Conscience refers to a person’s moral sense of right and wrong. Conscience acts as a guide to human behavior. Human beings mostly make their decisions on the basis of their knowledge and experience. But there is a higher order of guide to human behavior than acquired knowledge and experience. This is the ‘inner voice’ or conscience, which is supposed to be “unadulterated” and “pure” and it always, propels us to do things which are right and positive. The people who commit undesirable acts and harm others are often said to have “killed their conscience.”Spiritual people consider ‘conscience as a “dummy for god” or “god inside”. Kabir, the great Indian mystique, also said that ‘your god is inside; awake if you can (Tera Sai Tujh Mein Jaag Sakai to Jag)’. Religious views of conscience usually see it as linked to a morality inherent in all humans, to a beneficent universe and/or to divinity. Thus Conscience is an aptitude, faculty, intuition or judgment that assists in distinguishing right from wrong. Moral judgment may derive from values or norms (principles and rules). In psychological terms conscience is often described as leading to feelings of remorse when a human commits actions that go against his/her moral values and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when actions conform to such norms.
Although for general purpose there is no use of tracing the reasons how “conscience” arises and works in a human being, there are variety of explanations expressed by different people for origin and operation of conscience. These explanations vary among them. On one side there are explanations based on diverse ritualistic, mythical, doctrinal, legal, institutional and material features of religion and on the other experiential, emotive, spiritual or contemplative considerations about the origin and operation of conscience. Common secular or scientific views regard the capacity for conscience as probably genetically determined, with its subject probably learned or imprinted (like language) as part of a culture.
Whatever is the reason of its origin and operation, conscience helps us to take right, fair, just and human decisions. Commonly used metaphors for conscience include the “voice within” and the “inner light”. There are real life examples that show how conscience makes a difference in our behavior. Let’s see some examples given below:
Conscience playing positive rules in administration
Jitendra Kumar Soni, the collector of Jalore district in Rajasthan, was very touched when he saw three students coming to school barefoot in December last year. He told the school authorities of 274 gram panchayats and three nagar palikas in the district to give him a detailed report of how many students come without shoes. The survey revealed that about 10 kids in each of the 2,500 schools were coming barefoot.They were shivering in cold and the teachers informed him that their parents couldn’t even afford books. He instantly took them to the market and bought shoes. In the first week of January 2016 he started a scheme named ‘Charan Paduka Yojna’, with the aim of providing free shoes to about 25,000 underprivileged school children before Republic Day. The collector has decided that students will be provided with shoes every year. For winters, the shoes will be distributed on or before Republic Day, and for summers, on or before Independence Day. Motivated by the campaign, some teachers have also decided to help barefoot students in their schools individually. Jitendra Kumar Soni comes from Dhanasar village near Rawatsar in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan. His father is a watchmaker and Jitendra grew up watching him work very hard to provide proper education to both his sons. He said, “I also attended a government school and know the hard work my father had put in to get me educated. I always wore clothes stitched by a tailor and never visited a big city.”
As a DM you can visit many schools and you can see many children bare feet, but few among us really think empathetically and find ways because their conscience is awakened by their own cultural and social upbringing and innate qualities. And by doing such acts they feel a ‘sense of achievement’ and ‘fulfillment’ of doing good acts to really deserving kids of our own state or country or even elsewhere in the world.
Conscience helping in being human and progressive
To be a Dalit and a widow could be disastrous. For 36-year-old Urmila Devi, who lost her husband a couple of years ago, the combination led to dismissal from her job as a government school cook in Bihar’s Aurangabad district. Her story has a happy ending, however, and a young IAS officer got her reinstated just 12 hours after she narrated her story to him. He then had a meal that she cooked, in the same school, along with the students. Kanwal Tanuj, the District Magistrate, listened to Ms. Devi’s story on August 28, 2016 evening. She had been dismissed from her job by the principal ‘for being a Dalit widow.’ The principal, Shiv Govind Prasad, had given her job to Ramkeval Yadav. Mr. Tanuj decided to verify the incident the very next day and made the 45-km trip to Batura Middle School in Rafiganj block. During the visit, he found many discrepancies in the registers. The principal, who could not answer his queries, was suspended. The officer of the 2010 batch ordered Education Department officials to reinstate Ms. Devi and requested her to cook food in the school kitchen as she used to. Soon, the magistrate was sitting cross-legged on the verandah and relishing the meal with students, even as awestruck villagers watched.Mr. Tanuj said, “It was a natural reaction from a human being and not an IAS officer to act upon the complaint of a Dalit widow. I did what my conscience told me to.”
Failure of conscience to be dutiful and caring
Principal of a school in a remote area of Bihar Meena Devi was not able to provide safe food to the children under the mid-day scheme because of indifference and carelessness of extreme level. Her conscience for the safety of children was sleeping. A local court sentenced (Saran district in Bihar, August 28, 2016) the former headmistress of the school in north Bihar to 17 years in prison for the deaths of 22 children and a staffer who died three years ago after consuming insecticide-laced mid-day meal. Meena Devi was in charge of the one-room primary school run from a dilapidated community centre at Dharmsati Gandaman village in Saran district. She was convicted of sections pertaining to culpable homicide not amounting to murder on August 24. She was ordered to pay penalties totalling Rs 3.75 lakh, failing which her jail term will be increased by a year.
Devi’s husband, Arjun Yadav, was also accused in the case but was acquitted as no evidence was found against him. As soon as the punishment was announced, Meena Devi broke down in the court. The mid-day meal consumed by the children and the cook on July 16, 2013 was later found to contain monocrotophos, a toxic compound banned in most countries. Prosecutors said they were satisfied with the ruling but would challenge the court’s acquittal of her husband for lack of evidence. The disaster prompted the government to improve food safety in schools. Children often suffer food poisoning due to poor hygiene in kitchens and occasionally sub-standard food.