At a time when there is so much of dishonesty around us we as a society seem to have given up on honesty. Truth is no longer a virtue. It is a matter of convenience. Corruption has increasingly been accepted. In many ways, it has been legalised. Democracy has not only helped corruption to grow, but has institutionalised it. Globalisation has further hastened the process. It has brought the rich and the corrupt together.
Let us accept it. The 21st Century has discarded the robe of honesty.
It is at such depressing times that I salute the person who first thought of identifying some honest people and honouring them. I thought it was a good idea, that will remain confined to the coffee table discussions. When journalist Anil Sharma, who works for one of the Hindi newspapers in one of the mofussil towns in central India, told me that he plans to honour some of the common people who have spent their lifetime working honestly, I wasn't sceptical.
So last week when I travelled to Orai in the heart of the drought-affected Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, I realised what it means to honestly pick up the honest, and thereby allow the society to recognise and appreciate honesty. The 35 honest people that some enlightened citizens of the Orai town – under the informal banner of 'Achhe logo ka Varhat Parivar' – picked up, came from different walks of life. Most of them were drivers, cooks, maid servants, gardener etc.
When I sat on the dais and looked at the awardees I realised there are still a lot of honest people around us. It is only that we fail to recognise them. If you also look around yourself, you will find that more often than not the maid servant who has worked with your family for ages, has never even picked up any currency note that you left behind. She has always returned the expensive gold ring you left behind in the bathroom. Many a times your driver has brought back your wallet that you forgot in the car, and so on.
It isn't that these poor people are honest because they had no choice. They could have also walked away with gold, cash and other expensive items that you have it lying scattered in your home. Some do, but most don't. And all we end up doing by way of reward for them is to show courtesy by giving them a worn-out shirt or a sari. In other words, we have forgotten to recognise and honour honesty. It never strikes us that honesty is a rare virtue that needs to be acknowledged. Perhaps if we did, the tribe of honest people would have grown by now.
As I stood up to present the awards I could see tears rolling down the cheeks of several of the awardees. They couldn't control their emotions. They could never believe that they were being called to the stage to receive an award for something they have always lived with. Later, they shared with me what they felt being honoured for honesty. "I never knew I was doing something big, something great. Saab, from now onwards I can walk with my head held high," quipped one of the recipients.
Along with Swami Rajeshwara Nand and senior local journalist K P Singh, we did the honours, by presenting each awardee with a pressure cooker, a shawl, and some utensils of daily use.
In lot many ways I think the Orai event was historic. At least, I am unaware (and I stand corrected) of any other initiative to honour the honest amongst us. The organisers told me that encouraged by the public response they now plan to hold such events in every ward of the town to begin with. "We will have each month a similar event for each of the wards/mohallas," promised Dr Ramesh Chandra. Anil Sharma already has feelers from people from other neighbouring towns who want to hold similar functions. The need now is to draw up a code of conduct that strictly needs to be adhered to so that the dishonest do not take over.
What began from Orai can certainly trigger a nationwide movement. At the same time, it can die down as one of those events that once took place. It will therefore largely depend upon the ability of some sensitive and concerned people to come together and stand up for the sake of honesty. I have a feeling it will not be that easy, but is certainly do-able. I am looking forward to the day when the fire that began from Orai spreads throughout the country, and finally crosses the national borders.
Globalisation has brought the rich and the crooked together. True globalisation would be when good people from across the globe come together. Perhaps, Orai has sown the seeds of goodness. Let us join hands to reap the harvest across continents. As someone said: It takes one village, then another, and then another…and a revolution