Monday, 27 March 2017

[] Ethics on an island


Lakshadeep is a group of islands off the west coast of India which stretches for about 800 KM north to south and about 300 km to the West of the Indian mainland. The northern most of the islands are about 300 km west of Mangalore whereas the southern most of it, Minicoy, is about  300 km to the west of Trivandum. Cochin on the mainland is the town that lies nearest to most of the islands and is also the main center of the Lakhadeep administration. There are regular passenger ships from Cochin to the islands, which also carry most of the cargo to the islands. Dhow services also carry goods and supplies from Calicut and Mangalore to the islands, which depend on the mainland for most of their supplies.

Though Lakshadeep means a hundred thousand islands, there are not as many as even a thousand unless you account every atoll and above-the-sea projections as an island. Of the islands and atolls only about 11 are inhabited. The islands are surrounded by shallow lagoons with water so transparent that it would even crystal to shame vis-a-vis the term 'clear as crystal' From afar the sea is a rainbow of hues from green to blue.
Last year I had gone to Kalpeni, one of the islands, on a one-day tour in an old ship called The Ameni. The ship rocked too much and most of the passengers were seasick and threw up all over the toilets and wash basins. But last July they commissioned a new ship called 'The Kavarathi' and it sails so smooth that seasickness is rare even in rough weather. I opted for 5-day tour of the Lakhadeep on the Kavarathi. Of the five days two days are taken up to and fro the islands - they are about 18 hours away from Cochin from where the Kavarathi sets sail. The 3 days left over are spent on three of the many inhabited islands. Every night we are herded on board and set sail for the next island destination. The 3 islands we were taken to were Kavarathi, Kalpeni and Minicoy in that order.

The first island we landed on was Kavarathi which houses the headquarters for the administrative set up for the islands. Like the other islands Kavarathi has extensive lagoons around it. However the day we landed there - the 15th of Nov - the sea was quite rough and we had to be content with a trip in a glass-bottomed boat to have a glimpse of the corals. In normal weather it seems diving and snorkeling are possible.

The next day we were taken to Kalpeni some 8-9 hours away from Kavarathi. The Kalpeni lagoon is more beautiful than the Kavarathi one and there are facilities there for snorkeling, kayaking and other activities. It was my last year's visit to Kalpeni last year that drew me again to the islands with a voracious appetite for more of the blue lagoons.

The next day, the 17th we landed in Minicoy the southern-most of the islands. (Our tours are so designed as to spend the nights sailing and the days on land) All the other islands have social and cultural affinity to the mainland and all of them speak the same language. However Minicoy has cultural affinity to the Maldives and speak Mahal, the language of the Maldives. The people of Minicoy are also friendlier and the women seem to be more liberal than the women on the other islands. There are facilities in Minicoy for water theme past times such as snorkeling, kayaking and deep sea diving.

The Lakshadeep seas are spectacularly beautiful and a visit there is something to cherish.

Now to the people and their way of life and the topic on hand - ethics and religion.

Each of the islands are hardly 6km long and 2-3 km wide and the population varies from 6000-12000 or so. Most of the men work on the mainland or in ships and at any time the populations of the islands are hardly half the census-population. The only produces available on the islands are coconuts and tuna fish and their economy and culture are influenced by these two items. They have to depend on the mainland for everything else. The islands are virtually isolated from each other and the mainland once the ships leave them. The isolation becomes even more accentuated during the monsoons when the ships find it hard to sail or land there –less than a decade ago the isolation used to be total during the monsoons.

Because of the isolation, the people of the islands have to depend very much on each other. Thus when an islander say A goes to the mainland on some errand he is entrusted with many tasks and errands by his neighbors, friends and even acquaintances such as to buy medicines, bring money and letters from relatives on land and so on. He obliges them or rather has to oblige them for the simple reason that if he obliges them now he can depend on them to carry out some of his errands when they visit the mainland in their turn. In a way, his apparent selflessness in carrying out errands entrusted to him by others has a very selfish motive in that his selflessness and generosity will be repaid and will serve him and his needs in the future. There is little violence or dishonesty on the islands as violent and dishonest men and women are given a wide berth by the others and consequently such men of violence and criminal tendencies would find life very difficult indeed to get along on the isalnds. Such ostracism is unthinkable and so they stick rigidly to their codes of honesty, fraternity and other virtues, which are absolutely necessary for an isolated society to function as a unit of interdependent units or persons.

In contrast we on the mainland have ready access to communal services such as shops, transport, communication, banks, hospitals etc and do not have to depend on our neighbors for our day-to-day needs. Ostracism therefore does not hold any terror or horror for us as we have a choice of societies and social services to turn to when we are ostracized. A swindler or a criminal in our society can move from one society to another plying his nefarious trades with little or no fear of being caught or punished. Consequently, ostracism is the least of our fears on the mainland.

The people of Lakshadeep are wholly Muslim though of  various sects of Islam – there are Sunnis, Shias, Ahmediayas, Shaffis and Qadiyanis among them and in recent years even communists have set their roots there. However, ethnic violence is rare due to their isolation and interdependency as we have noted.

I have heard even many educated men and women proclaim from the housetops that if it were not for religions there would be no ethics and morals and we would be for ever at each other's throats like animals. If religion were to be the driving force behind ethics, we would have to conclude that it is Islam that forces the people of Lakshadeep to be so ethical in their behavior with others. This conclusion would be ridiculous and tentative. If the people of Lakshadeep were Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or even atheists they would have had no choice but to follow honest and ethical codes. It is not religions and superstitions that force them to the idyllic codes of conduct towards each other, but simple logical necessity and economical expediency of quid-pro-quos. Such codes of ethics and morals are absolutely necessary for the individuals of a society to cooperate with each other and thereby to be more efficient economically.

Even members of cannibal societies had to cooperate with each other and to limit their cannibalism to humans outside of their own societies - a society whose members cannibalize on each other cannot last long. In the past ethical codes were applicable only to members of one's own group. Those outside the group were considered enemies and deserved no quarters of ethics and morals.

Stationary agrarian societies were probably more ethical towards other ethnic groups as they had more opportunities to interact with other ethnic groups. Pastoral societies in contrast were mostly nomadic and were looked upon with suspicion by others like the Gypsies are even to this day. Consequently, members of pastoral societies had to depend on each other to a much higher degree than stationary societies like those of the islands described above. The higher degree of mutual cooperation between members of nomadic societies was offset by a high degree of suspicion, paranoia and animosity towards other societies.

The Israelites were such a society of nomads for whom cooperation between its own members were a matter of life and death and animosity towards other groups were a matter of natural social evolution. It was in order to forge an ethical infrastructure for mutual cooperation within the Israeli society that Moses drew up the ten commandments for his people to follow as the commandments would ensure less of internal strife and more of mutual cooperation. In contrast when it came to others like the Midianites and the Ammonites whom the Israelites encountered on their wanderings, it was the law of the jungle that reigned supreme and rapes, arson, genocides and total annihilation were the order of the day. It was this sectarian code of ethics that Judaism, Christianity and Islam inherited from the Israelites.

The world has now shrunk to an island or less with instantaneous communication and supersonic transport. Universal cooperation is imperative for our own survival and economic prosperity. Universal implementation of ethics and morals are imperative for universal cooperation. Ethics and morals are a simple matter of social necessity and economic expediency. It is the utter selfishness of life that fosters in us the utter selflessness of ethics and morals. Honesty is the best policy because in the long run it serves our own material interests. God or religion has nothing to do with honesty or nonviolence. We have to be ethical in our dealings with others for our own good and not for any unseen god or for fear of divine retribution.



Myth Buster

Cataract is the third biggest cause of blindness. By far religion and politics remain the first and second.

"All new ideas good or bad, great or small start with a one-man minority" - anonymous


Posted by: Xavier William <>
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