Sunday, December 23, 2012

Time to fix broken windows!

The massive and spontaneous outpouring of anger and rage on the streets of Delhi after the horrible whiteline bus gang rape has definitely left police and the political class stunned. This is evident from the fact that inspite of such a horrible incident most of the reactions from Govt started coming on only when the anger became widespread on internet/media and then finally spilled over to street. While this incident is the latest manifestation of our completely decayed law & order situation and rotting moral fabric of the society, it has also become the tipping point where people are saying enough is enough and would have been an ideal opportunity for the current congress government to seize and start pushing for change - if they were keen for it. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.

As someone who grew up in Delhi, did most of education and initial few years of work in Delhi, the fact the no citizen (common man) is safe in city is not lost on me. The frequent road rage incidents which shows how intolerant we have become, bullying by powerful and connected which is testament of lack of respect for fellow human being, the fact that if you are female you will be groped every single day which shows what we think of our women and the all pervasive VIP culture all makes the environment very claustrophobic. And all of this has finally reached a level where people have now decided to storm the seat of power with chants of 'we want justice' - of course the current rage more driven by issues of women's safety. What was indeed sad to see was police's handling of this march - the same police whose failure has led to the current law & order situation was not least bit hesitant about using their force on unarmed peaceful protesters. Worse still was how the Government machinery was working to endorse police action (including people like Omar Abdullah - sir you have lost my respect) rather then trying to soothe the frayed temper of the people. I just couldnt't help comparing our leadership (read Prime Minister's) total lack of communication on the issue (- he may be doing something behind the scene but no address to the nation - perhaps the rape statistics is not significant enough for PM to speak up) to Barack Obama's soothing words to the nation after Connecticut shootout and thats why I will never ever vote for congress again (given how quickly the same set of ministers came for the rescue of the first family's son-in-law). It would be a shame if inspite of this the same government comes back to power but if HP election results are any indication - then we deserve what we are getting!

Now that I have vent my anger and frustration - let me come back to why I am writing this piece. So while there is an unprecedented outpouring of rage on the streets with chants of 'we want justice' - when many of these protesters are being probed either they have no clue as to what they want beyond the 'justice' chants or there are demands for hanging those 6 culprits or changing the laws to allow for death sentence in rape. But the question is would an exemplary punishment in this case or even harsher laws or setting up fast track courts for expediting such cases would solve our problem? Would it ensure that there are no more rapes or molestation cases? And we all know the answer - its a big NO! The problem is not that we do not have a strong law - the problem is more around implementation - a strict enforcement of the law and thats where the role played by our police and judicial system comes under scanner.  My key complaint against the judicial system is simply the delay in delivering judgements - and we all know that justice delayed is justice denied. But setting up a fast-track court to tackle this problem is like using a band-aid to treat a concussion -and if Govt. treads on this path under duress due to current protest then that would just open a pandora's box with fast-track courts for corruption, murders and every other kind of crime. What we need is a more systemic judicial reforms which unfortunately the Government of the day cannot deliver - I don't think they have even started thinking in that direction (but I may be wrong!) . Unfortunately, their definition of reforms is allowing Walmart set up shop in India - nothing more (more on that some other time!). 

But what I really wanted to write about today was our police and how it is their inability to enforce the law that I believe is one of the root cause of the current state of affairs. Police's role is in the nutshell is maintenance of law & order - but unfortunately policing these days is more about VIP protection (as evident from the events of last few days) and harassing the common man in the name of law (one can se endless news items in our newspapers on a daily basis). It is a known fact that if you go to the police station to lodge an FIR for a petty crime (in their definition) such as your mobile phone being stolen or if you are a female who has been molested - you will not be able to get a FIR registered and thats where the problem start. While police is trying to artificially reduce the crime rate by such tactics all it is doing is making the unruly elements bolder that they can get away with whatever they want and therefore are not afraid to do bigger and bolder crimes - and then you get something like a Delhi Bus gang rape and then suddenly police is caught napping! I am a big advocate of broken window theory which says that we must nip the criminal intent in the bud which means that if you clamp down on petty crimes heavily then it sends a very stern signal and then the perpetrators would then think twice before doing it again. Very honestly I do not know how many people have been arrested for molestation - my guess would be none! Police always needs a big bang crime before coming into action - they seem to have totally forgotten their role in maintaining law & order (of course when it comes to lathi charging a bunch of unaffiliated citizens then its no trouble). The system is rotting and as Arvind Kejriwal rightly says it needs to be changed! If police is made answerable and accountable on petty crimes - I am very sure you would see the bigger crimes coming down very fast on its own. What we need is a good system of capturing all such complaints and police's accountability on such cases. Of course, needless to say that this also has to be linked to their incentive system - given what we pay our cops there is little surprise they are more keen on making money then delivering on their oath!In addition, I think it should be made mandatory for all pubic servants and elected public representatives to use public transport etc at least once a week - so that they can get a taste of what common man goes through. I am pretty sure just one week of such an intervention would bring a sea change in the prevailing conditions in our public places provided our big and mighty are willing to step out of their castles and rub shoulder with the common man - the very man who has put them there.

There is another social aspect of this issue which I feel again is closely linked to broken window theory - which is utter lack of respect and courtesy among Indians for our fellow citizens and by extension to the law. If police can gets it act together and start fixing the broken windows I mentioned earlier - I am pretty sure that there can be a revival where people start obeying laws and hopefully, giving each other their space. For instance, if traffic police starts imposing fine on all all those who keep honking on red lights - I am sure sooner or later those uncivilized drivers will get the message and road rage incidents can come down!

However, these things are easier said then down - given the big vacuum in national leadership- there is just no one who is ready totake charge and attack the root cause of this problem and my worry is that we will have just another knee jerk reaction from the Govt with some changes in the law and some more fast track courts - which unfortunately will not solve our problems!