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No zero-tolerance about crime?

D. N. Bezboruah

The English language has become more mystifying and less comprehensible with every passing day even for former teachers of the language. This is partly because of a seeming obsession of a lot of people to coin and use new words for which there are quite effective equivalents that have long been in use. I often get the feeling that this urge to create new and unfamiliar words has its roots in a sort of one-upmanship that has proved to be a dominant force of contemporary human behaviour. However, since I have set out to talk about a much higher level of tolerance towards crime today, the discussion about fancy English words will have to be put off for another day. What is obviously of far greater importance today is the growing tolerance of crime and criminal behaviour even among educated people who are expected to have far better values than one encounters in day-to-day dealings with people who have not had the good fortune to have so-called higher education. In fact, an interesting irony related to human values and conduct is that quite often people without any formal education evince better respect for values and morals than educated people do. The level of tolerance for criminal behaviour and crime seems to be increasing at an alarming rate among people who have been to college and university.
This tendency to be tolerant about crimes—even heinous crimes—is a matter of major concern for all of us. Most of us are obliged to remain silent and helpless spectators of the rapidly growing crime rate in Assam that threatens to make our State a kind of crime capital of the country. Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of criminal activity in the State with quite a few instances of youths from well-to-do families too being involved in major crimes. Murder and rape have become much too common. This is an unfortunate development that does great discredit to a society reputed to have abiding respect for law and order and the human values that count. The changed attitudes to crime that we see around us are manifested in societies where opportunities of employment are totally inadequate to the rate of population growth and the growing aspirations of people in a developing society. One often tends to overlook the fact that for a lot of young dropouts from school and college, criminal activities are the sole means of livelihood. This is about the most unfortunate thing that can happen to any society. A clear indication of the realization of this state of affairs throughout the country can be gauged from the fact that even people fairly high up in the political ladder have begun to be apprehended for criminal activities from time to time. Three or four decades ago such disregard for the status of people involved in criminal activities could not even be imagined. People believed that those in the corridors of power had total immunity from any kind of legal action for any kind of crime committed. This is no longer true, and there is a welcome realization among those responsible for maintaining law and order that crimes do get committed even by those wielding great political power, and that exempting such people from legal action can only lead to total chaos and anarchy in the country.
Having said this, one must also accept the fact that the extent and variety of crime has made it difficult for people even to move about freely in the State. For some time, there have been cases of motorists being stopped on our highways and being forced to part with money. Travelling at night has become hazardous on certain sections of our highways. But such hazards pale into insignificance when one when thinks of the two ladies who were killed on moving trains on two successive nights. The Assam Police and the Railway Police deserve credit for being able to apprehend two of the criminals—Bikash Das and Bipin Pandey—within about 48 hours of the second murder. The confessional statements of the two killers have not yet been made public. When they are made public, it will be the duty of the State government to ensure that such crimes cannot be committed. The State government must appreciate that it is not enough to merely hand over large sums of money to the victims of such crimes. It is essential for the State government to find ways of preventing such crimes. It cannot be the duty of the government to make compensation payments to the victims of crimes that the government has a duty to prevent but is unable to do so. The government cannot be permitted to be unduly liberal about using public money to cover up its failure in maintaining law and order in the State.
The real problem in Assam relating to the maintenance of law and order arises from an attitude that has taken a tolerant view of crime and crime prevention. This stems from two perverse attitudes relating to work and professional duties. One is the familiar disinclination for any kind of work. The other is the abiding interest in public money and all the possible ways of diverting public money to private coffers. The outcome of this insatiable greed for big money without work has much to do with much of the criminal activities in the State. These are totally irrational and unjustified urges that have to be curbed with an iron will at all times. But nothing of the sort is happening. On the contrary, there are constant efforts to rationalize what cannot be defended. The cheapest and most pathetic argument is that everyone else is doing it. It is the kind of argument that can be hazarded only in the most corrupt of all countries. And there is no way of denying that the world’s largest democracy also happens to be one of the most corrupt countries.
In India, our efforts at tackling crime have totally failed because we pretend that a very major crime—namely, corruption—is not a crime but a mere aberration that must be overlooked because it has touched almost everyone and because we can do nothing about it any more. In fact, we have arrived at a stage when honest people who seek to fight corruption are regarded as the odd ones who deserve nothing more than pity. This is because those who actively promote corruption have no conception as to what a totally corruption-free country is like and how life in such countries can be quite uncomplicated and inspiring.
Fortunately, the present attitude of refusing to regard corruption as a crime cannot be upheld indefinitely. Modern development has shrunk our planet to an entity much smaller than what it was a few centuries ago. It has also enabled us to keep a tab on how much better corruption-free or less corrupt countries can be for their citizens. The extent of migrations of our citizens to corruption-free countries tell us what our own citizens aspire to and how they can function much more efficiently in such countries. In fact, it is the aspirations of our people about how they want their country to be that should tell our leaders what they need to do in order to make India the nation that it can be.