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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A cry in the dark!

In business, one of the long-established rules-of-thumb to retain your performing employees is to ensure that non-performers are recognized and dealt with as such.

When a non-performer is carried in an organization -  worse, when he or she is pampered or promoted – the extent of demotivation for the performing employee is often no less than if he or she had been delivered a resounding slap. It makes a mockery of the performance standards of the organization.

It is, or at least should be, no different for citizens of a country. The ability of different citizens to deliver depends no doubt on each one’s capability. But at the very least, a citizen is expected to abide by the laws of the land and not to  break them.

In India, very sadly, this is where the law-abiding citizen gets a resounding slap. The person who pays taxes is made to feel stupid by the one who dodges them. The person who commits a crime gets away comfortably while the victim is left to deal not only with the scars from the crime but also with the knowledge that the criminal is very much at large, probably laughing at the victim and the “system”.

THIS to me is THE biggest governance deficit in India.

When the citizens of the country cannot depend on their law-enforcers, whether it be the police or the justice system, for something as basic as protection of their rights – whether to life or to property or to their dignity – what can they depend on then?

When the laws of the land exist only on paper, are they worth anything more than toilet paper?  

When it is the law of the jungle that is in practice, albeit packaged in an impressive structure of a “legal framework” and a “judiciary” in a “democracy”, is is not the biggest fraud on the citizens of the country?

In my humble opinion, the answers to the above questions are “nothing”, “no” and “yes”, in that order.

Everyday we hear about crimes committed in the country. The papers are full of them, the TV is constantly blaring another “Breaking News” item about them.

What actually happens then? Is there any follow-up? Is anybody taken into custody at all? Are the perpetrators made to pay for their crime? If so, to what extent?

Talking about extent, brings me to another point. Now I’m not a lawyer but I think one of the common points often raised in a case is that the punishment should fit the crime. This is especially used by the defence counsel to try to get the accused off as lightly as possible, even if he or she has been found guilty. Sort of damage mitigation, if you will.

In India, this works wonders for the defence because it is in Indian nature – and this has been translated into law – that except for the most heinous of crimes, a lot of punishment is actually much like a rap on the knuckles. So the criminals continue to roam the streets at large, sharing public space with the law-abiding citizen. And then we wonder why the number of crimes is increasing every day and why the police force is stretched!

Even this rap on the knuckles is of course based on a big assumption that the criminal, now the accused, is actually found guilty.

And this is based on a bigger assumption that legal proceedings will happen at all, instead of the case papers gathering dust in some chamber.

And this is based on an even bigger assumption that the criminal will be  brought into the justice system at all. Most of these law-breakers just have a laugh as they are comfortable in the knowledge that their power and influence will ensure nobody dares touch them.

So THIS is the country the law-abiding citizen has to live in. Day in and day out he has to live in the hope that his path does not cross that of one of these criminals. Because he knows he cannot depend on the system to help him. He knows the David-Goliath story is only biblical, it does not happen in real life. At least not in India.

Over the last two decades, India has made giant strides in its economic development. Today it occupies a seat next to the biggest powers in the world at the G20 and other such global meets. More and more Indian corporates are now global players. Some of the richest men on earth now are from India.

Yes, that is one side of the India success story. And it cannot be denied that this success has put more money into the hands of Indians of all strata of society.

But has this translated into more safety for the ordinary citizen? I am not sure. If anything, the “aspirational” Indian seems to very easily slip into becoming an “ugly” Indian, for whom the ends need to be achieved any which way. When we are talking hundreds of millions of “aspirational” Indians, there is easily a critical mass for concern here.

The administration is sadly not geared to cope with this. Like in other areas of infrastructure deficit, the police force is inadequate – in every sense. From its numbers, to technology solutions, to training, to even intent. As has been discussed above, the confidence that the common man can have on the legal and judicial infrastructure to provide him justice when taking on criminals is a four-letter word, starting with “z” and ending with “o”.

Safety of the citizen is a basic, fundamental right in any country. Maybe we should take the safety of our people just a little bit more seriously and remind the government of the day, every single day, about its deficit in this area. After all we do talk about “fiscal deficit” very often, we talk about “economic growth” every single day. Then why not “safety” – especially when rapes are happening every single day, not to mention murders?

Don’t get me wrong. Economic growth is important too – this is not a zero-sum game. We need economic growth AND we need safety of our citizens AND we need solutions to other infrastructure deficits.

It is just that we seem to talk so much about economic growth, about the state of our roads, about our education system – all this suggesting an underlying premise that we lead a day-to-day safe life, doing whatever we do on a daily basis.

Well, maybe some of us do. But many of us – and this is a number that probably goes into hundreds of millions - don’t.

This is for, and on behalf of, those who don’t. PLEASE do something for them. PLEASE sensitise and modernise the police force, PLEASE make sure criminals are not allowed to walk the same streets as the law-abiding citizen, going about his daily life. 

Surely this isn't too much to ask for? It says a lot about the situation we are in, that we are now being made to implore our administration for what should be our basic, fundamental right.

Also, increasingly the only thing that seems to make people act nowadays is media attention to an issue - so my request is also very much to the media to be an active pressure group to improve law and order in the country. Yes, there are soap operas playing out everyday in the political landscape of the country but I would expect the media, as the fourth estate, to rise above these political saas-bahu equivalents and use their power and influence to bring about social change too.

So please let's re-jig our priorities a bit. Yes, it's great to talk about the growth in GDP. But the people of this country need to first live in safety before they can enjoy education, roads and all those other beautiful things that economic growth brings with it.


Shilpi Bose said...

I did not have the time to read in detail, but I have got the gist of what you are trying to say, and yes you have raised a valid point and I also understand your frustration.

Raja Swaminathan said...

Thanks a lot for coming here and commenting in spite of your limited time, Shilpi. That's really nice of you! Yes, it is frustrating that the state of citizen safety in this country is so appalling!

dustedoff said...

Good post, Raj - and I agree with you completely. While I was reading this, I was reminded of what happened when my husband was trying to get his EPF transferred to his bank account. He'd shifted companies 7 years ago (7!), and despite repeated requests, the EPF office hadn't transferred his money. When Tarun's boss came to know, he told Tarun, "Just go to the office and pay them. There's a standard rate - 10% of whatever is due to you. Give it, and you'll get your money within very little time."

Tarun didn't, and it took him a lot of visits and constant pestering, but it just goes to show... when the average Indian seems to think bribery/crime/corruption IS the way to live, things are bad indeed.

dustedoff said...

Sorry, Raja - spelt your name wrong in that last comment. :-(

Raja Swaminathan said...

Madhu, this post was triggered by a recent real-life incident. My niece had a horrible experience with some gundas - the police were not exactly helpful or competent and even appeared to be in cahoots with the gundas!

And you can call me Raj,no probs! :-) Lots of people do.

Bharath Hemachandran said...

Lovely article as usual Raja.

The sad thing about the entire situation is that even people who want to take a stand cannot as they cannot be assured of the safety of those they care about if they were to take a stand.

It has reached a point where the smart thing to do is to just walk away .. even if you are the victim!

Btw check out Satyameva jayate Raja. It is a lovely show which has brought me some semblance of hope.

Bharath Hemachandran said...

Lovely article as usual Raja.

The sad thing about the entire situation is that even people who want to take a stand cannot as they cannot be assured of the safety of those they care about if they were to take a stand.

It has reached a point where the smart thing to do is to just walk away .. even if you are the victim!

Btw check out Satyameva jayate Raja. It is a lovely show which has brought me some semblance of hope.

Raja Swaminathan said...

Thanks, Bharath. You are right - the overpowering influence of the criminals (and those in cahoots with them) deter even the most earnest of citizens.

I wrote this piece based on an incident with my niece in Bangalore just a few days earlier. It had her - and me seething (esp the incompetence, or rather lack of intent, of the police).

Have heard a lot about Satyamev Jayate. Need to see it. I see you've posted a link. Thanks.