Law, Ethics and Culture


                                                                                                      By Govindh K. Bharathan

          In the words of Yajnyavalkya “the Shruthi, the Smriti, the approved usage, what is agreeable to one’s good conscience and desire sprung from due deliberation, are ordained the foundation of Dharma” (Law).  It would be outside the scope of this article to trace in detail the sources of Hindu Law and its development through the ages, governed by exigencies of history and the realities of geography.  The Shruthis are of divine origin.  The Smritis are the transcription of divine experience through the medium of the sages; and customs relate back to the norms of culture and civilization of ancient Hindu India. 


          The transition from the highest realms of ethical values to a system of codified law applicable to a set a circumstances at a point of time, is in essence the dynamic current of applied morality, an important aspect of which is law, as we know it.  This ethical code influences social and political systems and is in turn influenced by these systems.  The divine duty of the soverign called “Rajadharma” had to be enforced with compassion justice and impartiality.  The Sovereign’s actions were to be governed by Vedic and scriptural principles, and where due to the exigencies of time and tide, such principles were not immediately discernable, the guidelines were to be provided by the norms of good conscience. 


          The concept of morality in law can be traced from the Upanishadic times.  It embodies the principles of a harmonious blend of duty discipline and devotion.  It was only later with the development of social systems which often sacrificed principles for personal profit, and which were tainted with commercialism and compromise, that a coercive element grew by necessity to make effective the dispensation of law. 


          With the passage of time and the growth of a society which compromised with flagrant violations of Dharma and which replaced even the last vestiges of the presumption of the divine origin of Sovereign power, the coercieve aspect predominated and like the proverbial came drove the Arab from the tent.  The transition from moral law to mertial law was not peculiar to India alone but was a global phenomenon. Hindu India lagged behind and was caught up with waves of aggressive thrusts of foreign invasions which changed once and for all established codes of conduct and culture. Horde after horde of invaders poured in from all directions, either to be repelled aggressively or accepted hospitably and made part of the life stream of the country.  But Hindu law and culture under went irrevocable changes.  But through the ages, the slender albeit sure bond of caw to the principles of Sanathana Dharma appeared to have miraculously remained intact and whenever a threat rose to this umbilical cord, history provided the right man at the right moment to set things right.


          A time has come however when even this invincible slender golden thread appears to be at breaking point under the weight of a moral corruption unprecedented in the annals of human experience.  Laws appear to multiply in inverse proportion to the dispensation of justice.  Not surprisingly, some new laws appeared to be the virtual enshrinement of adharma, the validation of untruth and the glorification of hate.  Coercion as a natural consequence attained hydra headed proportions.  it often appears that the coercive arm of law was more experienced than the objects sought to be attained by the law itself.   


          Laws passed in a democratic society suffered from all the ills of democracy which was nourished by a society consisting mainly of uncultured illiterates.  Socialism, the charmed Mantra from the west lost its meaning tarnished by the corrosiveness of unintelligent dogma.  Those who professed humanism seemed to secretly hate the individual human being. Humanistic laws when enforced, without imbibing the essence of humanism sacrificed the spirit for the letter resulting in uniform misery to all concerned and creating in society distrust and disenchantment, cynicism and despair which will perhaps take years to fade away.  The reason was simple without being simplistic.  Legislation which does not trace its pedigree to Dharma pollutes the very society it is meant to serve. 


          If this is the picture of law, the cultural front is equally dismal.  To be truly fruitful, culture must be deeply rooted in spirituality.  It must flow from a perennial source, inexhaustible and external.  A culture not based on spirituality and tracing its origin to any other source like the power of conquest or the glory of wealth or progress will ultimately peter out into oblivion.  The ancient culture of Greece is today nothing but a heap of broken marble statues languishing under the Mediterranean sun.  The culture of Rome is shadowed by the glory of Christianity which flourished under it from tyranny and Rome exists today as the fossilized relics of decadence whereas the immortal word of Christ is still the perennial fount of human inspiration. 


          In the West today, the search for culture and a meaningful existence gradually turns the mind of philosophers and pets, artists and scientists, towards the east.  The culture of India fascinates them by its perpetual freshness blending with its immemorial origins.  What fascinates the Western mind about India is the perfect amalgam of the Divine and the profane, the inextricable inter-weaving of religion in daily life.  To the West, religion is something to be practiced on Sunday mornings wrapped up in the social graces and which is self consciously locked away from public view for the rest of the week.  To the majority, God is an occupational hazard of living and has to be suffered with self conscious dignity and reserve.  Any inclination towards mysticism or God-consciousness is often viewed with concern and is invariably attributed to a mal-adjustment of personality. 


          It is thus tragic to note in our youth, the dismal signs of mindless aping of Western values, modes and lifestyles which have been discarded even by the West.  These are the symptoms of a deep rooted malady, implanted by three centuries of patient and persistent subversion of our culture.  Lord Macualay noted with characteristic brutal pragmatism that for the implanting of British culture in India the religion language and culture of India should be systematically destroyed and English and Western culture should be introduced systematically into the main stream of Indian life.  This was exactly what was done during the dark days of our slavery.  And we are still to shake off the after-effects of this systematic and planned vandalism.  It is ironic that the effect of this de-Indianisation lingers today in the form of hankering for the Western form of life, neglecting the basic philosophy and traditions of our motherland. 


          During my travels abroad I very often came face to face with the Western concept of India as a “poor country”.  I had to explain that India is a rich country, full of poor people and that the poverty was really not economic but was one of values.  Indeed which country can compare with ours.  Every 200 miles we have a totally different set of geographical conditions golden sands and palm fringed beaches washed by the foam flecked aquamarine waves, cool pleasant of plateaus; torrid sandy wastes of barren deserts; the lush tropical splendor of perennial rain forests; and the perpetual snowcapped mountains rising over treacherous glaciers.  No other nation has such a multitude of racial strains and diversity of human types.  And perhaps no other nation has sunk to such degrading depths of poverty both economic and moral as our country.  The reason is not far to search.  We have forsaken the sacred principles Satyam, Ahimsa and Brahmacharya.


          The concept of Satyam should not be restricted to its shallow English meaning of truth.  Satyam is far deeper in content.  It stands for an unwavering attachment to “The Truth” a characteristic of our ancient and glorious culture.  It is an unflinching adherence to this lasting Truth, often at the cost of the impermanent transient material benefits of life. But with the advent of pragmatism and rationalism associated with a highly materialistic lifestyle, by products of industrial and technological growth, the emphasis has shifted.  An attitude of uncompromising attachment to the mystical notion of an all comprehending truth has become at best an anachronism, and at worst an inconvenience.  The transition to violence and over-indulgence thus becomes a logical corollary.  Ahimsa which again is not merely nonviolence but non-injury in any form, and Brahmacharya which is not a mere abstinence from sensual pleasures but a conscious and sustained effort to restrict ones consumption of any commodity, became casualities and a new poverty has settled on our people. 


          The hankering for the material benefits promised by the civilization of the West is one of the symptoms and manifestations of this poverty.  We have succumbed to be massive onslaught of the Western mass-media which has flooded us with misleading visions and promises of their type of civilization without its virtues.  In the cheap glitter of tinsel we have forgotten he muted glow of gold. 


          Hordes of our brilliant young engineers, scientists, doctors, technicians and academicians head West to squander their talent on distant shores, starving our nation of its hard needed human resources.  The brilliant migrate in search of the “better life” and are content to play the role of second if not third class citizens beyond the fringes of the highly exclusive Western society.  The mediocre remain home, spawning further mediocrity, it is thus process which must be stopped if India is ever to raise itself from its present morass of despendency, degeneracy and despair.  


          The answer lies with youth.  Their inherent idealism should be tapped and diverted to the realisation of our basic cultural values, before the malady which afflicts the country renders them sterile and cynical.  The need of the hour is to de-Westernise and re-Indianise our basic outlook and our values.  The need of the hour is a valiant return to the principles of Sathyam Dharmam Shanthi and Prema.