Pain, Poverty and Corruption

The pain of a mother or father seeing his children being killed in front of his or her eyes is unfathomable for most of us. It was a fairly common occurrence during the thousand years of oppression of Bharat, be it by the Central Asian invaders or the colonizers from Europe. The profession of arms exposes one to the worst and the best of human behaviour.

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Brig Sanjay Sangwan
Brig Sanjay Sangwan
Brig Sanjay Sangwan (Retd.) is an Indian Army Armoured Corps Veteran and has commanded an Armoured Regiment and an infantry brigade on the Western Border with Pakistan. * Views are personal.

Waking up after an approximate 45 days drugs induced sleep, I became conscious and saw the neurosurgeon inquiring how I felt. I told him of excruciating pain in the area of Medula Oblongata in my head, which surprised him and everyone around me. Then he inquired about my body and left side in particular, which lay paralyzed due to a post-operative complication of a vaso-spasm after a clipping of an aneurysm in my head. Suffering continuous intense pain, I gave him a description saying I felt as if every bone in my left side was broken into small pieces along with their connective tissues and muscles, and each piece was an independent pain point. He smiled and said that was the strangest definition of pain he had heard. What dawned on me was that he may have performed thousands of surgeries and treated patients with pain, but he didn’t know what different pains were like. The pain of a mother or father seeing his children being killed in front of his or her eyes is unfathomable for most of us, but it was a fairly common occurrence during the thousand years of oppression of Bharat, be it by the Central Asian invaders or the colonizers from Europe.  

Certain aspects of life can be appreciated well only through experience; prominent ones are Hunger, Pain and Poverty. Gandhi Ji had said, ‘God can appear in front of a hungry man only as bread,’ indicating his dire situation. We all have experienced hunger once in a while, and soldiers may have experienced it a little more during training, exercises and operational duties but not the chronic hunger that Gandhi Ji was referring to. It can make a mother steal and a father murder another man to obtain a piece of bread for their hungry child. An Indian video that went viral on social media showed a destitute woman soaking a stale dried roti (probably picked up from a dustbin) under a public tap on a railway platform to make it chewable. There was another reported incident of an old destitute rescued by a kind man when he was found eating human excreta. Carnivorous animals are programmed to kill to satiate their hunger, but humans are not though extreme circumstances have often pushed humans to a similar animalist behaviour.

The profession of arms exposes one to the worst and the best of human behaviour, giving a good insight into human psychology and providing academic insight during various courses of instruction. Amongst those, the HR capsule for the management degree (MMS) during HDMC covering Behavioural sciences in detail and various analytical tools offered a detailed insight into the human mind.

Post the clipping of my cerebral aneurysm, most of my recovery period from 2008 to 2012 was spent in bed watching tv or reading up on the net. It was a period when scams were being unearthed every other day, and the political situation was quite disheartening. One thought about why Indian society is so corrupt and if there is a solution to it occupied my thinking space and time frequently. 

My recovery period in Delhi post my health adversity exposed me to our heritage and culture academically and to our poverty through NCC, wherein I found a few youth and children in rural areas were joining merely for the two sets of uniforms and the snacks the cadets get after a class. I also saw society’s general neglect and teachers and government employees in particular for petty, selfish gains. Often parents were uneducated, too poor, or even to raise a voice. Then I moved to Ferozepur, where I saw the youth succumb to drugs and crime. All along, I had been interacting with the youth personally to understand their environment and resultant psyche distorted by an environment of deprivation. It also drew me closer to them, and Facebook has been a big help along with talks in NCC Camps, exposing them to aspects of life missed by our formal Macaulean education. To comprehend the young mentality and the SSB selection process, I enrolled in the Interviewing Officers Course, which proved to be a godsend not only for gaining insight into the youth psyche but also for integrating my knowledge and experiences up to that point.

With the Chetwodean credo having been my guiding light for the last four decades, the issue of corruption and the future of India always concerned me. They forced me to keep analyzing it from various historical, political, socio-economic and cultural perspectives. With a backdrop of all these perspectives, the issue gradually fell in place, explained by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. However, I suspect that, like many other theories and inventions, this too is inspired by the Indian human Chakra System.  


Survival is the strongest instinct of any living being, including man and hence physiological needs, are the most fundamental and compulsive needs governing human thought and behaviour. The theory also states that a person can graduate to a higher level of need only after the lower levels are satisfied. Even if a person has moved to a higher level, say Esteem or Social Needs, and a threat emerges to his lower level needs of Safety or Physiological, he would forget about the Esteem and Social Needs and begin safeguarding his basic needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In light of the above, try to imagine the state of poor Indians for whom even telling a lie was Adharma and who believed in Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam and Atithi Devo bhava. Alexander, the Mongols and the Central Asian raiders came as devil incarnations, leaving a trail of death and destruction wherever they went. The massacres, mounds of skulls, burnt universities, demolished temples, skewered children and enslaved women were unimaginable horrors for the Dharmic society, where even kings and armies had a Dharma to guide them and abide by. Then the invaders decided to settle here itself and rule the people since we had the riches and the means to the wealth. Their barbaric ways continued spreading terror across the country and generations. The common person who lived under the protection of the kings and their armies was left helpless as his last hope, and the temples, too, were destroyed.

While the initial phase of the European traders was on lines similar to the earlier invaders and rulers of the previous 800 years, they soon realized that India was too huge a country and population to be won through physical conquest and ruled for long. Hence, they opted for a cultural, socio-economic and psychological one through the Macaulean education system. In doing so, they not only curtailed our thinking and inquiry approach but also eroded the foundation of Dharma, our value system and ethics. Consequently, most Indians today don’t even understand Dharma in the correct perspective and tend to equate it to just religion. Dharma was a comprehensive life guideline in consonance with natural principles of life and time-tested conduct, including duties, rights, righteousness, legal considerations, character, vocation, religion, customs, social practices, morality and an ethical way of life. Adhering to Dharma was more important than even saving a life. With Dharma laid down for each and every segment of society, profession, all Varnas and all four Ashrams of life, every human being grew up in a democratic but disciplined environment. The Islamic invaders and rulers had destroyed Bharat physically, but the colonizers destroyed Bharat culturally and ethically. Imagine living in an area where you are scared for your life most of the time and with no respite visible from kings or Gods alike. Pushed to a corner, the man then begins to find ways of survival, even if it necessitates taking to crime or a fight. Guerilla warfare was frequently used by weaker armies/ tribes against stronger ones. It soon transformed into dacoity and highway robbery, with less courageous ones opting for thieving. Add famines, earthquakes, floods and colonizer-induced famines like that of Bengal and the planned demolition of the Indian economy, well-established businesses and burdensome taxes to the list.

Survival became very difficult and necessitated getting the better of our oppressors by hook or crook, be they colonizers or landlords or govt officials and with changing social values today, even friends and family members. With a steady decline of Dharma came about a steady rise in corruption and crime with an increasing acceptance and normalization. When leaders in most fields, especially politics and businesses, were seen resorting to unethical practices, it gave corruption social approval. With the Capitalist influence of the West through education, work practices and working environment, our values and ethics too underwent a change and becoming rich became the sole objective of life, at any cost. Gradually, corruption has become almost genetic to South Asia or what was once Bharat. 

This corruption has permeated every aspect of Indian society and life, and our education, legal system and law and order system have failed to reduce or deter corruption. In fact, I may not be wrong to state that all systems combined have indirectly encouraged corruption; no, it glorifies corruption. The media, too, has indirectly contributed to the acceptance and normalization of corruption through their reporting and debates. For the senior generation, it took a whole lifetime of struggle and hard work to come to prominence in public life, but today a protest at Jantar Mantar or a strike in JNU or a blockade on highways and rail routes or a violent riot is considered a short cut to prominence. 

So, do we have a solution, or do we have to face the brunt of it forever? Despite the extreme levels of corruption, I remain optimistic about it, but it will take a humongous, multi-faceted continued effort over a prolonged period. Sprucing up of the Legal system, the Law and Order machinery, the New Education Policy, administrative reforms along with an economic upliftment and social awakening all combined will bring about a gradual change lifting the masses from the Physiological Level of Maslow’s Hierarchy to Social and Esteem Needs with an impact across all socio-economic strata. 


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