Thursday, 16 February 2017

A Letter to the Conscience of the State

Recalling Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter on J & K PSC

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.
(Potter Stewart)

When I heard some have been accused and counter-accused of moral failure and failure of wits for both appearing and not appearing in the PSC exam on 6th Feb, I recalled Hawtthorne’s great novel The scarlet Letter’s heroine Hester Prynne, a young woman, who is found guilty of adultery and a crowd gathers to witness punishment. She is sentenced to wear a scarlet "A" ("A" standing for adulteress) on her dress to shame her. She refuses to lose her dignity on the scaffold. When demanded and cajoled to name the father of her child, Hester refuses. “Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”  Here is brewing up a similar story that might grow into a tale of shame and despair for hundreds or thousands of innocent people and might ultimately shame the State institutions.
     If credibility of an institution is suspect in the eyes of large number of scientists including employed and unemployed vets and if it has deeper repercussions for the moral health of the State, I think we all need to give a hearing to the case. The State has so far refused to take cognizance of an issue that hasn’t perhaps been well presented to its caretakers. Today I seek to present a case in the court of conscience and my immediate addressees are four important personalities – Chief Minister, Finance Minister, Education Minister and Animal Husbandry  Minister – whose mandate is to guard the sacredness of key State institutions.
      The crisis I am referring to resembles a moral crisis that would arise if all the members of any political party jointly – through their elected bodies – decide  to boycott  (for good or bad reasons, that isn’t the issue) an election on some ground and then a few members betray and join the show at the last moment and win unelected. The boycott of PSC examination by vets resembles more a call for collective hunger strike till death that is supposed to fail if some members break off the strike. And the strange justice demands that those who resisted temptations to break the strike should be shot or allowed to die of hunger and those who breached the trust should rule the roost.
       If at the very beginning of entry, a scandalous thing has occurred – breach of trust, opportunism, unfair representation, playing over smart and letting the other go down the drain – doesn’t it make one’s case for an employment questionable? And doesn’t it, at least, call for investigation on moral grounds? The bodies of the unemployed vets decided to boycott the examination to protest against State apathy towards the livestock sector, conversion of veterinary colleges into unemployment mills, countless leaks in the delivery of vet care services for want of qualified vets etc. And some vets choose to betray the decision and they include a good chunk of those who won’t perhaps ordinarily qualify if normal competition were held. Only few of those who took exam were really unscrupulous as they took the lead and others  joined fearing there is now point when even one entered the examination hall.  If this account is correct and if there has not been vocal opposition to decision of boycott beforehand and betrayal was premeditated and not because of confusion at the last moment, this amounts to a serious moral lapse that recruiting agencies who are required to take note of character certificates must take into account. It isn’t the question of law but of ethics. If this is not considered, it means PSC is above ethics and we know ethics precedes law. Moral qualifications are not directly relevant for any job, so goes the logic of PSC. But employees must produce character certificate which isn’t/shouldn’t be, legally, merely a piece of paper that can ordinarily be got by anyone. What if there is a demonstrable breach of integrity of character and the recruiting agency takes no note? Legally it isn’t to be taken into account, so goes the rule book. But if there is such a thing as conscience from which law ultimately derives its foundation and States too must face the trial of it, the verdict is very clear. What happened on 6th Feb is disgraceful from the moral point of view. If ethics has a role, the whole incident must be investigated and till then the examination should stand – in fact it already stands so – stayed in the court of conscience of the state/PSC. In the battle between law and ethics, letter and spirit, if the former wins, people are doomed.
      If we cared more for character than smartness (read as opportunism)  we would reward those more meritorious vets who displayed an exemplary moral heroism by sacrificing their reasonable chance of securing their job and stand with those who out of desperation or frustration or genuine reformist mindset decided to boycott without going deep into the wisdom or repercussions of such a decision. Once I heard someone remark that if posts are advertised for jobs in hell, there would be many applications. Given such a scenario, how much courage must one have to live by principles or on one’s own terms?
      It isn’t that all those who didn’t boycott betrayed but a few who engineered the show. And it isn’t that all meritorious students have boycotted; some have taken the exam. So it isn’t the question of judging those who sat in examination, some of whom could perhaps face the tribunal of conscience. What is the issue is that nobody was happy and nobody is entirely sure of being guilt free both for sitting in the exam and boycotting it. A solution out of all this is revisiting the ethics part of the whole issue, talk to the candidates and seek a solution that is both ethically and legally sound. The status on date is that it is ethically a scandal that costs souls of those who sat in the exam and killing regret of those who boycotted. Let us not make our best hundreds of our professionals/scientists regret or curse the system or themselves for battling a desperation or ill-advised move.
      6th February may be celebrated as a black day by vets every year and stage protests against those who don’t consider ethical argument relevant for recruitment. This day will haunt all the vets who even if they deserved job throughout their lives. It will mark them a sort of "A" we find in the collar of Hawthorne’s heroine and that A in fact condemns the State and society more than the wearer. Out of extreme job insecurity or apprehension of crossing age bar, some candidates decide to say yes to the posts in hell, so to speak. They need to be sympathized with rather than condemned on moral grounds which we know are difficult to apply in certain situations. What everyone can unhesitatingly condemn is a system that creates army of unemployed scientists in the first place. Many unemployed vets are scientists with higher degrees from accredited institutions. And the State has no room for them! What for are you scientists?
      Most of those who appeared in exams have been judged “A” by themselves and fellow vets who didn’t and will be by the society afterwards. Who will take care of them, their souls or their dignity? Who will take care of the health of veterinary profession? How do we see veterinarian’s oath being openly flouted by vets? How does the State take care of the canker in its recruitment system that has no points for moral qualifications? It is a moral conflict and one can’t afford neutrality. How can CM and cabinet stand as mute spectator?
PostScript: The State’s greatest success story has been crossbreeding programme that radically transformed livestock sector and generated and sustains thousands of jobs till date for which the State should be eternally grateful to every field and farm worker. Dozens of costly animals are saved on daily basis and production of thousands greased daily thanks to vets/paravets. Boycott vetcare – A.I, vaccination, dosing, treatment of only few problems like mastitis, hypocalcaemia and dystokia – for a season and it will be a disaster for the farmers and a loss of many more crores than are spent on the salary bill of vets,(don’t forget that a significant fraction of this salary is eaten by taxes and pumped back into the system that makes economy grow instead of draining it). Livestock sector has been improved a lot thanks to Animal and Sheep Husbandry Departments and there are countless heroic tales that our planners should have known that made it possible. How difficult it has been to cross breed, fight diseases, maintain people’s faith in new developmental programmes is known to field vets and paravets, our legendary doctors and directors. The great miracle has been crafted by staggering feat of prostylization, night vigils, hard climbing of mountains, putting families of employees at risk.  Failure to acknowledge immense contribution of vets is not only a moral failure but a case of cognitive dissonance as well. Just check the State’s own planning documents and statistics of contributions from various departments and we see lion’s share of animal husbandry.

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