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A People that Values Its Privileges Above Its Principles Loses Both

  • 23 May 2024
  • 9 min read

The Ultimate Value of Life Depends upon Awareness and the Power of Contemplation Rather than Upon Mere Survival. 


The statement "A people that values its privileges above its principles loses both" serves as a profound warning about the importance of maintaining a balance between ethical standards and personal advantages. This balance is crucial for sustaining a just and functional society. History shows that when communities prioritize short-term gains over fundamental principles, they often face downfall and instability. It underscores the need for societies to uphold their principles to ensure enduring stability and justice.

Throughout history, societies have faced the challenge of balancing privileges with principles. India offers a compelling example of this dynamic. During the British colonial era, Indian society experienced a significant shift in its socio-political landscape. The British East India Company initially came to India for trade, but gradually, the lure of economic and political control led them to impose their dominance, prioritizing their privileges over the principles of justice and equality for the Indian people.

As British colonial rulers concentrated wealth and power among themselves and a select group of Indian elites collaborated with them, the foundational principles of community welfare eroded. The traditional systems of self-governance, which had been based on principles of social responsibility and communal harmony, were undermined. The exploitative economic policies and harsh administrative measures of the British, such as heavy taxation and the drain of resources, exacerbated poverty and inequality among the Indian populace.

This disregard for ethical governance and the prioritization of colonial privileges over the well-being of the local population led to widespread discontent and resistance. The colonial period in India exemplifies how prioritizing privileges over principles can lead to social unrest and the eventual loss of control by the ruling powers. It underscores the importance of adhering to principles of justice and equality to ensure a stable and cohesive society.

India's struggle for independence from British colonial rule is a testament to the triumph of principles over privileges. The Indian independence movement, spearheaded by figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, was driven by the principles of self-rule, justice, and equality. Despite the benefits and comforts that collaboration with the British provided, many Indian elites opted to support the nationalist cause instead.       

Post-independence, India embarked on a journey to build a democratic republic based on the principles enshrined in its Constitution. The founding fathers envisioned a nation where secularism, social justice, and equality would be the bedrock. The abolition of untouchability, the promise of universal adult franchise, and the establishment of a socialist economy were all aimed at upholding these principles.

However, the journey has not been without its challenges. The Emergency period (1975-1977) is a stark example of how the pursuit of political privilege can undermine democratic principles. The suspension of civil liberties, censorship of the press, and the jailing of political opponents illustrated a clear departure from the principles of democracy and civil rights. This period serves as a reminder that when privileges are prioritized over principles, both are at risk of being lost.

Corruption in India’s political and bureaucratic systems is another area where the pursuit of privileges undermines principles. The 2010 Commonwealth Games scandal and the 2G spectrum case are notable examples of how the quest for personal and financial gain can compromise the principles of transparency and accountability. These scandals not only tarnished India’s international reputation but also eroded public trust in governmental institutions.

India's rapid economic development has often come at the expense of environmental sustainability. The principle of sustainable development is frequently overshadowed by the pursuit of economic privileges. Industrial projects, mining activities, and urban expansion have led to significant environmental degradation, affecting ecosystems and displacing indigenous communities.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is an illustrative example of the conflict between development privileges and environmental principles. The movement, led by activists like Medha Patkar, opposed the construction of large dams on the Narmada River, which threatened to displace thousands of people and disrupt ecological balance. The movement emphasized the principles of sustainable development and social justice, arguing that the benefits of such projects should not come at the cost of human displacement and environmental harm. Despite some successes, the movement highlights the ongoing struggle to balance economic privileges with environmental principles.

The Indian judiciary has often been seen as the guardian of constitutional principles. However, instances of judicial corruption and political interference have raised concerns about the erosion of judicial integrity. The principle of rule of law is jeopardized when judicial privileges, such as undue influence and financial gain, take precedence over impartiality and justice.

High-profile cases, such as the allegations against former Chief Justice of India and the controversial handling of the Ayodhya verdict, have sparked debates about the judiciary's independence. These instances suggest that when judicial actors prioritize personal privileges, the foundational principles of justice and fairness are compromised, leading to a loss of public confidence in the legal system.

A free press is fundamental to any democracy, serving as a check on power and a voice for the voiceless. In India, the media has played a crucial role in upholding democratic principles by exposing corruption, advocating for social justice, and fostering public debate. However, the increasing control of media by powerful corporate and political interests threatens this role.

Instances of media censorship, harassment of journalists, and the proliferation of paid news indicate a shift towards privileging political and economic interests over journalistic integrity. The crackdown on dissenting voices and the use of sedition laws against journalists and activists are worrying trends that illustrate how the pursuit of privileges can erode the principles of free speech and democracy.

India’s experience illustrates the delicate balance between privileges and principles. From the freedom struggle to contemporary challenges, the country’s trajectory demonstrates that when privileges overshadow principles, both are put at risk. Upholding principles such as justice, equality, democracy, and sustainability is crucial for long-term societal well-being. The various examples from India's history and contemporary society highlight the need for vigilance and commitment to principles. Whether it is combating corruption, addressing social inequalities, ensuring environmental sustainability, or protecting judicial and media integrity, the emphasis must be on principles rather than privileges. People that remain steadfast in their principles, even at the cost of short-term privileges, ensure the durability and integrity of their society. Conversely, when privileges take precedence, both the privileges and the foundational principles are jeopardized. Thus, for India, as for any nation, the key to enduring progress and stability lies in valuing and upholding its core principles above all else.

The Tree Laden with Fruits Always Bends Low. If You Wish to be Great, be Lowly and Meek.

— Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

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