Friday, January 16, 2009

Value Systems, Satyam, Rape & Terror

Do we, as a society have a weird sense of "values"? A couple of articles in different publications caught my attention over this past week as they seemed to link into each other.

This column in Mint seemed to suggest that the Satyam scandal was a manifestation of market induced greed affecting values: "The tragedy of the Raju brothers is that they are also victims of our society’s evolving value system, as we worship the gods of material success.

But from this piece in the ToI about a rally being planned in support of disgraced Satyam boss Ramalinga Raju, you get the sense that our value system is willing to forgive robbery if it's of the Robin Hood variety: "The populace of the district still assert that Ramalinga is an enterprising and highly educated entrepreneur with a sense of social responsibility and that his aberration to tamper with balance sheets could be ‘ignored’... they are willing to condone his manipulation of accounts as part of business strategy ..."

The fact that Raju's clan is willing to stand by him and overlook his crimes is similar to the noted sociologist Dipankar Gupta's analysis of 'bhaichara' (Gupta incidentally is the author of a book on corporate ethics in the Indian context written while he was a KPMG fellow): "Rapes are just for a hoot, and after all, boys will be boys. Listen to their mothers, and this is what comes through. As long as they do not offend clan morals, nothing else really matters."

It looks like we've decided to adopt the worst of both worlds as far as our value systems go ie. the greed of the Wall Street types mixed with the disdain for law outside of the clan. I still remember being fairly disgusted with the rampant cheating during examinations that would take place even in a so-called prestigious institution like St. Xavier's College, even as some of my friends studying overseas were taking tests with the honour system.

Well, in the end it all comes around. The same value system ensures that corrupt customs guys will let RDX be smuggled onto our shores, or passport officers will sanction fake IDs which terrorists will eventually use or that the coastal police will let any boat that pays up go through. A society with this kind of value system probably deserves its fate!