As against the common perception of moral deflection and corruption, a deeper analysis reveals that we are on the path of enlightenment and progress
TIME and again we have been told that our generation is on the verge of a moral and ethical catastrophe. An Edenic picture of the past is presented before us where virtue is shown permeating the society and piety defining individual lives. Is this a truer picture of reality or does it merely reflect our nostalgia rooted in the idealisation of the past? Have we really turned into “lesser” humans in comparison with our ancestors? Are we walking on the ramp of a descending moral slope just to discover ourselves at the bottom of the pit?
I plead that this is not the case. As against the common perception of moral deflection and corruption, a deeper analysis reveals that we are on the path of enlightenment and progress.
Let’s start our case from the larger context of humanity taken in its global whole till we finally zoom into our locale and indigenous society. There can be innumerable points of comparison but let’s start with the human tendency for war and violence and the evolution of war ethics across ages. We tend to imagine our ancestors as peace loving or at least less violent than we ourselves are. But this is simply to gloss over the fact that the ancient world has seen much more destruction and devastation than the cumulative destruction of all modern wars. We only need to take a cursory look at the regimes of Nebuchadnezzar, the much celebrated pacifist Ashoka, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible and others. Any of them and their war histories, their tryst with violence will make Hitler seem a mediocre or pygmy in comparative ability to cause violence. And do we lament the rape and loot that accompanied the partition of subcontinent in 1947? We direct serious readers to any standard text on Indian and global history to discover for themselves the difference between the savages that we were and the humans that we are.
Well, the world is too large and history too vast, so we better focus on Kashmir and the moral paradigms it has gone through. All of us are thrown into moral anxiety and shaken to roots whenever an incident of moral “indecency” erupts in our society. The most infamous, if not the only instance of its sort was the scandal that was exposed in Habba Kadal many years ago. This simply comes at the cost of collective amnesia that we still have a place in the heart of Kashmir – Tashwan, which has become a symbol of prostitution and a historical allusion to moral laxity. Sex work or the likes of it used to be quite a norm in our society, run under the aegis of state protection till recent past in Kashmir. It took the efforts of conscientious men, Subhan Hajam being the most celebrated among them, to fight this institution of flesh trade in Kashmir.
Today, we revel at the mere thought of such episodes and that reflects our heightened moral sense that the knowledge and information has brought with it.
The case against marital violence has picked up some pace in the wake of women’s liberation movements and awareness about women rights. Yet the demonisation of in-laws (whether genuine or groundless) continues unabated. Domestic and marital violence is characterised as the problem of the present era so much, as though women were enjoying the heavenly bliss in marital life in ancient days. We tend to forget that much of the domestic and marital violence committed against women stays lost in history and was rarely documented. Do we not remember the pithy remarks of saintly women Lal Ded about her in-laws? Do we not read in books the trauma and terror Meera Bhai had to suffer at the hands of her in-laws and husband? For the fact that these were the women who somehow rose to prominence, history preserved their words and experiences. What about hundreds of those women whose voices were muffled and therefore buried in history forever? Today, women are empowered, educated and better equipped to report domestic and marital abuse and to register their grievances with various NGOs and government run institutions. This wasn’t the case earlier.
When crimes and ethical degradation of the present era are enumerated, the menace of drug addiction and substance abuse is often presented as one without a historical precedent. But we overlook the fact that scriptures like Vedas celebrated the intoxicating drinks like Soma. Nor is it hidden from anybody that drinking was a norm both in ancient Greek and pre-Islamic Arabia, where the occasions of drinking used to be accompanied by all sorts of vulgarity and ethical debasement – a raw version of modern day pubs, as these places used to be. While we condemn these habits of drinking and substance abuse, ancients almost invariably sanctified them, by assigning them a mystical character. Not only this, poets universally celebrated drinking in their poetry and employed it as a symbol of paradisiacal and ecstatic experiences. Though it is also known that few poets used wine and drinking merely as a symbol and a literary device, most of them physically indulged in drinking and later praised the same. This is quite contrary to the modern consciousness where these habits are invariably condemned as immoral.
Now, the problem of drug abuse may seem to be a recent one, but it is recent only in as much as the discovery or manufacturing of more lethal drugs is concerned, otherwise men used to indulge in substance abuse across geographies and the consumption of weed and other psychoactive substances in antiquity is an open secret. Carlos Castadena’s quasi mystical books like “Journey to Ixtalan” are curtain raisers in this direction. Even a pack of cigarettes in our times carries a cautionary warning but till recent times liquor and drinking used to be a norm and people felt no shame or moral guilt while indulging in these activities. Mrinal Pande’s article is a vivid testimony to what has been stated here.
While we have drawn out a comparison between the past and the present and our comparison has titled the bob in the direction of the past when it comes to the gravity of crimes and their impacts, it shall not make us complacent and give us the pedestal of moral superiority. True, we have come a long way down the path of enlightenment but the pervasive presence of crimes in our societies and world shall awaken us to the larger fact that the path to moral excellence is an unending one and if the present times fare relatively well that shall be a stimulus to make the coming times even better. Past shall not be judged from the parameters of the present nor shall the present be evaluated against the past. The yardstick is the timeless criterion of being good to ourselves and good to others in whatever we do. In these two dimensions lie all the secrets and characteristics of better individuals, better world and better civilizations.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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