Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, August 26, 2011
Something just struck me when I was watching a debate on TV. Harish Salve, an apologist for the government, complained about how Kiran Bedi had spoken unflatteringly of parliamentarians this afternoon and said that "people should show respect for parliament." There has been a lot of similar stuff said in the last 11 days during this agitation. I wondered why I keep hearing this refrain.
Then it struck me. This is related to the Indian penchant for respecting institutions simply because of who they are. For instance, "respect your parents," or "respect your teachers," or "respect elders," or "respect your husband." I'm sorry, neither parents, teachers, or husbands (or wives, for that matter) deserve respect for simply who they are. They should only be respected if they deserve it. If your father is an uncaring father who doesn't show love to you or your mother, then he doesn't deserve respect. If your teacher is not a committed teacher who is dedicated to his/her profession, he/she doesn't deserve your respect. If elders do not behave with the maturity and wisdom we expect of the elderly, then they do not deserve your respect. If your husband comes home drunk every night and beats you up, he doesn't deserve your respect.
Similarly, if parliamentarians do not behave with the moral integrity, the courage, the responsiveness to their constituencies, and the ability expected of them, then they, too, do not deserve our respect.
Respect is not given; It is earned
Have our parliamentarians behaved in a manner that makes us respect them? I have lost track of the countless times I turned on TV, only to find out that they are showing a scene where MPs throw things at each other; where they shout down other people instead of letting them speak; where they show notes in parliament proving that their votes were bought; where a sitting MP has been convicted of a heinous crime such as rape, extortion, or murder; and when, of course, an MP has been found guilty of embezzling the government of Rs. 1,75,000 crores!!! Do such people deserve our respect? Have they earned it?
You Reap what you Sow
Respect should, of course, be given, but only when the other party respects you. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to go back, way back into our culture, and use an example from the Mahabharata. On the 17th day of the great battle at Kurukshetra, Arjuna and Karna finally came face to face and fought a great battle. The unfortunate Karna, by virtue of a curse, had the bad luck of his chariot wheel getting stuck in the mud, thus becoming a sitting duck for Arjuna. He immediately went to try removing the wheel from the mud, but the curse was too strong, and he was unable. He stood up and addressed Arjuna and said, "My chariot wheel has become stuck in the mud. Great warrior as you are, and understanding Kshatriya dharma as you do, surely you will not take advantage of this situation. Allow me to remove my wheel from the mud and then I will give you as much battle as you wish." At this point, Krishna intervened and said, "Evil man, like all evil men, you remember dharma and fairplay only when it suits you. Where was this sense of fairplay when you cheated the Pandavas of their kingdom, when you tried to burn them in the wax palace, and when you asked Duhsasana to strip Panchali of her clothes in the assembly during the game of dice? Wicked man, speak not of fairplay and dharma, for you have never followed them." Krishna then asked Arjuna to shoot the fatal arrow that severed Karna's head.
So, even in our ancient epic, you have the lord Krishna saying that fairplay and dharma are not correct responses against a foe who does not practice them. So parliament, which has not been fair or responsive to the people of India, should not now invoke parliamentary procedures as an excuse to do nothing. And when parliamentarians have behaved disrespectfully and shamefully, they should not expect respect from the people.