January 2019

How to Sell a Mirror in a place full of Masks

Raman Jokhakar

As we cross into the New Year, we take a few days off to refresh, rejuvenate and revive our mind, body and spirit. The day after 31st December seems so new and yet so much of it is still the same as it has been for long. Taking time off allows us to reflect on all that is going on around us and all that we are becoming as individuals and as a society.

Our founding fathers must have dreamt of this when we chose to be a Republic. We are celebrating our 70th Republic Day this month. Most constitutions came from the divine rights theory based on an Anglo-Saxon system where God who had all powers also gave all rights – to life, of speech etc. God was substituted by the State for giving these rights through a constitution. The caveat was: the State required the consent of its people. While God can do no wrong, the State can. Therefore, the responsibility of people is even more. This model asks us to own up what is happening, to discharge our responsibility and then claim our rights. Often, people understand it in reverse order – claim rights and hardly discharge duties. 


The constitutional framework stands for and on the rule of law with a dedicated judiciary to deal with conflict. We have come to a point where justice is beyond the reach of most people. Can most citizens read or comprehend our laws? Can a lay citizen knock at the door of the highest court and afford a lawyer there? Are large parts of the judicial system impartial? Take an example of ‘tribunals’–where although the judiciary is meant to be out of control of the government, most tribunals are under direct control of the ministry which is generally a party in the dispute before that very tribunal! And the time it takes to close out a court case?  

Such clear and visible problems limit the operation of law and impair the Constitution of the State. In fact, many times the government is in conflict with citizens for all the wrong reasons. At a recent tax hearing, an officer mentioned that professionals are responsible for litigation. I asked him then why does the department lose in most cases and at all levels? He just said we could talk about this at length at another time!


India, like most oriental societies, is based on relationships, not on individualism. Individual-based societies require more and more contracts for everything. My roommate, a professor at UC Berkley, when I first went to the US told me that all relationships in America were either contractual, functional or legal. That is not so in our society. Therefore, more thrust on values, rather than just (poorly drafted) laws, is critical.


Back then Dr. Ambedkar had said: “However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.


These days, many people make it sound as if all good emanates from the Constitution alone. However, if you read Dr. Ambedkar’s words carefully – culture, values and ethics are more important – for they make a person and then whatever she handles will be driven by those values. We need as much or more of manufacturing of this internal compass pointing towards true north in our people, as we do for the creation of jobs.


At another proceeding, a tax officer was asking for every single dividend counterfoil of a senior citizen. The assessee had no email and some counterfoils were not received in the post. The officer said he would be questioned and even considered corrupt for not taking every supporting evidence although the bank statements in his possession mentioned the name of the payer and amounts were rather small. Such kind of out-of-context excessive technicalities in respect of an eighty-year-old homemaker assessee leads nowhere; perhaps encourages some people to evade laws rather than struggle to prove themselves to be on the right side.  


A relationship-based society like India has survived and thrived on values. I hope we can put much more thrust on building society and creating social capital than focus on infrastructure, roads, economics alone. No doubt, it is easier said than done – just as farm loan waiver does not correct the root causes of the farmer problems, economics and laws without values won’t solve a societal problem.


Friends, the word of the year declared by two prominent dictionaries recently gives it away: Toxic1 and Misinformation2. Both words articulate the stark realities of our times and what we need to fight and overcome. I leave you with the deep thought that a poet articulates poignantly:


When there is so much falsehood in the world, how does one understand what is true? How can one sell a mirror, in a marketplace full of (people wearing) masks?


1   Oxford Dictionary for 2017

2       Dictionary.com for 2018

Happy New Year 2019!


Raman Jokhakar


Past Issues

Current Issue