Justifying crime, order of the day

Justifying crime, order of the day

We are infecting every particle of life with crime. This is done by those with public visibility and prestige.

It’s true. Nothing afflicts us, except the ghost of our omissions and commissions. We are tormented today by the demons we let loose yesterday. This is a hoary truth. It is there in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

It is there in Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which the eponymous hero realises, too late in the day, that the evil returns to plague its inventor. It is there in our ancient wisdom that the consequences of a person’s evil deeds will plague his stock for generations. It is embedded in the doctrine of karma, with its inexorable transmission of karmic debt across births.

All this notwithstanding, we continue to pretend that we are victims of forces external to us.  As flies to wanton boys, wrote Aeschylus, we are to the gods; they kill us for their sport. In the language of the common man, this delusion underlies the question, “Why me?”

The scariest thing is not that hideous acts of crime that erupt from time to time. It is that the moral discernment, the sense and sensitivity, to see crime as crime has all but vanished. Is unleashing large scale communal violence to win elections a crime? We call it strategy. Is corporate greed poisoning millions of people to slow death a crime?

No, better call it a sliver of corporate shrewdness. Is choking the spirit of a nation through mega scams, a crime? No, it’s “system failure.” Such loot is not real, we are told. It’s only ‘notional.’ Is living obscenely wasteful lives in full view of a starving, impoverished people, a crime and an insult? No, it’s “India shining”.

Stealing kidneys from unsuspecting patients and trucking the harvest into the megabucks organ bazaar. Is it a crime? No, it is only a stray lapse in medical ethics. When thousands of crores of rupees disappear overnight from nationalised banks, is it crime? No, it is a mystic process of creating “non-performing assets”. In an incomprehensible way, our assets, though non-performing, are increasing!

Let’s face it. We are infecting every particle of life with crime. This is done by those who enjoy prestige and public visibility: the ‘opinion makers’. What has done maximum harm to our society in the recent years are the nationally televised news hour programmes in which party spokespersons are given an eternity of time and unfettered licence to justify the unthinkable and the abominable.

No one minds that this has the effect of socialising, legitimising and valourising crime. The BJP justifies its corruption by alleging the Congress to have been equally corrupt. The Congress returns the compliment. All other parties too are corrupt. The message that goes out to the common man is, corruption and crime are the norm. The proviso is that you can enjoy immunity only if you are in power.

Social warning
We must call these party retainers, ‘social climate-changers.’ Like in the environmental climate change scenario, they are the unscrupulous agents of ‘social warming,’ who degrade our human ‘environment’.

The alarming rise of crime – and its metastasis through the body-politic – is a function of this human degradation and ‘social warning.’ Our society today is much like the grisly Uttarakhand forests, lacking just a spark to go up in flames. 

Forest fires kill. They kill the vulnerable. Those who degrade the environment and suck the last drop of moral sap from the social trunk, remain secure at a distance; whereas the Nirbhayas, the Jishas and the thousands in similar segments of vulnerability, pay with their life.

We shall not make any progress in shackling the wild beast of crime so long as we stay in denial of this reality. Legislation of more draconian laws cannot help or heal our society. It is like trying to eradicate malaria by legislating that no patient shall betray symptoms of malaria, like chill and rigor. The thing to do is to prevent the proliferation of mosquitos.

The underprivileged emulate the ways of the privileged who seem to be licensed to get away with murder. Remember, for example, the Uttarakhand MLA who broke the leg of Shaktiman, with a lathi, snatched from a policeman on duty? Nayak and khalnayak merge into one under the proscenium of power.

Amitabh Bachchan became “Big B” – a larger than life character – by splashing on the silver screen with unattached thespian skills, the lurid colours of rebellion, offering vicarious fulfilment to the masses. For the underling, to rebel is to behave like the privileged. It is to break one’s Zanjeer and to overleap the Deewar, as the young Bachchan did.

This could happen, half a century ago, only in the akhara of art. It is this that has now changed. And it is scary. Crime has been democratised. It is on parole and now at large in the social jungle. This social equalisation of crime should spike a chill through our souls. In all of this, let us not forget that those we deprecate today for their depravity are not the ones who let the genie out of the bottle, in the first place.

(The writer is former principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)

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