BIn this essay…
It was the event of 1971. Pakistan’s army launched Operation Searchlight in the then eastern Pakistan – currently Bangladesh. It was a planned military operation to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in former East Pakistan. Pakistan’s army executed the widespread genocide against the Bengali population of East Pakistan. Subsequently, it led to nearly 10 million people fleeing East Pakistan and taking refuge in the neighboring Indian states. India was forced to open its border on the eastern front to allow relief to victims. It put the then-Indian PM, Indira Gandhi into a state of dilemma.
At that point of time, Madam Gandhi had three possible choices – (1) Do not help Bangladesh and let them settle their issues since it is happening outside the territorial boundary of India, (2) Approach international community to help the then East Pakistan collectively, (3) Support Bengali people’s aspiration of freedom from the Western Pakistan.
What could have a way to respond to the situation?
If we look at the first option, on the one hand, if India intervenes it would violate Article 2(7) of the UN charter which speaks for respecting sovereignty. On the other hand, if India let them settle on their own, it would reflect India’s poor leadership as well as poor neighborhood spirit – not helping her in need.
Similarly, if we look at the second option, there was a possibility of geopolitical mileage into the conflict. Therefore, there was no guarantee that states in the world would stand against injustice with a similar wavelength. On the same line, the third option was against the conception of territorial integrity on the one hand and violent in nature on the other hand if India supports it. What does it indicate? It means even if you have options, it doesn’t mean that one of them has to be necessarily correct. There could be more feasible solutions to the problem other than the options given in the concerned matter.
Now, some valid questions are coming to the fore – then what does option mean? What values does it hold in our life? Why do people prefer to choose any of the options and not search other ways? Why any of them is not right? Then how do people choose? What could be the way ahead?
Hitting the nail on the head: Decoding the sense of options
In the first place, what does the option mean? – In life, we often come across choices – foods, dresses, careers, relationships, livelihoods, etc. If we get choices, then decision-making becomes an important part. Choices often lead to dilemmas. For instance, out of four choices, there can be one of them that imprints a bad vs good narrative. But for the rest of the three options, there would be a sense of dilemma for choosing one good out of two or three goods.
Therefore, If someone goes with any one of the options, it doesn’t mean that it is absolutely right and the rest others are wrong. It is a subjective discourse because it depends on people to people. For example, the utilitarian principle appeals to ensure maximum happiness for a maximum number of people. It means happiness should be maximized and pain should be minimized. It doesn’t mean that pain doesn’t exist. Similarly, happiness should be served to the maximum number of people as much as possible. It also doesn’t mean that everybody would experience the same degree of happiness.
Evaluating options across the spectrum
At the individual level, a person has choices that need not be true. For example, a student is very good at playing cricket. But parents are fearful of the success rate and future uncertainty. Therefore, they force their son to study engineering or medicine. Even though the student performed well in academics too and secured a very good rank in JEE or NEET, doesn’t mean that chosen career would be right. There could be the possibility of becoming a better cricketer than the big name in the cricket world today.
Similarly, at the societal level, if a mob is pressurizing a man through choices of chanting some slogan or getting harassed or killed, doesn’t mean that any of them has to be correct. It can’t be acceptable in a civilized society like India where constitutionalism prevails. Therefore, there could be the option that everybody respects each other’s culture and live in a fraternity. It is possible to live in a secular nation that our forefathers dreamed of. Even Dalai Lama has applauded by saying – “India is a living example of tolerance in spite of having great diversity”.
In the same fashion, at the national level, the best brain of India at Raisina Hills faces difficulty in taking decisions in foreign policy. For instance, India has always been in a dilemma to balance Israel as well as the Arab world. Both are important for India’s growth and prosperity. For example, Israel is beneficial for defense security and development in water-stressed regions like Marathwada and Vidarbha. Similarly, the Arab world is vital for India’s energy security. Therefore, India always tries to find a third way instead of getting stuck in the binary discourse proposed by a few countries.
Why making a choice can’t be a sure shot?
Therefore, there is no guarantee that any of them would definitely be correct. It can be explained through the communitarian principle. Michael Walzer in his book “Sphere of Justice” says that man is not embedded in self. He/she lives in a society. His/her decision is influenced by society. For example, a couple loving each other has the choice to marry and leave their parental home or get separated and marry as per the family’s decision. There could be a better third way which is not given to them – marry as per own choice and live with us. It is so because options are framed under the influence of “societal norms”.
Apart from social pressure, the decision is also influenced by factors like cognitive dissonance. Psychologists in their study have argued that any dissonance – when two thoughts are not aligned with each other – makes people uncomfortable. So, they are likely to make choices that would reduce the dissonance. It is similar to the utilitarian ethos that emphasizes maximizing happiness and reducing pain. Along with this, some people rely on ‘confirmation bias i.e., inclination towards information that confirms what they already believe.
Besides, some people believe in ‘gut feeling’. It could have been derived from past experiences or superstitions. These things are there even with the big name in Indian cricket. Recently, one cricketer in the popular show “Breakfast with the Champions” of Gaurav Kapoor revealed that some players in the dressing room believe in “Totka” and wear the same “lucky” cap when he performed outstanding. Moreover, some people also take decisions based on fate by flipping coins. Therefore, making certain choices can’t be completely true.
Then how do we choose?
Sometimes, it is easier to weigh between good and bad. Here, the bad will be negated over the good. For example, if somebody simply asks – “Is abusing good thing?”. The answer would be simple – NO! But sometimes it is also not so easy to conclude even between good and bad. For instance, in Indian marriages, “abusive songs” are sometimes used in particular contexts as part of the culture. In fact, in the Mithila region of Bihar, even lord Rama is abused as a part of culture since Mithila is his law’s house. Hence, it would be difficult to judge some choices at face value without understanding the context.
Similarly, it is not so easy to decide between two bad choices. For example, a loved one is suffering from an incurable disease. The man is going through severe pain and asking his relatives to help him in dying i.e., asked for Euthanasia. Here, family members would be in a state of dilemma. It would not be an easy task to decide within a minute. On the one hand, pain is knocking them to go with Euthanasia. On the other hand, relatives are realizing missing the loved one who would not be coming back after this decision.
Likewise, it would not be easy to decide between two good choices. For instance, a student gets an option to join any one out of two good colleges of a similar category. Here, while choosing the most suitable college, the category would not be important because both stand on more or less the same level. Therefore, the student would start looking for other factors that may help me in weighing between two good colleges. For example, he/she may look at the factors like ‘distance from home’, quality of food, etc that are peripheral in nature.
Therefore, to make better decisions, we should follow Rawl’s conception of Justice. Here, Rawls suggests everybody to go at the “original position” behind the “veil of ignorance”. It means people would be free from identities and behave in a rational manner. It would lead to opting for rational choices in our life that would be free from biases. A rational person invites empirical values like information and normative values like the opinion of others. But the final decision should be taken by the individual itself.
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