Trivialising Crime can become Counter-productive

By Murli Dhar

The speed with which Ponzi schemes being operated by certain local companies have come to light is disconcerting. Responsible citizens would not have expected such a thing to be taking place behind the scenes. They were taken aback by the sheer scale of the illegal activities going on for some time. One can hope that the answer of civil society to this unlawful activity will be such as to discourage for good any one tempted to operate any such thing in the future.

Certain past events appear to contradict the hope of a happy turnaround from such socially unacceptable misbehaviour. Going by the facility with which certain crimes were perpetrated during the past week, there could be reasons to think that another heretofore unknown face of Mauritius is manifesting itself. An 80-year old woman was raped in her house and beaten up to the point of being killed. Two others of equally advanced age were raped and molested. Violent action of the sort is becoming somewhat routine to the point of making us ask whether and why such happenings are becoming a recurrent feature.

Let us rule out some easy conclusions people draw from such unbecoming misbehaviours.

The easiest thing many find to explain such occurrences is the lack of severity of the law punishing the committal of crimes of the sort. It is difficult to assume that, at the precise moment a person is blinded by passion and disorientation, he would be thinking about the severity of the punishment meted out by law to dissuade himself from doing his misdeed. This has nothing to do with the reality of the situation. It is also assumed that atrocious crimes of the sort happen because of inadequate security provided by the state. Nothing to do, once again, since the public security system cannot be pervasive and present in the intimacy of the places where the crimes are committed. Others hold it out that crimes are a result of the precarious economic conditions to which those who commit the crimes are subjected. Had this been the case, the populations of many poor undeveloped economies of the world would have killed each other several times over and indeed decimated themselves. This is simply not the case. If you recall, some of Shakespeare’s tragedies show, on the contrary, that power and power centres breed the most despicable of crimes.

One of the greatest disservices done in this regard is to shift the blame for criminal behaviour onto others. More often than not, the seeds of crime are sown in the minds of those committing them. They are made to believe – or even taught – that committing a crime is part of the struggle for existence against foes of all sorts. Others want to get into riches without effort. Quite some people see working honestly for a decent life as too onerous a thing since there are other less arduous ways of “earning” a living. If you can shape your whole future much more comfortably, they say, by winning at gambling or lotteries than one who works hard to make the ends meet, you might choose the easier route into riches. That will put you in a mindset to brook no resistance, internal or external, when there is a chance to open the way to an effortless future, even if that involves a crime or two at one stage or bypassing the law on each occasion.

In general, the source of the crimes we are seeing currently stems from a culture of cheating, stealing, taking away what is not one’s own, using force and occult powers to suppress others more deserving into submitting to one’s whims and caprices. This itself stems from a culture lacking in self-restraint, one which ends up believing that no matter what it does to get to its ends is or can be justified after all. Many who “lead” society from erstwhile respected positions, such as from religious, teaching and political pulpits, have kept devaluing the innate sense of responsibility and self-governance that should have been theirs, as if aiding and abetting for crimes. As elders abdicate their roles, those lower down the scale do not hesitate to fly into the most disorderly passions and end up committing crimes for the most trivial of reasons.

Somewhere along the road, we appear to have lost the work of character formation. That is why some will want to have their way, no matter if having it is detrimental to the public interest. In such cases, the public interest is sometimes forsaken for the sake of not losing marginal votes. A multiplication of situations like this gradually takes away from society its inherent sense of values and makes it easier for someone to take away the life of others for a trivial cause. Those who are genuine patriots should help reverse the scales if we really want to stop the drift. It will require a lot of pluck and courage to go this route but if we don’t we might hit against a more formidable inner enemy with time to come. Some Latin American countries have followed this path and have become lawless. We don’t need to be there.

* Published in print edition on 27 April 2013

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