I am no anthrapologist – but through general reading (and with my rational and scientific attitude) I have gathered that man has evolved form his ancestors over thousands of years. The early nomadic, hunter communities were self-preserving, had a pack-mentality and were self-sufficient. It took hundreds of years for the transition to settled, farming communities to happen with resultant loss of self – sufficiency (at the individual and then the group level) and development of inter-dependence. With this came the concept of trade (barter followed by currency) – at first local and then further afield – and these interactions probably led to codes of conduct for interactions within families, within communities and between communities. These codes evolved, I am sure over these hundreds of years, influenced predominantly by the climate,as this determined the kind of crops that grew, the animals that were hunted as well as the type of housing, clothes etc….
The last 2 centuries have probably seen more change in the human condition than all of history prior to that!! Be it the Inquisition in Europe of the Middle Ages or the descriptions of Dickensian London, much of the world was in chaos at the turn of the nineteenth century – with the privileged few ruling over the miserable, hungry majority. The code of conduct was laid down by the former with no voice given for the latter!
With the birth of the Industrial Revolution, in some parts of the world – which we called the ‘developed’ world now – the balance and terms of engagement shifted. This shift occurred at a time of travel of peoples and news was only as rapid as the nature would take them – be it the horse or the elephant, the steam ships or the early steam engines. And of course the world population was 1000 million in 1810 and 1650 million in 1900. Changes were gradual and education came along with the slowly growing wealth. And as a friend reminded me recently, while discussing a similar topic, much of the wealth acquired by the ‘developed’ world was from those parts of the world that are now being terms ‘developing’ and ‘under-developed’.
Over the 19th and early 20th century, the combined factors of widening educational access, increasing incomes and greater mobility must have changed the rules of interaction and led to the evolution of new codes of conduct. The London of Dickens evolved to war time London over 7 to 8 decades. Change must have brought upheavals there too, but this was before 24 hour TV and instant messaging!
We in India, it seems got exhausted with 20-30 years of the freedom struggle and when freedom came, went into a Rip Van Winkle like slumber for more than his legendary 2 decades !! And when we awoke, if the awakening was 1991, it was into a wholly transformed world – of computers, cell phones, internet, global connectivity. And suddenly we have 21st century Western values and the traditional 19th/20th century values trying to vie for space, with a population that mostly is uneducated or getting outdated, poor quality education!!
Where is all this leading, you maybe thinking!! The recent rants on prime time TV after the Mumbai rape case and the daily overdose of similar cases in the media, got me thinking. My case is that we have not evolved any code of conduct for our society – and rape is only an extreme scenario. How do two people of the opposite sex greet each other when they meet? It maybe with a hug and cheek touching and air blown kisses (European style) at the Oberoi foyer, or maybe just a hug at the CCD, or a brisk hand shake if meeting for the first time on business. But how do you greet your driver, or maid or the guard outside your gate or the young man who serves you at the grocery store? Do you say hello or good morning or shake hands? The ‘namaste’ as a form of greeting has been totally abandoned by all of us. You probably don’t even bother to greet him/her- he is just there to serve you – he is not a HE or SHE – more an it!! When the men of the working class meet each other they may say ‘Ram Ram’ or “Salaam alikum” as the case maybe – but I wonder what inter-religious greetings are. And in that group, do men and women greet each other at all!! So, we do not have a code of conduct for our interactions – and the case I am trying to make is that probably the changes have occurred too rapidly for these to evolve.
So, is it fair to shout and scream for men to respect women, ‘how can they do this’, they are animals etc. etc..? Do we respect ‘them’ in our day to day interactions? Because only with mutual respect for each individual will the collective ethos evolve. I am not sure how this is going to happen or when – but the basic fault lines cannot be fixed by policing or laws alone. These may have some effect on the extreme cases. Unless we all consciously make the effort to enrich and encourage interactions in our young, across gender, caste, class etc…… these fault lines will only widen. It is clear that we need a code of conduct!!
Disclaimer: I condemn the individual acts of violence as much as anyone. And also am aware that the more educated ‘haves’ also have many culprits lurking amidst them.