Recurring Crimes

Have the Brakes gone faulty or are there no Brakes anymore?

By Anil Gujadhur

The regular frequency with which crimes are reported in Mauritius today draws attention. One is under the impression that not a week is passing by without its own lot of crimes. Against this perception of increasing criminality, the Commissioner of Police has stated that the rate of crime is actually going down in the country. That may well be the case in comparative terms.

The media, on its part, may be flourishing the bad news with much greater zeal and enthusiasm than before, so that there is a growing feeling that crime would have escalated but this is not actually supported by the statistics.

If we stopped at the figures and took comfort from them, we might dismiss recurring crimes as if they mattered little. They would appear to indicate that the situation is after all under control. If we compared our situation with the daily bloodletting of scores of citizens in say, Syria, we might adopt a softer view of the goings-on in terms of crimes committed in Mauritius. The question to ask therefore is whether, in our specific circumstances, we could take in the scale of violence that is manifesting itself in different ways.

Yesterday only, Judge Prithviraj Feckna presiding over the Assizes made his summing up of the highly publicized sordid crime in which a visiting tourist was murdered in her hotel room. Echoes of the crime travelled across our frontiers, notably to places from which we draw our tourists. The adverse publicity that this kind of happening sends out, is a disservice not only to the concerned hotel but to the country at large. It projects an image of insecurity in one of our key sectors of activity. A single crime is one too many for a society which depends on its good name to sustain growth and employment in the hospitality sector.

It is observed that many of the serious crimes being committed involve people who know each other: cases of rape, larceny with or without murder, wounds and blows, break-ins and violence of extreme degree have been taking place in what may be called ‘crimes of proximity’. In such cases, it is next to impossible for police and similar crime busting units to act on prior knowledge, given that many of the criminals did not figure on a list of habitual criminals under the watch of the authorities for recrudescent misbehaviour. There is little the authorities can do to prevent a step-father raping and killing a step-child within the four walls of the family home. Any untoward behaviour of the sort remains a family secret until it is too late.

Of course, external factors are to blame even for intimate family crimes. Some people are easily influenced by media hypes, including portrayals of extreme behaviour on TV and the cinema. The latter often claim that they are in fact copying real life events and bringing them up to their audiences. Audiences are, however, equipped with varying degrees of maturity and submissiveness to sensationalism and some individuals are often misled into believing that certain out-of-the-ordinary deeds on their part could lift them above the rest of the lot. They end up doing the unthinkable.

Drugs represent another facet of the external problem: the economics of drug use and its proliferation frequently add to the list of offenders. This road appears easy to adopt at first but once the climb gets stiff, crimes become necessary and routine to the drug victims. Schools are no longer places where good habits are inculcated among the majority of students; perverse behaviour tends to get more easily generalised in some of these places today. Society itself has become a recipient and acceptor of ever more horrible standards of criminal misbehaviour. Corruption of all sorts easily race forth in it from the top to the bottom and this creates the space for more permissiveness of unacceptable criminal behaviour across the board.

All this shows how complex criminal behaviour has become. Authorities alone cannot tackle it since a good part of it remains outside their reach. Crime and its punishment does not also appear to be a sufficient model to deter recurrence. Prison walls often send back to society worse criminals than what went in before. People appear to have become immune from shame for their misbehaviour and they simply don’t care if they are castigated by society and the family. Role models have lost their role in carving something good out of society. Individual misbehaviour has increasingly made itself accountable to itself alone whereas it used to keep itself under check because it feared being ostracised as in the past. This is true not only for commoners. It applies even to those who have risen in the ranks to occupy positions of responsibility.

The question now is: given that if the present erosion of social responsibility were to continue it would become even more damaging with time, can the social institutions arrest the drift before it is too late? They can, if they started themselves being seen as totally unimpeachable in their conduct in the first place. Greed and one-sided advantage-seeking is not the monopoly of the financiers who have successfully ditched the world economy today; it is also shared by so-called upholders of social and religious values.

The latter’s lobbying and constant seeking to advance private and sectional advantage has eroded the respect and awe in which they were held (and religiously listened to) when society was less criminal than it is today. They have thrown away the brakes which once helped them keep the fold under control and firmly affiliated to the values which go into the making of a good society. Any social construct disappears once it loses its moral compass. This wider view about protecting universal values was needed even more in a multi-cultural society like that of Mauritius. However it was dismissed in a case of throwing away the baby along with the bathwater. It was easier to cast the responsibility for criminal failure and so forth on to the back of others.

Acquisition of sectional temporal benefits meant sacrificing working for the greater good of society at large. Criminal behaviour however stalks across all corridors, irrespective of cultural cloisters, once the individual loses his bearings. The current picture of crime in Mauritius paints this sort of a pattern cutting across all groups. Every group appears to have lost its essential moorings.

Once only lip service started being paid to the cardinal principles of high individual moral standing due to each group’s competition to secure more benefits than the other, the essential duty (and the moral authority) to forge a sterling character in each individual was lost. Condoning misbehaviour according to social grouping is not really a recipe to avoid the disaster into which society as a whole risks running itself. The question is whether the lost ground in terms of moral bonding of individuals can be recovered. That could become one of the key parameters to check the growth of crime in the country. Before it is too late to reverse the scales.

* Published in print edition on 13 July 2012

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