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Of crime and punishment

WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah

There are at least a couple of good reasons for reverting to this subject, even though it is not a subject that one can be expected to relish. The first reason is that there has been a tremendous and unforeseen increase in the number of crimes committed in Assam every day. In fact, it is no exaggeration to state that Guwahati is probably the crime capital of India today. And there is valid reason for serious concern because of the nature of heinous crimes like murder, rape and abduction that take place in the city and around it every other day. In fact, there is greater reason for concern because heinous crimes were indeed very rare in Assam 40 or 50 years ago. The second reason for reverting to the subject of crime is somewhat more heartening. It is that in recent years there have been no attempts to protect the elected representatives of the people and other politicians when they are involved in criminal activities. There was a time when people had reasons to wonder whether there were separate laws for our politicians and bureaucrats, and whether they were immune from the laws of the land that were applicable to lesser mortals. For many years, there was the convention that a lawmaker could not be arrested even if he was directly or indirectly linked to a major crime. Then we had the rule that in order to file charges against bureaucrats, one had to seek the permission of his superiors. And the common experience was that such permission was not always granted. Today, matters seem to have got much more simplified because it is possible to put an elected representative of the people behind bars and also to frame charges against bureaucrats without much fuss. Somehow one gets the impression that it is perhaps still a little more difficult to get a bureaucrats arrested than to put a politician behind bars. What is beginning to happen is that the unfair kind of immunity from the law that our bureaucrats used to enjoy is not only beginning to be questioned, but is gradually being withdrawn. This is indeed a healthy sign because it assures the common man that no one in India is above the law. This impression may not be an entirely reliable one at all times, but it is an impression that is steadily gaining ground.

When we talk of crimes in India, we are generally confined to heinous crimes because the means to handle and try minor crimes are seriously limited in our country. Guwahati being a sort of crime capital of the country, there is no respite from the need to deal with crime. Crimes like murder, rape, abduction, robbery and assault take place all the time, not just in the city but all over the State. There is always an acute shortage of policemen to cope with such crimes. There is a corresponding shortage of courts, judges and magistrates to deal with anything but the most serious of crimes. We have clearly reached a stage when no one seems to have any time or means to deal with petty crime.
This is precisely the scenario that encourages criminals and criminal activities. And let us not forget that our education system itself has managed to create an inbuilt mechanism that leads many people to crime. Our education system is unfortunately not geared to the needs of the country or the people who have to go through secondary or tertiary education. The number of people who find our education system pointless and incapable of conferring any worthwhile benefits to the learner is increasing by the day. This is one reason why the number of school dropouts have increased considerably during the last two or three decades. Along with an unsatisfactory education system we have spared no pains to underscore the ritual that a school leaving certificate or a degree ought to be essential for any kind of job. This is one of the reasons why for some of the simpler jobs where a school leaving certificate or a degree is redundant, we end up by recruiting someone with a degree who is less suitable for the job than someone far more competent for the job, merely because he or she does not have a formal degree that is in no way related to the kind of work the person has to do. This is why recruiting people on the strength of a general bachelor’s degree (with subjects like Political Science, Philosophy and two languages) for clerical jobs makes no sense at all. One could have made a far more satisfactory choice by picking someone without a degree but with adequate training in office procedure and the handling of files. A college degree with subjects totally unrelated to the nature of work expected, does not constitute the right qualification for an office assistant’s job. It is time we found more satisfactory modes of training for people to be recruited for the jobs of assistants in the secretariat or in government offices in the different district headquarters.

To get back to the subject of the day, much of the criminal activities in the country (and particularly in Assam) can be traced to the large number of school and college dropouts for whom crime is a lucrative means of livelihood. The incomes that accrue to them through crime are not available to them by any other means. Had there been satisfactory means of developing worthwhile manual skills, a large number of these dropouts could have opted for honest means of earning a livelihood. But unfortunately, even the business of skill development has been turned into something that conforms to our typical obsession with rituals. We live in a land that is totally lost without its dues share of daily rituals.

When one talks of crime, the general tendency is to be talking only of the deeds of those who regularly make a living out of crime. However, there are major crimes committed against the people of the State by those who were supposed to be the rulers of the State. In a democracy, whenever a well-educated politician or bureaucrat chooses to forget that we live in a democracy and that people in a democracy have a right to articulate their needs, hopes and aspirations, and that these have to be given due regard in a democratic set-up, he has failed the people. There are those who regard such failures as being no more than just failures. There are others who believe that in a democracy the people have a right to be heard with respect, and that any government that totally ignores or rejects the just and rational aspirations of the people has committed a crime against them.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is a piece of legislation that goes entirely against the wishes, aspirations and the interests of the people of Assam. What is indeed surprising for a democracy is that such a piece of black legislation should have been thrust on the people of the State without any prior reference to them. In fact, the Centre never even bothered to find out what the people of Assam, already burdened with millions of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, had to say about an initiative directed at giving Indian citizenship to about 1.5 to 1.7 crore Hindu foreigners from Bangladesh. Is there any real obligation for India alone to grant citizenships to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Christians and Parsees from three countries, despite the presence of the millions of Bangladeshis already in Assam, just because the ruling political party in New Delhi wants the votes of the Bangladeshi Hindus who will flood Assam and turn the Assamese in the State to a minority? And from where has New Delhi got the right to take such a preposterous decision that runs counter to the interests of Assam? After all, we are not citizens of a dictatorship or an oligarchy that enables our political leaders to ride roughshod over the well being of the people of Assam. The saddest part of the crime-punishment equation is that in the case of crimes against the people there are no punishment. The people who conceived the idea of using Assam as the dumping ground for foreigners will go scot-free despite their crime not against an individual, but against the people of an entire State. And that seems to be the irony related to crimes: Commit a crime against an individual, and you can be assured of due punishment. Commit a crime against the people of a State, and no one can even identify the criminal.

About the author

Ankur Kalita

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