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This is something I have tried to write at least a dozen times. And each time I collapse under the enormous weight of the word ‘Trust’. And yet, it has become weightless, meaningless in a society that has lost its moral compass. Where nobody’s word is good for anything anymore, where one looks for the back story or the deal behind the statement.

What trust can one have in a police force that has a reputation for brutality, bribery and political coercion? What trust can one have in a government that loots from its own people? What trust can one have in private enterprise that sees no difference between profits and profiteering? And how does one trust a people who vote as they are paid to?

Where is the trust when even the driving licensing authority does not accept its own issued licenses as proof of anything. Acknowledging the corruption within. Where the discussion on ways and means to goals, however worthy, almost always leads to silences. Whether the silences are awkward or complicit depends upon the conscience of the listeners.

The price of this is paid in bureaucracy. The burden of proof falls upon supplicants who seek to operate in the nation. From a bank account to a driving license to registering a business. Nobody can trust anything anybody says – so self certification, a declaration of intent, a self attestation can never be sufficient. A bunch of papers sourced from multiple ‘safe-houses’ of officialdom must be organized before one can be taken as possibly legitimate. Of course, those who are not as kosher can source such ‘proofs’ for a fee.

We grow our people asking themselves to prove their worth, year after year. Education systems are geared towards exams. And yet, that proof is not enough, for competence based assessment systems fail to pass the test themselves. We do not trust our own examinations. So, we ask our youth to prove their skills competitively. Not just our youth, our national systems do not even trust us to celebrate our national festivals in moderation – imposing ‘dry days’ where the populace cannot purchase or transport alcoholic drinks. So, trusting its ‘masses’ to have well thought through opinions on policy issues is a far cry. Public consultation on public policy, till recently, was restricted to the intelligentsia.

Trust of course, must be earned. Apart from voting surprisingly intelligently once every five years, despite the complexities of caste and religion based politics, what have the masses done to earn trust?  We are the ones who participate in bribery. We are the ones who jump red lights, who steal other people’s roads and right to safety when we cut lanes. We are masses that push and shove, not seeking dignity for ourselves or others. Brought up in want, lifted out of third class compartments and separatist ghettoes by those who had grand visions for our nation – we betray this trust everyday.

Who do we trust – for nothing is incorruptible. Into all of this comes the Lok Pal. A mythological paragon of virtues, incorruptible, whole and supreme.  One that can be trusted to rise above the grime, to arbitrate and investigate. Selected by no–one and yet miraculously placed above all. The one to Trust. Systems and positions cannot be predicated around individuals, protest movements can. If nothing else is worthy of trust, how can this – extra constitutional unelected individual be so worthy. Even the government that we elected could not be trusted with allowing the anti-corruption protest its freedom.

Trust is the very fabric of society. On this we build our relationships and our systems. Trust implies self discipline, self respect and dependability. We cannot build societies that seek growth and wellbeing without solid foundations. We, inIndiaare true survivors, because we have built our lives, our governments and thus our nation without this trust. And yet we survive, nimbly leaping from one quicksand to another.

© Meeta W Sengupta

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3 thoughts on “A Total Breakdown of Trust

  1. Trust can be maintained only in the profit motive and self-interest of individuals. Anything beyond that in the form of ethics or morality must be enforced by a society which penalizes unethical (or at least illegal) behavior and rewards ethical behavior, thus creating an environment where behaving in a ethical manner would be in the self-interest of rational individuals. This penalty may be in the form of explicit and well enforced laws or social norms, or it may be internal penalties programmed into members of the society via their socio-cultural upbringing…

    All said and done, in an environment where trust is absent, the most robust social structures and systems would be those which make people behave in a “trustworthy” manner out of their own self interest, or systems in which the inherently untrustworthy people are replaced by computers (cliched, I know, but it has worked in India)…

  2. A great example of the sort of system I mentioned is the world of finance and banking. Financial institutions are often criticized for unethical behavior, but at the heart of the global finance is a system which is based on trust and which works because it penalizes those who are break that trust. Credit ratings are a formal quantification of how trustworthy a person or an institution is. Defaults lead to a drop in credit rating and a higher borrowing cost at the very least, (and sometimes to more dire repercussions as well). Of course, there is a constant arms race between those trying to maintain the system, and those trying to fool it or take advantage of it in some way, but all said and done, this system based on trust has allowed bankers and finance professionals to do their work for most of modern history…

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