Questioner (Q): Sir, first of all, thank you for taking out your time for this discussion. A few days back, the nation somehow woke from its sleep, when a case happened in Hyderabad—a woman was brutally raped and murdered. People started asking for justice in their own ways; somebody for lynching, somebody for hanging, somebody for several other kinds of brutal ways.
I find that rape is considered as something which is done by an individual and which cannot be solved by just punishing the individual. When such cases happen again and again, even after stricter laws are passed, even in countries where laws are far stricter than in India, it is clear that there is something wrong.
I wanted to ask as a common man, what exactly is the cause behind this and what is the role of the society, the education, the entire entertainment industry, and how these crimes are taken into account via the rule of law and justice? I want a total view of this, a holistic view of this entire crime which is happening at a very rampant scale. What is behind this?
Acharya Prashant (AP): It depends on the depth to which you want to take your inquiry. If you want to keep things superficial, then the fellow who committed the act is the one behind the act. You could say just that much and close the file. You could convince and console yourself that the problem has been explained and the culprits have been lapped and punished. And it's not that you would be wrong. It's just that such an approach would not take you very far in the direction of really solving the problem. Unfortunately, that's the approach most people want to take. It seems to be the easiest and the most hassle-free approach. A crime takes place, name the individuals, hunt for them, and punish them. This is the most superficial and hence the least effective way of looking at the problem or solving the problem.
One level higher than these are the people whose approach is to blame it on the system. They say, yes, people are to be blamed, but people are driven by the system, people themselves are victims of the system, so let’s change the system. They would say, we need police reforms, we need juridical reforms, we need better civil infrastructure. One of the highest authorities of our country has recently talked of reforming the judiciary and how the long delay in resolving such cases, disposing of such cases, leads to widespread frustration with the judiciary. And then people are forced to take things in their own hands and deliver instant justice in their own crude ways. So, that’s an approach that looks at the system to fix the problem.
And then there is a third level, higher than the level of these two, that talks of culture. So, people who take this approach, this level, they talk of social attitudes, they talk of prevalent misogyny, they talk of patriarchy, they even talk of economic disparities. They would go into historical reasons, social reasons, cultural reasons, and they say that until and unless there is a social transformation, things cannot improve.
The people who take the second approach are obviously trying to go deeper than the people who say that individuals by themselves are responsible and hence tackling and punishing those individuals is the way out. Then the people who take the socio-cultural and historical approach are probably trying to dig even deeper into the issue. And they're saying that just changing the systems won't help. The entire social mindset has to change. So, depending on the depth that you want to take, this whole matter of crime and retribution opens up differently. Each of these three approaches is valid. It's just that the outcomes will be hugely sub-optimal. If you take the first approach, it would be slightly better if you take the second one. They might be even better if you go for the third one. So, these are the three types of responses we are currently seeing in the country and the entire world. You talked of a figure. You said, every day ninety cases of sexual assault are being reported in India. If we extend the coverage to the entire world, the data would probably move to many hundreds. And as you said, these are just the reported cases. We do not know the actual extent of the happening. Moreover, you have just talked of sexual assault cases. If we look at the overall scope of all kinds of criminal activity, then the number would simply shoot into multiple thousands. And be it any kind of criminal activity, very broadly, these are the three approaches that we take—blame the individual or blame the system or blame the society. Society and its culture. Those who blame the system have more patience and more insight than the ones who blame merely the persons. So, those who blame the system, they will ask for legislative reform and such things. Those who blame culture have even deeper insight and more patience. Then either of the two other categories and they will say, we need to look at the way norms operate in this society. What are the norms, what are the prevailing values? I suppose these people with their approach are the nearest to solving the problem compared to the other two.
But I would want to talk of a fourth approach. Why do I need a fourth approach first of all? I need a fourth approach because when you blame the offender when you blame the system or the society, I feel you are conveniently avoiding looking at yourself. One wants to say in each of these three approaches that somebody else is to be blamed. In each of these three approaches, there is the benefit of victimization that one is drawing. The finger is pointing towards somebody else. He committed the theft, he's the murderer, he's the rapist. It's very easy to point at somebody else. I mean, I am not to be looked at. Don't even talk of who I am and how I am. That fellow out there, he is the culprit. Punish him! Hang him, lynch him, whatever. Or the system is to be blamed, you know. What do we do? The entire country is like this. What do we do? The country is to be blamed. There are so few jobs, the economy is not doing very well, the education system is broken, courts are corrupt, justice is delivered at snail's pace. What do we do? Do you see how helpless we pretend to be and how clean we want to show ourselves as? I didn't do anything. I had to take matters in my hand because it's the judge who is lousy. I'm a victim. Either I have nothing to do with the case as far as culpability is concerned. Or at most, if I indeed do have a relationship with the case, it is that I too am a victim in the case. Even at the third level when you are saying that it is our culture and our flawed values and stuff—mental stuff—that we got in heritage that is responsible. Aren't you just very cleanly and innocently and deceptively presenting yourself as a passive victim?
So, these are the three approaches that people have been taking, and I agree that the second is better than the first and the third is an even better approach. But there is something that these three approaches have in common. And that is?
Q: Look at the other.
AP: Somebody else is to be blamed. These three approaches differ in identifying who that somebody else is. But in saying that it is somebody else who is to be blamed, these three approaches are all in consensus. They all agree. Hence a fourth approach is needed. That's why I'm talking of a fourth approach.
Q: I would like to add something to this. We have already exhausted the first three approaches. We have tried everything. When it comes to the policing system, recently there was a Romeo-squad to look out for cases like these. And when it comes to the juridical reforms, we are already asking for capital punishment. So, I guess when it comes to the system or the individual or the cultural reforms, we've already tried all those. In some sense, as you said, we are helpless in this case.
AP: No, there would always be scope, either real or ideal. You can never say that policing is perfect. So, the next time a crime happens, you can again go back and say, you know, the police are lousy. And as far as our country goes, you cannot even say that policing or the judiciary are anywhere close to perfect. So, nobody's going to ever feel that the first three approaches are exhausted. If nothing else, then the option to rely on the third approach would always remain. You see, you can say that now I'm keeping a check on the individual. That's in your hands. You can say that now I have reformed my public policy, my police system, my juridical system, my education system, and such things. But how will you ever say that now I have reformed my history? You cannot change that, right? So, if you have nobody else left to blame, if you have reached a saturation point in blaming, then still there is one easy culprit always available to be blamed, and that is your history and culture and values. You could say everything else is alright. But you know, we Indians, we are such misogynist people and it's there in the old books and it's there in the histories, it's there in the fables. And somebody might even say, it's there in our blood. How would you change that? So, that option to blame somebody else is always going to remain open. Always. Even in the developed world, there is no place that can say that our law and order mechanism is anywhere close to perfect. Gory incidents happen there as well. And then there is a lot of outrage on how the police are performing and how the, you know, entire civic infrastructure is performing. This option is never going to close. The option to point a finger at the other. It is never going to close because the closure of this option would imply an honest self-inquiry. And that is a very difficult thing to do. That's a terrible thing to do for most people.
So, it would remain a compulsive tendency to keep blaming the other. Somebody else is responsible. And to punish the other is to absolve oneself of the responsibility. Do you see now why we very quickly start baying for blood? Just please, kill someone. Anyone. Kill anyone so that we feel relieved in our consciences. Something terrible happened and that which happened is undeniable proof that something is terribly wrong. I cannot deny that proof. It's just too much in my face. Can't sweep it under the carpet. Usually, we succeed in sweeping most issues under the carpet; we pretend as if things are alright. But when something so very ghastly happens, it's all over the headlines. It becomes impossible to just close your eyes to this and turn away from it. And you don't want to take the responsibility upon yourself. So, then what is the only option you have? Punish somebody so that you can tell yourself and console yourself that the fault has been corrected, that revenge has been taken, and that things have been set right. If you do not tell yourself that things have been set right, you'll be forced to face the mirror. You will be obligated to enquire into yourself. That you don't want to do. So, the easiest thing is to blame a person, the system, or the entire society. Punish someone, be done with it, and then carry on with your usual dirty life, from which all kinds of crime germinates. I know I have made a rather strong statement, but I would stand by it and as we discuss, we'll see what I want to say.
Q: So, basically as much I am seeing right now, that whatever solutions or ways of correcting ourselves are being put forth in the limelight, they are all in this dimension of one, two, and three cases that we discussed. I see that circular was issued by Hyderabad police, they had given some ways—how women should conduct themselves in society. And as a response to that, many women activists usually say that you know why we are always talking of just educating the women? We should also talk about how men should educate themselves. But at the same time, if we really want some instant results, if we really want to see that some solution must happen, must come, and as early as possible, is there any scope of that in the first three approaches?
AP: The first three approaches would give you exactly that—instant results. But those instant results would be a global sub-optimum. They would optimize what you want in a very local area. When I say the area, I don't mean a geographical area. For example, you could contain probably the number of rape cases by having all women stay compulsorily indoors. Or cover their faces and their entire bodies. Or you could have a situation like some of the countries in the middle east, where you say that the criminal would be publicly flocked, or his hands would be chopped off or his head would roll on the public square. You could do all those things and the number of rape cases in isolation may dwindle. And you might feel that such a policy has worked. But as I said, this would just be a local optimum. Globally in the sense of all human activity, it would be a disaster. Almost like air-conditioning. That machine works at close to 40% efficiency I suppose. So, it cools down a room but then heats the atmosphere. And the cooling effect it brings is only 40% of the energy that it burns. So, much more heating takes place than cooling, when you look at the complete picture when you look at the bigger picture. See, if you take an air-conditioner and you keep it inside a closed room, what would happen? Switch it on, keep an air-conditioner, keep it inside a closed room and switch it on, what do you think would happen? The room will get heated up. That's the complete effect of the air-conditioner. But we never know that, why? Because we keep the thing half-in and half-out. So, if you make laws like that, then the half-in would've appeared cooled down. The number of rape cases would cool down. But overall mischief would increase. That's the problem with the first three approaches. They try to tackle the issue in a very limited and local way. And obviously, I repeat, when I say local, I do not mean geographically local, I mean mentally local.
Q: Sir, when you were describing the entire situation, a few things came to my mind that even now there are strict laws against such kind of assaults, and I guess there is some correlation with the moment that case happened in Hyderabad. There was a report that the searches for that victim’s name with the keyword rape on porn sites shooted up. Parallelly, I was also looking at one report regarding the box-office calculations. So, there was one movie which was very much in vogue because of all such behavior which was somehow promoted there visually, ait received the highest collections in the industry. So, are these three things, or two, three things that I just quoted, a by-product of the first three approaches that we have?
AP: See there is no need really to refer to one particular, unfortunate victim again and again. It's the same story being tragically repeated in every such case. And the case need not even be of sexual assault. Crime is multifarious and diverse and happens in very un-imaginable and subtle ways as well. So, first of all, it is not about one particular victim. Secondly, it is not even about rape alone. It's about the overall context of crime. Yes, you have observed well that on the internet several videos relate to sexual assaults and they have not been uploaded so that people feel disgusted. They have been uploaded so that people may relish them. I would not be surprised if some of those videos are actually paid content. And I would not be surprised if people are actually paying up to go and watch videos in which a child is being molested, a woman is being assaulted, or somebody's head is being severed off. Can you imagine? People paying money to watch this kind of stuff? So, there is the fellow who commits the crime, and then there is this fellow who uploads a video and makes money from the crime. Now that uploading that video is a very important part or extension of the crime, but it gives us a very significant insight. Don't we all share these common vrittis, vasanas, tendencies? And aren't we all linked to each other and constantly influencing each other? Can one person really exist in isolation and operate all alone? The fellow who watches child porn, is he really very different from a rapist? He's probably a bit cleverer, but not really different. He adopts a relatively safer route. He says I'll please myself by watching the heinous act on the screen. I'll be careful not to dirty my own hands. I'll be careful not to stick my own neck out and run the risk of getting caught. I'll do the thing in the safety and comfort of my living room, in front of my computer screen. But is he doing anything fundamentally different than the rapist?
And the thing that you just mentioned, if it really happened, it tells us who we are. And when I say 'we', I mean the individual person. Including the masses who carried out candlelight vigils and demonstrations and helped the placards and spoke aloud in legislative bodies and other places regarding the need to kill, lynch, and get instant revenge. That's how the common man is. If that's how the common man is, why are we so flabbergasted when criminals pop up in between? Is the common man himself not a supporter of crime, if not a criminal himself?
You see, a criminal just doesn't suddenly drop from the sky. He is produced in an ecosystem. And when I say ecosystem, I am not talking of social values, right? Or the culture or history of a place. I'm talking of how we are deciding to be right now in our deliberate consciousness. How is it that we are deciding to be right now? Are our acts all happening in a stupor? I'm talking of the common man. Maybe he doesn't very frequently violate the written law, the explicit law, but does he not carry the desire to really get and enjoy much that is forbidden by the law? It would be a great mistake to treat a criminal as a marginal aberration. But that's what we want to do. We want to say, these are fringe elements, they live on the borders of the society, they belong to the suburbs, they are not what the mainstream is, the mainstream is different. It is these fringe elements that are causing all the trouble. They are the others, they are the outsiders.
They are not outsiders! They are very much related to the very inside of the society. They're very much related to how each one of us is. The face of the criminal is just our own criminal face that we usually keep hidden. In the criminal, it's just that the face gets exposed. Then you have two ways: either own up your mischief or disown it and say, no no no, that is not my face, I refuse to acknowledge it, I disown it. That is not mine, you take it away and hang it. Take that chap away and hang him, he’s not me. We need to question that. Is that chap really not me? Then how do I extricate myself from the crime by separating myself totally from him? I was saying the other day, nobody is born a criminal from the mother’s womb. Think of what that fellow looks at. Think of what he reads. Think of what he sees on the internet. Think of the songs he hears. Think of the television serials he watches. Think of the movies he looks at. Who is producing that movie?
Q: The mainstream.
AP: The mainstream is producing that movie, right? A video came to us yesterday, that criminal was there. And very brazenly and actually happily, he was declaring that he has already killed six people and he’s going to kill a few more. And he has been caught. He has been caught and the media just got the whiff and came to hold a mic in front of him. And policemen are surrounding him all around. In the middle of the policemen, just after being caught, very gladly he stands, declares, that not only has he killed so many people, but he would actually kill a few more and that he would break away from the jail in no time and that on that day he was just aiming at the police inspector and the police inspector was lucky that he got away with it. And the police inspector is probably standing by his side and grinning. And the fellow also says, ‘I’m the hero of that Hindi movie,’ he names a particular movie. He says, ‘I am the Khalnayak of Khalnayak’. And he actually either sings a song or quotes a dialogue or something from that same movie. I don’t know the extent to which that movie is responsible. Maybe that fellow is just trying to have a good time by naming that movie, maybe he’s just trying to bluff his way, maybe he’s just trying to entertain the media. People go bonkers when they have a mic in front of them. So, maybe the same thing happened to that ruffian as well. Oh, he’s much more than a ruffian. He’s accused of multiple murders. But if that movie is coming to his mind at that moment, it won’t really be too much to conclude that that movie indeed did have something to do with his consciousness. Who made that movie? He made that movie or his father made that movie or somebody made that movie, right? That somebody is you and me.
I repeat, nobody is born a criminal. Who turns a fellow into a criminal? You have to look at the entire society, you have to look at how we have chosen to be. And this is not the third approach that I'm taking. I'm talking about each particular individual. Nobody lives a totally secluded or isolated life. We all get influenced and influence each other. What is the kind of influence we cast on each other? How are our relationships? How do we deal with each other? What is it that we have taken as acceptable? What is it that the common man has taken as acceptable? Look at the way the politicians operate. They operate that way and we still admire them. In fact, sometimes we probably admire them for how they operate. The politician we very well know is a criminal, and yet we belong to his fan club. So, who is it who is promoting crime then? Look at the parliament of the country. I suppose half the parliamentarians have criminal cases against them?
Q: Close to.
AP: Close to half. And they didn’t muscle their way through to the parliament – or the state assemblies. They were elected. Let that sink in. We are talking about crime here. Our own representatives to our highest legislative bodies are criminals and they didn’t barge their way into the parliament, we voted for them. We voted for crime! If you vote for crime, then why do you act so stupefied when you see a crime happening on the road? We vote for crime, don’t we?
Alright, you may say, no no no, the fellow who represents me in my area is not a criminal, he doesn't have a criminal case. Don't you know how much is spent on the election campaign? Don't you know where the funding comes from? In spite of knowing all that, you remain okay with it. Not only do you remain ostensibly okay with it. I would have been alright had we been just pretending to be okay with it, we are not even pretending to be okay with it, we are actually okay with it. It is not that we pretend to respect our parliamentarians and our ministers and our chief ministers and so on. Many of us actually do respect them, knowing fully well who they are. Had it been just a pretense of respect under pressure, it would have been passable. But there is a huge section of society that is actually full of respect for so many of their role models, knowing fully well that their role models are criminals. Now, why are you surprised when somebody is robbed or raped or murdered? Look at this common urge, the common middle-class urge, to have a government job. You can contest me on this, because I'll not have data. Nobody would come out and openly say that he wants to be a government officer because it offers big money. But don't you really know why in India there is such a mad rush after government jobs? And who's rushing after that plunge job? The common man. The common man aspires to be a criminal. The common man aspires to be a criminal, a respectable criminal albeit. A respectable criminal. I am a respectable government officer. We very well know what all that implies. And we are not talking about Seshans and Khairnars here. We are talking about 99.9999% of our government officers. The common man himself takes pleasure in crime. It’s just that he doesn’t have the guts to commit larger crimes, which too he does the moment he gets a safe position. So, there are those who are committing crimes and then there are those who are waiting to commit crimes. There are those who are not committing crimes because they feel that it is not yet safe to commit a crime. They’re waiting for their turn. They’re waiting to gather more power. They’re waiting to come to safe and powerful positions where then they can offend with impunity.
Unless we see what we are doing in our own households, I suppose it would be largely hollow to wish for an end to this menace. We’ll be obviously trying out many steps, as we have been doing in the past. Some of those steps will achieve some results, but those results will be superficial and very temporal. The reality of our being, the reality of our life, will return in many, many ways again and again to haunt us.
Q: Tried to soak in what you just said regarding our aspiration for government jobs and the reason behind it, now somehow it struck me that we are talking of people who prepare for these exams, who score good marks for these exams, who go through the biggest medicine—as we think of against the crimes—education.
We assume that the ones who commit crimes are the ones who are not educated and if we can bring them into the classroom, then things will solve. But we are trying to say that even when an individual goes through the entire journey of education that we have in different parts of the country or the world, even then the tendency to aspire to be a criminal stays in. So, that makes me question the system of education as well.
AP: See, as long as crime remains limited to something that is prescribed by the law if that is what your definition of crime is, you will not be able to stop crime. We usually feel that we have committed a crime only if we have violated the law. And if you can remain on the safe side, the right side of the law, you can declare yourself to be innocent in the eyes of the law. That is not how you can tackle crime. To tackle crime, you will need to have an internal locus. And that internal locus alone is your way to real innocence. If you don't have that internal locus, then you are existentially guilty even if legally you are declared innocent. We talked about government jobs. There would be many government servants who would not be taking bribes, obviously. Their numbers too would be large. Technically, legally, they're alright. But then if one has an internal locus one would ask himself, for the kind of salary I get, am I doing justice to my work? In the eyes of the law, you are a criminal only if, let's say, you take bribes. You need to have an internal locus where you don't need to measure yourself against the written law. Where you ask yourself, it's not sufficient to just not to take bribes, I must also have a certain vision in life. I must also be aligned to the work that I am doing. I must be able to really respect, even worship my work. If I am not able to worship my work really, it is a crime even if technically it is not. That kind of thing is needed. Otherwise, you will be able to have limited solutions. You'll be able to give yourself the satisfaction of having improved the situation or managed the situation. But you will never be ever able to fundamentally change the situation. If you want to manage crime, then take either of the first three approaches. We talked about them. But if you want to go beyond crime, then you'll have to take the fourth approach. Mankind has already tried enough of one, two, and three. Maybe it is time to bet on the fourth one. At least give it a try.
Q: What is the fourth one?
AP: We will have to raise the child differently. And to raise the child differently, we will need to be different. If you can change the actor, then obviously all the actions will change. Do you want to tackle crime which is diverse and un-ending, of multiple shades and colours, or would you rather tackle the criminal at the centre? And when I say the criminal, I do not mean a person, I do not mean a body, I do not take that as the criminal. No 'body' commits a crime. It is not your hand that commits the crime. It is not your kneecap that commits a crime. The crime that we know of, right? Crime is an action. Who is the actor? Not your knee, not your nose. The actor is whom you think you are, your identity. That's from where the crime proceeds. That has to be changed. Fathers have to change, mothers have to change, the kids will change. The kind of things people feed their kids, the kind of stuff people allow their kids to watch on television, the kind of movies that are allowed to become blockbusters, they have to be sharply looked at.
We have had a spate of movies in recent years where the protagonist is a de-facto criminal. And he’s being lionized. Absolutely glorified. I suppose one certain movie was this Kabir Singh recently. If the hero in the popular consciousness himself is a debauched criminal, what do you expect the general populous to be? If your role model is a lout and a scoundrel, what do you expect is going to happen to the population? And I’m not even talking of draconian or authoritarian measures where you just increase censorship to a point where you start controlling and curbing all media rather than regulating it. I’m talking of a revolution in man's consciousness. I’m talking about a situation where a movie like that is released. The censor board does not even ask for cuts, no editing is needed. Fine, you want to release that movie? Go ahead and release it. But I'm talking about a situation where nobody goes to watch that movie. Not that using the strong arm of the law you prevent that movie from reaching theatres. I'm not talking about one movie, please. I have nothing against a particular scriptwriter or producer or anyone related to the movie. We are not isolated individuals, so I can't have anything against an individual as such. It's a genre of movies that I'm talking about. So, I'm talking of a situation where even if such a movie is released, and let it be released, but the public taste is elevated to a point where the public finds it puke worthy, distasteful. And the movie falls flat. Total collections over four weekends? Not even one crore. That would be the real dis-incentive for the producer against coming up any such similar venture in the future. After all, the final consumer of all kinds of nonsense is the individual, the common man. And that is where the change must happen. And it is not impossible, I'm not narrating some dream or utopia. It is very much doable. We want it to happen. Deep inside each of us is craving for it. Its time has come. Not that there was any point in history when its time was not there. But I suppose, as much as any other point in history or probably more than any other point in history, right now we need that revolution in individual consciousness. Why do we need it today much more than we ever did? Because today we are eight billion. Because today we control more resources than we ever did. And because today we are closer to destroying the planet than we ever were. So, today we need that revolution more than ever. And that's the reason I constantly keep pointing at it. We always needed it. But today it's not even a need, a general need; it's an emergency requirement. You need it not like you need some water in general, you need it like a dying man needs medicines in ICU. These are two different levels of needs. These are two different intensities of needs. Today entire mankind is in ICU, the entire planet is in ICU. That's the medicine we need. That's the emergency healing that we need.
Q: But somehow the common man, including myself, or anyone that I meet, people are not able to see that direct correlation that how what I’m doing in my day, what I’m doing right now, is somehow resulting in that which is happening in that news headline.
AP: And this ignorance is the reason behind a fractured and very fragmented approach to life. We do not see how my food choices are linked to crime in society. I do not see how what is on my plate is responsible for climate change. I do not see how what I wear is related to the level of crime in the area. By this please, I'm not talking of having a dress code for women or something. That's not the direction in which I'm looking. We do not see how our political choices are responsible for crime. We do not see how everything that we do throughout the day, every little thing, including the decision to work somewhere, the decision to marry, the decision to have kids, the decision to read something, the decision to entertain oneself, the decision to travel, the decision to whatever—all these come from a common centre. And if that centre is not alright, then everything will be diseased. Take every individual instance of crime as a symptom of a deeper malaise; it is not the disease in itself.
Q: It’s just a symptom.
AP: It is just a symptom of something far more lethal brewing within. It can be fatal. Instead, we treat every such case separately as if it has no connection with the general fabric of our collective mind. We totally absolve ourselves, we give ourselves a green chit. We say it happened there. So, he is responsible. He is responsible alright, go and punish him. But he's not the only one who is responsible. The responsibility trickles down right up to the one who says that others are responsible. Quick fix measures, blood baying, demands instant lynching and such things—they will be ineffective, that's all. I'm not saying they are ethically or morally or spiritually wrong or whatever. Suffices to say that these kinds of measures will remain ineffective. Do what you want to do. Kill all the rapists and yet you will find fifteen days down the line more cases of rape happening. Maybe if you create an environment of fear, then rape will be done in a way that it remains undisclosed. The rapist will take due care. He's afraid.
You see, look at the markets. Look at how we consume. Look at what is being sold to us. You are constantly being provoked and excited. You are being kept on the boil. And one way to sell products is to use the body of a woman, be it any product. Now we have a very peculiar case in India. There is a lot of materialism sans material. You have indoctrinated the common man in materialism. You have told him, educated him, in many ways that the material aspect of life is everything. That you must have pleasure. You have told him that happiness is the highest goal of life. How have you done that? Through the internet, through media, through television, through all kinds of social influences. Materialism he now worships. Material he has not. He's being constantly fed the images of attractive women being made to pose to seduce. But those women he has not, and he cannot have them. The gender ratio is 920-930. In the northern states, it is even less than 900 per 1000 men. So, he's being kept on a hormonal boil all the time. Even the hoarding by the wayside, let's say if you are a truck driver, even the hoarding by the wayside is displaying semi-nude women. He's always being kept on a testosteronic overdrive. The sixth gear. But where are the women? Oh please, don’t construe this to mean that I mean that all truck drivers must be having women and all that. No, please. Just see what is happening. With misplaced notions of happiness and development, we are pushing materialism very, very hard. We say, how good and big and growing and prosperous as a country we are depends on our material output. So, how do we benchmark our country’s progress? By looking at the GDP. How do we set a target for the country’s betterment? Say we want X trillion GDP by this year. And we do not even realize, we are so ignorant, that if the material becomes everything, then the woman’s body or the man’s body or the animal’s body or the child’s body too will be looked at as just material. The day you start worshiping GDP, you have turned everything into material, because it is material prosperity and abundance that you are now looking at. And it’s not merely the central government that does that. The father of the girl is looking for a suitable boy, a groom. 80% of his decision depends on?
Q: How much he earns.
AP: The material condition of the groom, the prospective groom. How much do you earn? Do you have a government job? Alright, this is how much you earn over the table. Under the table? No, no, just indicate to me and I'll understand, I'm an expert in catching such signals. So, the entire society is rushing after the material. And you very well know the relationship between the material and the woman's body. Material is that which sells, correct? If it doesn't sell, do you call it material? Does it contribute to GDP? It doesn't. Like wasteland it is. Wasteland too is technically material, but does wasteland contribute to GDP? No. Anything that sells is material. The woman's body sells. So does the man's body if the woman is purchasing power. So, we're in this business now—selling bodies. What's even more unnerving is that most of these bodies, which are bodied people, themselves are turning them into objects of sale. Sometimes very unconsciously. They won’t even know what they’re doing. Look at all this beauty business. Look at the cosmetics industry. And needless to say, how much the cosmetics industry is responsible for cruelty towards animals and climate change and all those things. I don’t think this is the right time to go into what the textile industry, the fashion industry, the apparatus industry and the cosmetics are doing to our ecosystem, to biodiversity, to animals, to climate change. But I must touch upon these issues as well so that we know what the consequences of unbridled consumerism and materialism are.
Do you see how all these things are interconnected? And you rightly said, most people don’t see that. They don’t see how their choice in purchasing cosmetics is linked to a crime happening somewhere else. And the crime is not necessarily that a woman is offended or violated. Isn’t the disappearance of an animal species a huge crime? Think of it. And you know, now you would understand why, and listen carefully to this, why the rape of a woman gathers more publicity than the murder of the woman. So many women are murdered every day. Does their murder make headlines? Look at the number of homicide cases. Look at the number of women who are being murdered every day. Most people don’t bat an eyelid. But rape is sensational. If it’s a rape and murder case, then in Europe it would be mentioned in the media as a murder case. As an aside, as a description it would mention that the woman was raped before being murdered. What is more important is that a human life has been lost. That is the more important and more sickening aspect. That is what should concern people. A murder has taken place.
But look at what happened in India. 80% of the public outcry was because of the rape. Only 20% was because of the murder. It is rape that interests people. Are people really interested in the welfare of women? No. Look at their approach towards women. But the moment a woman gets raped, then there is a big hue and cry. That will tell you our approach towards woman’s sexuality and the woman’s body. We don’t bother for their education. We don’t feel ashamed when we make our little daughters dance in reality shows to loathsome filmi songs. A woman is not allowed to work after marriage. Nobody cares. It doesn’t make headlines at all. A woman has an unsafe work environment. Doesn’t matter, doesn’t make headlines. A woman dies during childbirth. Who bothers? Public spaces are not women friendly. Who bothers? Women themselves are getting conditioned to look at themselves as mere bodies. Nobody cares. The number of women in higher education lags behind the number of men in universities, especially in professional education. That does not make for any sensational media report. A woman is murdered. Even that is just a two-inch thing in some newspaper. Usually a local newspaper. But if it is a sensational rape case, then the entire country joins in.
Are we really concerned about women, are we? Had we been concerned about women, how is it that the common man of this country is involved in so much female feticide, I want to ask. One murder has taken place and the entire country is up in arms. Where are the millions of missing girls? Who murdered them? And why didn’t people talk about them? People didn’t talk of them because it was the people who murdered those girls. But they did that murder in the safety and sanctity of their homes. So, it wasn't made to the media. I’m again asking, calculate, just calculate, the number of girls who are not allowed to take birth every year. Then bring that number down to a per day digit. How many girls are being killed per day by this common man of the country? What right does he have to shout on the streets and demonstrate and ask for blood? Is it not so that we, the people, are ourselves responsible? And we find an easy scapegoat in some petty criminal. We hang him and satisfy our blood-thirsty conscience.
Q: This makes me question one thing, that the fourth way that you were talking of, from where is it coming? Because a very obvious answer is spirituality. But when I look at the pop spirituality of today’s age, it’s not about this.
It’s not about looking at what you are doing, point-to-point in the entire day, looking at the repercussions of that in the world. What kind of influences you are casting on somebody’s head? So, I wouldn’t call it spirituality in today's terms that we use. Where exactly it is coming from? What is it?
AP: Spirituality has become a very loaded word. Loaded with abuse. So, I would prefer to just call it individual honesty. And that, I suppose, is not too much to ask for. That which is called continuous remembrance or self-observation in spirituality is actually in day-to-day language just basic honesty. Ignorance is not really an absence of knowledge; ignorance is absence of honesty. Knowledge is never far away. I’m talking of self-knowledge. If we are talking of self-knowledge, then how can self-knowledge be far away? You just have to look at yourself, correct? What is it that you’re doing and what’s going on? What’s going on within you, in your thoughts, in your actions, in your intentions? So, knowledge is not a problem. The problem lies with the intention. Do we really want to know or are we taking pleasure in our drowsiness, dreams, stupor, deep-sleep or half-sleep?
It is that honesty that I seek to address. It is that honesty that I seek to invoke. What else can be done? One does not really need to be taught too much. The so-called spiritual knowledge is no big deal. One wisdom text is sufficient if one has the intention to live by the Truth. It is that intention that is lacking. Do we even want to be alright? Superficially, yes. And because you say superficially, even if superficially you say that you want to be alright, so I speak to you. And then I remind you of your own stated intention. I’ll tell you, you came to me saying that you want to be alright. If you want to be alright as per your own words, then kindly look at how you are conducting yourself in your family, how you are planning your life, how you’re living day-to-day, what your relationship with the environment is, what your relationship with your wife and your kids are, how do you relate to your parents, to what use do you put your money?
If we want our welfare, if we want any kind of betterment, we will have to seriously consider these questions. We’ll have to find space to look at these things. Otherwise we will just remain stupid sloganeers after every next diabolic incidence of rape or murder or deception or whatever. Nobody else, you see, can come and help in this matter. It’s our life. And we want it to be the best it can be, right? So, we must sit down, we must think, we must apply ourselves to these issues. We can’t just leap up and start shouting and then again retreat to our passivity. We can’t have these episodic explosions in the general consciousness and hope to get something lasting out of them. Start with yourself, start with your friend circle, start with your family. First of all, learn to be in solitude, learn to seriously look at yourself. Then discuss it with those who are around you. See whether the stuff that you have, the stuff that you do, the stuff that you think about, is necessary. See what is redundant and see what is missing. Avoid self-deception. You can’t be forced to avoid self-deception. One can maybe entreat, maybe plead. That’s the fourth way. Doesn’t sound very glamorous, does it? You look a bit disappointed.
Q: I was rather pondering over the second word that we had in the title. That maybe this is the right justice that we can do to ourselves.
AP: Justice, the right state of things. Justice is not revenge. Justice has to do with justness. Justness has to do with rightness; the right state of things is justice. Justice can't really be delivered in a courtroom. Of course, the courts do deal with justice, but that's pretty much superficial. Real justice can happen only when you are just to yourself. Do justice to your own life. And then you will probably see that you have a just society where there is little, very little exploitation or subjugation of the disempowered sections. All the nice things will then happen on their own if you can have a fundamental shift at the level of individual consciousness. I don't know how it sounds to you, obviously, it is not very compelling, but then, do you have an option? Is there something else that you want to try out? You can repeat our age-old tricks. But if you repeat those methods, you will also repeat what you have so far obtained from these methods.
Q: I think we have very holistically looked at the entire picture. On one hand, we've also seen the entire futility or rather maybe the shortcomings of the first three ways. And parallelly, we have also seen what the fourth way has to offer. And the best thing about it is that it is very doable because it starts with myself.
AP: You don't have to depend on somebody else to take the lead. You don't have to depend on favorable circumstances or institutional support. And that is why it is so scary. Because if you don't have to depend on somebody else, then you have nobody else to blame. Because it starts with you. Hence, it becomes very undoable. And it also becomes eminently doable. It all depends on your intention. I request, I plead, in your own self-interest, please be intended rightly.