Mr. Sudheer came to The Pulse Heart on that Monday with a fairly made up mind to take a medical certificate. A few days ago, he went to Kerala with his family and after coming back he realized that he did not have any casual leaves and he had to avail medical leaves. He has been coming to me regularly for the last five years for the treatment of his hypertension. All he wanted that day was a silly letter from me stating that he required rest for four days because of whatever disease I might conjure up, so that he would get the leave sanctioned.
Basically, it was a simple request. Nobody is ever going to give the letter a second look and everyone even at his office knows that he went to Kerala for pleasure and it is not as if this letter is going to come back to bite me anywhere. But I had my own qualms. I usually have them when I have to do something that pricks my conscience badly. But, this is a simple request from a reasonably ‘honest’ man in ‘need’.
Or may be it isn’t so simple. Years of conditioning by the peers have reduced the medical certificate to a cheap favor. People not only condone the ‘lie’ told by the doctor but they actively encourage it. They are even ready to pay for this favor. Mr. Sudheer became quite upset when I said that I wouldn’t be able to give such a certificate while he was not only not sick, but had a decent holiday. I really wanted please him, but a false medical certificate? Please. No.
Countless people come everyday with similar requests. Some want to hide their medical histories from the insurance companies. Others though confess to me that they smoke, want me to omit the same ugly fact from the case history. One person wanted me to write a prescription on the stationery of a government hospital so that he doesn’t have to go to the government hospital and stand in the queue. Another lady asked whether I can persuade the hospital authorities to give her an enhanced bill which she can claim as medical expenses. The list is endless and disheartening. It is not the requests themselves, but the casualness with which they are made that hurts you.
I asked some of them –out of pure curiosity of course – about how they can trust their doctor to give them proper treatment, if the doctor can easily misrepresent the facts? None of them ever argued with me, but they looked at me with ill-concealed disdain probably thinking what a stinking hypocrite I was. It was only later that I realized that the respect they had for me doesn’t reduce even if I give a false certificate and that it is only an indication of how much our values have degraded in general.
In a nation whose symbolic father stood for truth and fought with the world to serve the truth, its pathetic to see that truth is trampled by almost nearly everyone. Even without your cynical hat on, you can see that most people around you lie almost without reason as if the default response should be anything else but truth. A person who tells the truth often is severely reprimanded and is considered totally tactless. And lies are condoned quite easily.
Is this animosity towards the truth prevails all over the world or only in India? Does this have any correlation with the economic status of the individuals? Some may feel that the values are better in the rich and the poor may not have the same morals while they are hungry. But research tells us otherwise. It was proved that the microfinance firms which give loans to the poor have a much higher repayment rates –almost near 97%- when compared to the traditional banks and Non Paying Assets are much more common in the rich clientele of the banks. Paul Piff and colleagues have demonstrated that the socioeconomic status of the individuals is directly proportional to the more unethical behavior.
I have been to the United States some years ago and seen the people there first hand. I wouldn’t say that the Americans are standing on a moral high ground but one fact stuck me as a wreaking ball in my stomach. ‘Liar’ is considered as a much worse accusation in the U.S. than in India. When somebody is called a liar there, they are incredibly upset and a bitter fight may ensue but in India, the same may result in a grin and a high-five. Please show me a single indian movie in which the lead character doesn’t lie. I am quite sure that you cannot find one. The disturbing fact is not that our role models in life – the heroes and the politicians- lie almost obsessively, but it is the realization that we expect them to lie without feeling disgust or contempt.
Mr. Sudheer got himself a medical certificate and a new doctor quite easily, while I struggled to get my peace and sleep that night.