Lately, the number of high society people being brought to book on various accusations seems to be on the rise. It is not that there were very few instances in the past and it cannot be precisely assessed whether such oft-seen news reports indicate any escalation in high crimes or are merely an exaggerated sensationalisation on the part of media. But one thing is certain that the general crime rate has gone up not only in proportion to exploding population but also due to proliferation of new laws, which are mostly non-essential, being brought forth continuously and indiscriminately.
Of course, certain types of offences like that of cyberspace, genetic modification and money laundering need to be updated and decreed with new definitions as the hitherto unknown inventions, discoveries and socioeconomic-cultural manifestations have surfaced anew so that the same could be regulated with checks and balances in tune with human well-being and progress.
Now the point is as to what will happen if the crimes are just created for the heck of it? I believe that it simply leads to arachnocracy, the rule by the web of too many laws, without promoting morals and values, into which the preys, including the innocents, tend to be unwittingly caught up. Because, India’s 30% population is illiterate and that is around 40 crore, which is larger than that of America and Canada combined. The intriguing irony is that the Indian illiterate masses find themselves torn between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side, as Swami Vivekananda lamented, ignorance coupled with illiteracy is driving them towards ill-fated poverty whereas on the other side, the legal principle that ‘ignorance of law is no excuse’ exacerbates their agony.
Law is like a land mine for they are insensitive to human feelings and sufferings and are also neutral in the sense that they both look with the same lens at the potential victims and also at their framers. One wrong step — boom … even for the spider itself.
Unfortunately, on an average, a typical Indian after stepping out of home is virtually on the verge of getting entangled in the mesh of umpteen impractical regulations for inadvertent violations. Helmet-wearing is compulsory under law but there are more naked riding heads than the helmeted. Though the rider is with a helmet on, no one knows as to what the traffic sub-inspector looks for something deficient as per the motor vehicle’s numerous mandatory accessories or documents. If any venture is undertaken, the individual’s financial status and antecedents are scanned ceremoniously under the legal lens, sometimes repeatedly.
On one hand, stockpiling of unnecessary legislations hangs like the sword of Damocles and the citizens are wary of misstepping knowingly or unknowingly into the trifling legal web. Mandatory provisions on marriage, domestic violence, dowry harassment etc, have gone up in number to such an extent that tension is gripping many households incessantly. On the other, the law’s arm is getting longer and stronger to curb the otherwise unabated organised crimes, terrorism, communal issues, economic offences, etc. Hence, for effective enforcement of such laws, sensitisation of citizens right from their school days is a must. Otherwise, it will go on increasing the workload on the part of enforcement agencies and ultimately, the desired outcome is a distant dream
Conversely laws, off and on, will create far more problems than they will solve. For example, petty disputes between individuals might worsen due to registration of criminal cases, bails or no bails, trials convictions or acquittals, appeals and so on which are likely to infuse mutual vengeance perpetually. There were many examples when quarrelling individuals in remote villages came to terms of peace out of their own ethical enlightenment or due to elders’ morally guided persuasions when police never entered the scene. As such, all enforcement agencies, including police, are not endowed with divine qualities of righteous approach to enforce the righteous laws.
Laws will be successful when the state is concerned more with socialisation of its citizens in an ethical environment since childhood. A UK study found that young people will be situationally averse to opportunities for commission of crimes if they are brought up with values and morality.
A usual failing of much of political leadership is the belief that everything could be solved only by legislation and regulation. If it is so, there would not have been any helmetless riding or environmental degradation by now. That being the case, it is to be assessed as wisely as to address the problem situation through ethical inculcation, persuasion, negotiation, sensitisation, cooperation, balanced trade-off etc, which will solve the issues to a large extent with or even without legal back-up.
The 19th-century American philosopher Henry David Thoreau crusaded that laws should be made primarily for safeguarding life, liberty, safety and the like matters. He condemned such laws, which existed for no other reasons than to protect the government. The same laws, as he felt, often carried more severe penalties than those that protect the citizens. On that count, there is no surety that unnecessary laws will bring good, rather result in bad consequences. Thoreau advocated in his groundbreaking essay, ‘Civil Disobedience’ that unjust laws should always be disobeyed. In later years, his essay made a profound impression on Mahatma Gandhi, who achieved independence for India through civil disobedience and principles of non-violence.
Thus it behoves the State to appreciate that law exists for the safety, comfort and convenience of its citizens and not vice versa. Hence, while legislating unwarranted regulations, the state must think twice from the common man’s perspective, keeping in view the following four-point alert:
• The more the laws are, the more intensive is the enforcement
• The more intensive the enforcement is, the less is the freedom
• The less the freedom is, the less is the choice
• The less the choice is, the less is the happiness
(The author is Former DG Cyber Crimes, Bhopal)