With No Fear Of Punitive Action, Lawlessness Rules

With each passing day, we read and hear of an ever-increasing crime rate in the country. From smaller thefts of chain snatching and robbery to large-scale financial and corporate crime, from horrifying kidnappings to inhuman and brutal rape, India looks to be heading to be a state of absolute lawlessness.

Over the last few years, we have seen what can only be described as a general apathy of the government to the pathetic situation of the common man. The nation and its people have been attacked numerous times by terrorists and bombs, and all we hear are assurances – words that the aam aadmi has long realised are meaningless.

At best, our government issues a ‘stern warning’ that they “will not take this lying down,” and the concerned authorities make the usual expected noises of assurance that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Yet with each passing day, we are only scared further by the most daring, daylight crimes, where the criminals clearly have no fear of law or the people in the streets.

The way our children are being abducted and assaulted, women sexually harassed and raped, and older people attacked and murdered in their houses provide us with frightful images that should only exist in the most horrifying movies and not in a real society. After all, what good is a country and its system if we cannot protect our law-abiding citizens from crime and death? What good is a democracy if we cannot safeguard its people?

Numerous behavioural and psychology studies over the years have pointed out that morality is a human construct and is directly proportional to the fear of getting caught; and being punished. No wonder then, that in this country where the current mood is best reflected in the statement “sab chalta hain,” we disturbingly see an utter lack of morality and increase in gross illegal acts.

“You can get away with anything” appears to be the criminal attitude that explains most of these horrendous acts we read and hear about – and at worst, suffer first-hand. I am reminded of Stanley Milgram’s innovative work in 1971 which attempted to study the direct correlation between instances of people getting scot-free for a crime, influencing others to drop their morality filters and indulge in illegal acts.

If watching an episode of a TV programme effected minor changes in the moral behaviour of the persons involved, we can only wonder how the news of the large-scale scams and other criminal acts going unpunished will impact the social fabric of our nation. It may be for a full-fledged social science study to draw conclusive evidence, but an easy extension of existing theories to connect the crime rate to the current political situation.

Deterrence experts and criminologists have long advocated that the rate of crime is directly proportional to the fear of getting caught and the punitive action for the crime. The higher the chances (and fear) of being caught and punished, the lesser the people indulge in the said crimes. Enough research exists where even a simple installation of a camera at a traffic junction or in a troubled neighbourhood, brought down the illegal acts.

Of course, it is not just the installation of the cameras that will do the work. This has to be complemented by an active law and order enforcement that perpetrators will be caught, and more importantly – severely punished. In our situation, it is not really surprising to find that the CCTV cameras too are part of a larger scam and do not really work.

As the most horrifying crimes go unpunished and its perpetrators go scot-free to enjoy their spoils, is it really surprising that more people think they can get away with anything? If left unchecked, the lawless society we all fear is not too far from being our hapless reality.

The only way to stop this is to instil the fear of punitive justice as a deterrent, and to ensure crime does not go unpunished. The question now is: can we?


– First published at DNA Blogs on March 06, 2013. The original post can be found here.