Essay Strategy – Life is long journey between human being and being humane- – UPSC Mains 2020


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If you look at this years essay paper, one wonders – Why has UPSC gone so philosophical over the years as far as essay is concerned ? But to be honest, a deeper thinking reveals something else altogether.

The topic at hand –Life is long journey between human being and being humane is essentially appears to be philosophical/ethical in nature, however behind the garb of philosophy, there is something much more and compelling about this topic. So, dont let your thoughts run abstract with this topic. Instead, wait and embrace this strategy, which we think might be of help to you.

We often ask our students to establish the relevance of the topic. But does this topic has any relevance ? At first glance, you might wonder there is no relevance at all, and we agree, that at times an UPSC essay may not be relevant to the contemporary social current. But, in this case, there is a huge relevance with the current scenario.

The Pandemic of COVID-19 separated human beings, yet amalgamated humanity across the globe. In this fight between Virus vs Humans, the grit and determination, the heart-felt kindness and the drapes of humanity swept the globe. To put it rather simply :-

Human beings are isolated, Humanity connected !!!

We all have come across many examples during this Pandemic, where we acted beyond just as a species, acted beyond our basic instincts. We let the conscience take over, due to which, empathy and compassion were felt and seen across the globe. Helps reached beyond geographies. It was indeed, in this phase of crisis, we became more and more humane.

Now that, we gave you the idea on how to make it relevant, do find out good examples/stories that you have come across to show the “being humane” aspect of our species in this trying times.

The next part of your essay should touch upon the concept of “Life” in general. Essentially, “being humane” is all about compassion, empathy, kindness and all the good-stuff that you have read in your ethics paper.

As a child takes birth, s/he has no sense of self, no sense of the world, all that is there , is basic innocence. However, as the journey of life takes over, a child grows and learns and internalizes the principles, values and morality from his/her immediate environment – be it parents, school/teachers, neighborhood, friend etc. Thus begins the personality development of the child, s/he is no more a mere extended part of a species (Homo Sapiens). Now, s/he has a world-view, a sense of right and wrong, a sense collective values and an idea of individual morality.

Use examples as many as you can to establish that – Life is a journey from being a brute part of a species to an evolved individual.

Example that can be used :-

1) Ashoka – Kalinga war – From Chandashok to Dharmashok – It was indeed a true journey of a ruthless warring emperor in thirst of expansionism who became the  virtuous king – From Human Being to “being humane” 

Ashoka the Great (r. 268-232 BCE) was the third king of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE) best known for his renunciation of war, development of the concept of dhamma (pious social conduct), and promotion of Buddhism as well as his effective reign of a nearly pan-Indian political entity. At its height, under Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire stretched from modern-day Iran through almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka was able to rule this vast empire initially through the precepts of the political treatise known as the Arthashastra, attributed to the Prime Minister Chanakya (also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta, l. c. 350-275 BCE) who served under Ashoka’s grandfather Chandragupta (r. c. 321-c.297 BCE) who founded the empire.

Ashoka means “without sorrow” which was most likely his given name. He is referred to in his edicts, carved in stone, as Devanampiya Piyadassi which, according to scholar John Keay (and agreed upon by scholarly consensus) means “Beloved of the Gods” and “gracious of men” (89). He is said to have been particularly ruthless early in his reign until he launched a campaign against the Kingdom of Kalinga in c. 260 BCE which resulted in such carnage, destruction, and death that Ashoka renounced war and, in time, converted to Buddhism, devoting himself to peace as exemplified in his concept of dhamma. Most of what is known of him, outside of his edicts, comes from Buddhist texts which treat him as a model of conversion and virtuous behavior.

The essay refer to “human being” and “being humane” and the journey in between. But, you must explore further and intellectually establish two poles of the spectrum and analyse accordingly. That is to say

Stretch the journey little further. Below diagram might illustrate the same :-



Don’t confine your essay to being humane only, as mentioned before, you must make a journey to the inhuman aspect/ the evil aspect of our species. The content below can help you with exploring the Inhuman dimension:-

The Language of Evil

Torture is global, old and stubborn. Dismemberment was a method of torture practised with vigour in ancient India, crushing-by-elephant-foot another. Death by a thousand cuts was ancient China’s speciality. The Tang Code (652 CE) describes judicial torture in detail. Ancient Japanese methods of torture numb the human imagination. Their modern avatar in Japan’s World War II of biological and chemical experimentation on humans — prisoners, mainly Chinese — in Unit 731 stop the blood-flow to one’s heart.

So, does that mean sadism is an inherent part of human nature? It certainly shows that the inflicting of pain is an inseparable part of human history. More specifically, the history of power, of authority and control.

The practice of power is about men — and sometimes, women — who are in positions of power, even if for a brief while and over a limited terrain, having custody over a powerless person. It is about the use of opportunity to torture the captive’s body and mind. And there, in that arena of wantonness, it becomes something of a sport for the human “Gods” that rule mere humans. “They kill us for their sport,” Shakespeare said of “the Gods”.

In Greece, the pinnacle of culture, Socrates was in 399 BCE sentenced to death by hemlock, which was known to act slowly, incapacitating the person in stages, climbing from the lower extremities limb by limb to the heart. A little further to the east, around 30 CE took place what is ironically the only hallowed case of plain torture. After being stripped and scourged, the victim’s palms, known in anatomy to be among the most sensitive of human limbs, were nailed to the cross’s horizontal beam, his feet to the vertical. “I thirst,” Mary’s son said.

Torturers are invariably sadists. Mary Surratt is not a well-known name. She was the first woman to be hanged in the U.S., in 1865, under due process. Her crime: being part of the conspiracy that led to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Minutes before her end, she complained to the hangman that her handcuffs hurt. They won’t hurt long, he said. Peering down the ‘drop’, she then said she hoped they would send her down neatly. Sure thing, they said. Sure enough they botched it. Her frame doubled up. “She makes a good bow,” the hangmen jested. Lincoln must have screamed in his grave.

Hitler’s torturing of his prisoners would shame Satan, if such a creature exists. He was as real as his poison gases, tooth-extractors. Stalin’s, Pol Pot’s, ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s examples would have embarrassed Hell, if such a place exists. The power-centres of these tyrants were hellishly real.

Apartheid South Africa had its torturers trained in Algeria to inflict pain without leaving any signs on the body. Imam Haron, Steve Biko and the Naidoo family are among the better known of the many less known and unknown brutalised by the apartheid regime.

Torture seems to be, like the roach, co-terminus with Time. And co-extensive with homo sapiens.


“Then content above can enrich your essay and push you to think in different directions. The above one is indicative only. There exist a broad array of Inhumanity that we as human beings exert. For example – Communal Killings, Mob lynching, Honor Killing, Violence against women (Rape, gang rape, domestic abuse, marital rape etc), terrorism, genocide. More so, you can also explore how inhumanly we treat our ENVIRONMENT, our Fellow Species and our Life-support Systems. That’s inhuman too. We as a species “a selfish lot” – explore this dimension as well. Don’t forget to give examples as there is plenty.

We fought two world wars and its horrors are well-known. Oldest democracy (America) of the world threw nuclear bombs over innocent population (Hiroshima,Nagasaki) which not only wiped the existing generation but essentially mutilated the upcoming ones.

Now you can explore more on the above lines. Once you have established the language of evil, delve into language of Being Humane.

There is “good” in all of us. Indeed, the old adage is true and its essence in transcending.


 COVID-19 and the Stories of Humanity

In the end, when the history of the Covid-19 pandemic is written, credit would be given to many for battling the virus but the maximum space would perhaps be devoted to the frontline workers: doctors, nurses, hospital staff, public health workers, community health workers (majority of whom are women), sanitation workers and everyone who worked directly with those who were infected or could have been infected in the line of duty. In one of its official responses, the government acknowledged that in the fight against Covid-19 in India, by the end of August 2020, nearly 87,000 frontline workers had been affected and nearly 600 of them had died. The actual number could be slightly higher.

Doctors and health staff were working for long hours and at times with very limited resources. Yet, often, even in their normal course of duty, they were abused and harassed. When community level health workers went to the field for contact tracing, wearing the full PPE in the extreme heat, they were attacked; this happened in different parts of the country, be it Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Munger in Bihar or Bengaluru in Karnataka. Despite this, each one of them continued to do their duty.

Fifty-six-year-old Dr Asheem Gupta was an anaesthesia specialist working in Delhi’s Lok Nayak Hospital. A passionate and dedicated doctor, he was involved in fighting Covid-19 from the very beginning. When on 3 May 2020, the Indian Air Force showered flowers over select Covid hospitals across India, a very pleased Dr Gupta told a news channel that though work conditions were difficult, it was the passion to save lives which kept him and his fellow health staff motivated. He succumbed to Covid-19 at the end of June 2020.

Dr U.C. Ghosh was posted at a community clinic in Delhi. He was sixty-five years old. Being at high risk, he was advised by the authorities to go on leave if he wished to do so. However, he chose to continue to work. He got infected and did not survive.

Dr Zahid Abdul Majeed, wearing the PPE coveralls, was with a patient who was being transferred to the ICU. Suddenly he noticed that the intubation (a procedure where a tube is placed in the trachea in the neck of a person to ensure breathing) pipe had been displaced. This could have been life-threatening for the patient. The PPE along with the face cover blurred his vision, which was not good enough to conduct a complex procedure to reposition the intubation pipe. Dr Majeed took off his protective gear and re-intubated the patient. This was in the line of his duty, where he risked his own life to save the life of a patient. He was sent for a mandatory isolation of fourteen days, as per standard procedure. His story is the story of hundreds of health workers fighting every single day in India, and across the world.

Who could have thought that MyLab Discovery Solutions, a small startup in Pune will become the first Indian firm to produce indigenous coronovirus testing kits?”At a time when India is in dire need of high-quality and cost-effective testing gears, the kit that takes months to develop was produced in a few weeks. “What is even more inspiring is the story of Minal Dakhave Bhonsale, the virologist who headed this project. She managed to deliver the project a day before she delivered a baby girl.”

It was a rainy morning in June. Vineeth Ravi, a 23-year-old engineering graduate, was at home after finishing the 14-day quarantine period post his recovery from the coronavirus infection. His phone rang. On the other end, was a doctor from the Medical College Hospital in Manjeri where he had been treated. He was asked if he could come in immediately to donate plasma for the treatment of a Covid-19 patient who was in a critical condition. Despite the pouring rain, Vineeth’s mother prodded him to leave immediately for the hospital, 60 km away.

Vineeth’s blood plasma helped in bringing back to life Sainuddin Baqvi, incidentally the first Covid-19 patient in Kerala to recover through convalescent plasma therapy. It also set off the creation of the state’s first plasma bank at the Manjeri Medical College Hospital in Malappuram district.

Of course, these are only few stories from the lot and there are plenty. Use wisely.

Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi Party. He was an opportunist initially motivated by profit, who later came to show extraordinary initiative, tenacity, courage, and dedication to save the lives of his Jewish employees. He was credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories in occupied Poland and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

What makes the story of Oskar Schindler so fascinating is he was not a saint. He cheated on his wife, he drank excessively and he spied for Abwehr, the counterintelligence arm of the Wehrmacht (the German military), in Czechoslovakia.

But the personalities and characteristics of human beings cannot be spliced. Sometimes character flaws, such as hubris, also lead to great achievements through a willingness to attempt something most people never would. Oskar’s espionage activities on behalf of Germany, while regrettable to enemies of Germany, later put him in a position to save many lives.

After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Oskar Schindler set up an enamelware factory in Krakow that used a combination of Jewish workers interred by the Germans and free Polish workers. His initial interest, of course, was to make money. But as time went on, he grew to care about his Jewish workers, particularly those with whom he came into contact on a daily basis. In addition, helping Jews became a way to fight against what he viewed as disastrous and brutal policies emanating from Adolf Hitler and the SS.

The transformation of his character is indeed remarkable in many ways and true reflection of “being humane”

We are very sure, when you started thinking about this essay, you might have run short of content, and after reading this, we are very certain that, you might have enough to finish a 3000+ lenghthy essay. Nonetheless, few things must be noted while approaching this essay:-

  1. This being a philosophical topic, let the examples talk the essence of your writing. Otherwise, you essay will appear monotonous and often righteous (if you use too many “should, “shall” and “would” as students often do in this kind of essay)
  2. Choose examples wisely and diversify
  3. We already gave you two beautiful example – Ashoka and Schindler, you can add few more on your own.
  4. The key element in the essay is the ” Life is a journey..” Weave your stories accordingly that must highlight the journey part.
  5. Dont confine the essay to Life of an individual, You can diversify – Life of a civilization – In fact, Civilizational progress is essentially a story of “being humane”. Just look at our laws and our constitution today. The President is the epitome of mercy and the laws of today are more humane, more compassionate and more kind and more forgiving than the laws of yesteryear. You can add little bit  knowledge of polity and establish how we are becoming more and more humane, not only as an individual but as a society. Reflect upon the existing inhumanity too – LGBT rights, Gender Inequality, Patriarchy and other ills of society. 

Conclude with a positive note and use some quotes on humanity . Few quotes are given below for reference :-

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Gandhi

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” – Leo Tolstoy

“The next evolutionary step for humankind is to move from human to kind.”

This is not it. There are many more examples and dimensions that we can explore in this essay, but given the limits of this article and limits of word that UPSC prescribes, we have to be extremely calculative and cautious. Because in this kind of essay its easy to wonder and be lost in thoughts.

and finally, if you liked this strategy, Please DO SHARE. It will help us a great deal.


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