature, earlier research work and discussions with learned people or people regarded highly ethical in today’s society. Headings/ title could have been “Ethics in unethical environment” “Cost of being Ethical” “Turning unethical society into highly ethical one”. Then decided against it, being lazy (or saddled with work) who was going to put up that much effort which involved going through literature, earlier research work and discussion with people, all this without reward or recognition, only self-actualization? Not yet, Maslow’s other needs are yet to be full filled before I move on to these higher levels.

Second thought was writing in form of fictional short story, naming it as “Ethical Jewellery.” It might have proceeded with a charter, who wears ethical Jewellery to show off his ethical standards depending upon demand of the occasions. It could have been very apt in today’s world but then thought of writing it sometime in the later part of the life, when more maturity and writing skills dawn on me, to give it the justice it deserves.

Third was writing it in form of humorous anecdote. To please my fraternity friends, I would have included all accounting/ economics and management jargons to make it witty. Anyhow now also while penning-down the current piece, would not hesitate to do so where ever possible.

The last, which I am using now, scribbling the free flow of thoughts, writing whatever comes to your mind rather than bounding yourself to any particular style or constraint.

Before proceeding further and getting serious about the subject, would like to clear ambiguity that I am also among the unethical crowd but with minor difference of having highly impinging conscious, which keeps me on the ethical track with sometimes heavy price to pay. My unethical premise can be gauged from the fact itself that I am a sheep in lions clothing. Being born into Sikh religion expected of extreme level of bravery, honesty and purity which doesn’t even come close to me, still continuing being Sikh and blemish on forefathers. (Too much emotional… but hard fact)

In today’s time, are we in a state of declining ethics? I am saying this in the context of our country and not world at large. As per Transparency International, India ranks 86/180 with score of 40/100 on Corruption Perception Index. Each and every country has its own ethical standards and societies in those countries works around it. At present, we say ourselves as being part of civilized society, which works with set of rules and regulations that respect individual rights in turn recognizing obligations one has towards others and society, maintaining balance. The balance sheet concept for my fraternity friends with assets on the one side (our rights) and liabilities (our duties) on the other. All of us love and boost our assets, at same time want to avoid or minimize liabilities.

Ethical standards may vary even in the same country from one state to the other state. Ethical decline in one state could be more than ethical decline in the other state. However, it can’t be altogether contrast to one another, one being highly ethical when compared with the other. Free flow of people and resources, will force balance close to national ethical standards.

One can easily gauge condition of ethical standards of any state or country from its infrastructure, cleanliness and discipline of traffic on the road, movement you enter the state or country. It will reflect ethical values of people living in those areas. It is just outward projection of what resides inside the people. Second glance can be had from the Taxi/ Auto Riksha drivers, how they fleece the customer. On a lighter note, with Uber and Ola some respite in above extortion. But still drivers find work around.

One news item which appeared in Times of India sometime back, had me thinking more deeply about the subject. (11 lakh people stole from railways) It was about 11 lakh people caught by police for stealing in railways. When discussed this news with one of my friends, he stated by railways own estimates only 1 in 10 gets caught. You can just imagine magnitude of ethical decline. All these persons are integral part of our society and create overall resonance for country’s governance.

Now, I correlate it with environment. We are operating and discharging our duties in the same society, which has bread these people. These people would be in our societies as preachers, our relatives, our friends, neighbours, our colleagues, our subordinates, our bosses, our vendors, our consultants, our customers and known and unknown etc. Most difficult part would be identification of them. Fundamental funny thing is, all tend to portray themselves as highly honest and ethical breed. In our chalta hai society, where breaking rules have themselves become norm, what is ethical and unethical too has become vague.

I have talked about unethical people, but fact is, it’s more about unethical behaviour. These unethical behaviours are observed in every walk of life. These behaviour might be displayed even in close relationships leave aside the distant one where people don’t even care to think about. We operate on fundamental notion of “one is honest, till one gets caught” (For political class even that is not true – it might only be a political conspiracy after all, if you ever get caught!)

Its general saying politicians are corrupt and lack any moral standing. How can society or country expect highly ethical political leaders when ground preparing them itself is soaked/ muddied with lack of morals and standards. Your play grounds decide, how clean or dirty your shirts remain while playing.

In today’s environment, conditions are such, even unethical behaviours also are considered as ethical over a period of time due to its rampant prevalence. Most dramatic difference could be seen in our cultural parlance. On the name of open/ modern/ mature society, what was considered to be a sin before or beyond marriage, today no eyebrows are raised. (I am talking about sex before marriage or outside of marriage).

These behaviours could be from minor manifestation to major crimes like not discharging required duties or discharging not in just and fair way, lying, misrepresenting, misguiding, briberies, theft, fraud and impinging others rights etc. Gravity might differ from one to other, but all are originating from lack of ethical behaviour on the part of us all.

Our business leaders too come from such environment. When you grow, interact and learn in such conditions from very childhood, to develop highly different set of values than that of society, is extremely difficult. As leaders grow and assimilate these stated and unstated values both negative and positive, they are bound to be effected by it. Same is valid for every set of employees in the organisations. Instilling ethics in organization becomes that much difficult. Organizations with exceptional efforts might be able to set high ethical standards in own organization but influencing other organizations/ society, Government and other constituents of environment, is a herculean task.

We survive; do our jobs and business in such environment. Here at every step and point, one might be facing unethical behaviour or situations. All these behaviours involve cost for both ethical and unethical people. In the short run, pinch might be less on unethical person than the righteous one because he makes good such unethical cost by his own unethical behaviour. However, these cost differences persist, and society doesn’t go rouge till costs are bearable and ethical part of human nature remains conscious. Once these costs of unethical behaviour start assuming unmanageable proportions then some semblance would come to bring order again to manageable extent. This cat and mouse race in society will continue.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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ethical standards ashok leyland Narinder Jit Singh

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