Felony triumphs, freedoms gasp for breath


We live in an age in which villainy dons the mantle of victimhood and the victim is put on trial. This is also the age in which the state is trying to transfer its responsibility of maintaining law and order to the citizen.

When protesters create conditions for ban on a movie, they are not held accountable for the violence they indulge in or threaten to indulge in; the filmmaker, however, is supposed to clarify that he did not intend to ‘hurt the sentiments’ of the protesting vandals. When women are raped or molested, they are lectured to dress decently and behave properly. Almost invariably, the focus shifts from the wrongdoing—be it violent protests or rape—to the normal human activity in a free society; while efforts are made to condone, if not endorse, felony, harmless behavior like making or watching a movie is calumniated as potentially destabilizing.

“On the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence—through a curious transposition peculiar to our times—it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself,” wrote Albert Camus in The Rebel, a great non-fiction work of the post-World War II era. What shook him, among other things, were the “slave camps under the flag of freedom.”

Our predicament is worse: the very flag of freedom is under attack. Every passing day, curbs are placed, or demanded to be placed, on our freedoms: the freedom to express through movies, books, songs, articles, etc., the freedom to dress, even the freedom to use mobile phone if the user happens to be a woman in certain benighted rural areas.

In such a milieu, it is time we disabused ourselves of two notions. First, women wear skimpy, sexy dresses; this excites men who molest or rape them. Ergo, women wearing short skirts are guilty. Then there is the belief that certain people get so offended by movies and books that they become violent.

Let’s begin with the sexy-dresses-engender-rape argument. The fact is that the same men who get excited by skimpy outfits behave perfectly well when they are in malls and five-star hotels. They know that any indiscretion would have serious consequences, as there would be bouncers around and the property owner would be a powerful politician with right connections. But when they come out of the mall, they can afford to get excited by short skirts.

The same holds true for Indian men’s behavior in Western countries. They visit topless bars and nude beaches, but they don’t behave obnoxiously over there for the same reason: unpleasant consequences which, in this case, would be the strong arm of the law. By the way, have you ever heard of an Indian accused of rape on a nude beach in, say, the Brazil or Australia?

So, the real cause of bad behavior is never the attire of women; it is the absence of fear of punishment.

Similarly, those who claim to get angry and break the law because of some movie or book behave perfectly well when they are in the US. This is despite their gods, goddesses, prophets, heroes, icons, faiths, beliefs, values, etc., are lambasted, lampooned, and smeared with impunity. The tetchy—who vandalize cinema halls and lurk menacing around literary or art events in Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur—do not go breaking the window panes of offices in New York or Washington. They can’t afford to be propelled by their hurt sentiments. The reason: the strong arm of the law.

In the wonder that is India, however, the lawless have no fear of the law. Worse, the state does not even expect them to fear the law; instead it makes demands upon the law-abiding citizen to be careful. A treatise on Islam? Better to have the nod from the Deoband seminary and a clutch of Islamic scholars. A biography of Indira Gandhi? You know where to go. Going out to watch a movie? Make sure that you come back home early. And, of course, dress properly. No miniskirts.

It looks like law and order has become a ‘citizen subject.’ The Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution mentions three lists—Union, State, and Concurrent. Now, we need another list—‘citizen list.’ Since law and order is said to be the responsibility of the citizen, why not have a fourth list! After all, the onus of checking crime is on the citizen.

Law and order is simply not on the radar of the political class. So, it is not surprising that filmmakers and authors are persecuted and prosecuted, while various concoctions made of urea and detergent are sold as milk, outlaws become lawmakers, and nobody is caught if they are rich and powerful.

Felony rules the roost. Freedoms gasp for breath.