Civics is defined as “a study of the duties and responsibilities of citizenship”. That doesn’t really seem like Political Science, does it? Civics is derived from the Latin origin, Civicus which means relating to a citizen and, more importantly, Political Science is the study of the relationship of the state with its citizens. Comprehending political science would, therefore, be impossible if it focused solely on the duties of the state.
In our last effort, we reviewed political ethics and morality and considered the possibility that ethics might be the underlying principle from which morals evolve. If that be so, what would be the ethical principle(s) for the evolution of civic morals? I can think of only one principle; “every citizen should think of his country as an extended home”. Why? First, because that is what it should be and; second, if applied in its spirit, the morals that flow from it will be rational.
Let us re-examine the basics of “home”. Foremost is that it is shared with other family members; which implies that each resident is a guardian of his/her own rights as well as that of other residents; food, water, facilities and funds are shared. There is an acknowledged [decision-making] authority and adjudicator.
The home is kept spick and span at all times so that the residents are not embarrassed if unscheduled visitor arrives. And, of course, the home needs an income to run things smoothly. For all these things to be attended to, while schooling and all other necessities were also attended to, responsibilities were distributed.
In my school days, Civics was a compulsory subject of study but we learnt more from necessity than schooling. “Waste not; want not”, is an old adage which life drove home. Our childhood and youth were spent in Army Officer’s Messes, all over the country.
The houses were small [it would be fortunate to have four residential rooms] but comfortable but, none had underground or overhead water tanks, nor running water. Running water came twice in a day, an hour each time, in the two taps connected to the water-line. We had improvised by installing a huge 40 gallon oil drum in each of the two toilets, but these had to be filled by lugging buckets full of water.
As the eldest, it was my responsibility, but my younger brother helped. And, when I wasn’t home, he took over. If friends/relatives were visiting us and the “water-time” came, they sat in the rear veranda while we attended to our duties, or chipped in, if they wanted to.
I still can’t see water wasted.
We were very, very, middle class and my mother ran her residential ship very strictly. There were trash cans in every room and no littering was permitted. We paid all our bills and so, no lights or fans [we had no ACs] could be left on, when not in use. My aunt and her children lived with us for some years. The house was cramped but, there were no complaints. In addition, other relatives would often drop on for a few days but, it all worked out. We shared; everything or took turns.
That’s where and how, I learnt my civics. I can still not waste electricity or anything else and my bills give me a headache every month. Now that my wife has gone, these too have become my responsibility. Imagine if we all paid our bills and taxes and didn’t waste, and shared what we had surplus to our requirement, what a happy and modestly wealthy country [extended home] we could have?
In the 1950s/‘60s, if I bought a loaf of bread and dozen eggs, it cost 14 Annas [7/8 of a Rupee], I invariably, automatically got a receipt; which meant that the bakery’s income was recorded and taxed. Imagine today?
Ours is amongst the most expensively wasteful power provision system in the world. It is so, not merely because of theft but also because of line-wastage and corruption. While I cannot condone theft of anything, electricity theft I can understand. Not only is the system of getting a legitimate connection so bureaucratically torturous, it is also riddled with corruption and, if they get a connection, the bills are exorbitant.
The worst part is that those who can obtain connections and, can afford the actual bill, bribe whoever necessary and get away with paying much less; what is not billed, also goes down to line-losses.
In the 1970s, as a young major, I was invited for dinner to the house of a senior bureaucrat in Peshawar; whose wife was my wife’s class-fellow. My wife left early with the children in our car, assuming I would arrange to be dropped. Duly suited and booted, I set forth on my batman’s bicycle; which didn’t have a light.
Midway, I was stopped by a policeman for riding a bicycle without a light; and received a ticket. My clerk paid my fine the next morning. I sorely embarrassed my wife, when she learnt that I had come on a bicycle but, I was very proud that the lone policeman didn’t care that I was suited, nor inquired of me who I was, “he saw a violator and docked the perpetrator”—-a natural poet?
We were a civic people and, can still be, if we learn to live in our extended home as we should and could.