India's Lawlessness and Moral Imperative

The past few weeks have been sobering for all Indians as we learn more about the horrific rape of a young woman in Delhi, the total failure of our system to protect her, and ultimately the tragic demise of the poor woman. A life was snuffed out by a group of soulless monsters and the only closure would be severe punishment for them.

But it wouldn't.  We can punish these particular rapists as harshly as we want but it won't fix the bigger problem that India is confronting, and the only closure for that would be a massive revamp of our entire legal and enforcement apparatus.  The fact of the matter is that India is a lawless country and a travesty amongst civilized nations.  In fact, no nation without law and order can really even call itself civilized, no matter how deep its history or how bright its economic prospects. 

While rape is the crime that is in the spotlight right now, it is sadly only one of a litany of atrocities that are committed daily in that country, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages, and that are committed with impunity.  Murder, torture, kidnapping, infanticide, assault, robbery, you name it and we have it - in spades…  It is the darkest version of the Wild West that you can imagine, and no one seems to be able to do anything about it.

However, now that our tolerance seems to have reached its limit, there may be hope for change, but it is imperative for our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to take the lead in making sure it happens.  It is not enough for him to delegate this task to others but is incumbent upon him to take complete and full responsibility for fixing the system.  Only then will something meaningful be accomplished.

Here are some concrete steps that the PM can take right now, and which he frankly must:

Order a Complete Review of our Criminal Laws

This may be a Herculean task but is also crucial.  We may be a democracy but if our laws are antiquated and inadequate to deal with modern life, socio-economic realities, and criminal patterns in existence, then they are completely useless.  Also, without a comprehensive legal framework in place to address serious crimes like rape and murder, how can we claim to be a just society?  This is a process that is long overdue and its importance cannot be overstated.

India should study other developed nations for their laws, including England and the United States, and co-opt the best ideas and legal deterrents available.  It must also streamline the way that laws are processed in the court system, for there too our failures derail justice routinely.

Assign 'Wartime' Priority to Revamping of our Laws

Following this review should be an expedited revision of laws and enactment of new laws.  While our political system may be flawed, it is fully capable of getting its act together at a time of crisis to pass legislation that is critical for the fate of the nation.  The closest analogy to this would be wartime, because that is precisely the level of crisis that India's lawlessness has reached today!

Clean up the Police Force

Long the butt of jokes in Bollywood films, the incompetence, corruption, heartlessness, and sheer uselessness of India's police force is no longer funny.  It should be a matter of urgent national concern and, frankly, panic.  How a nation of more than a billion people, high-tech industries, nuclear capabilities, economic might, and thousands of years of knowledge and culture behind it does not have a police force that can protect its citizens is beyond all logic or understanding.
 
India's response to emergencies of all kinds is pathetic, but its response to crimes is downright astounding.  It is so bad, in fact, that most victims simply do not bother to come forward - either for fear of being marginalized or the fear of being victimized all over again by the police themselves.  Widespread poverty exacerbates the problem even more since those who need help the most are often spurned because of their inability to offer bribes, and in even more egregious cases, actually abused by a sadistic police force. 

The reality is that India's policemen are more often thugs in uniforms than heroes, and are probably the biggest encouragement to crime in the land.  As important as it is to clean up the legal system, it is equally vital to have meaningful enforcement, and that cannot happen until the police are held accountable for their negligence of duty.  As long as the police are allowed to hold themselves above the law, there can be no law and order in India. 

To clean this mess up, though, it is not enough for the PM to simply "review" current procedures, for the men tasked with carrying out those procedures are themselves corrupt.  The only solution is for the central government to take control and enforce the laws on local police, along the lines of what the FBI did in the United States during the civil rights movement.  It may be complicated jurisdictionally and controversial politically but there is really no choice in this matter.  It has to be done.

Root Out Corruption in Government

This is a story that has played out for so long that it has almost lost its power to shock.  Government officials in India, from top to bottom, demand bribes to provide any public service at all.  So common is this phenomenon that it has actually become a part of accepted life, but the repercussions are much more serious than simply the negative economic impact of a heavily bureaucratic and corrupt government.  The culture of corruption impacts the rule of law since justice in India carries a heavy price-tag  - in hard cash. 

To put it another way: you do not get justice in India, you have to buy it.

It is true that conscientious politicians and activists have been waging a war on corruption for years, but it is also true that very little has been accomplished in this regard.  The focus tends to be on the business side (bribes taken for government contracts etc.) but the more insidious aspect of corruption, namely the compromising of criminal justice, does not seem to be a priority for our society.  That is an oversight that the young woman in Delhi, the woman in Punjab who committed suicide after being ignored by police despite reporting her rape, and god knows how many others, have paid for dearly.

Again, unless corruption is properly (and commensurately) criminalized and then punished, the system will simply not change, and all the political rhetoric, public hand-wringing, Op-eds, and Facebook posts in the world will accomplish absolutely nothing.  What I am saying is that it is time for the PM, and India in general, to stop using mere words to battle a real-world crisis, and use real-world means and real-world consequences to solve this intractable problem.

What we need to recognize is that the rape in Delhi is not just a sexual crime but a crime against humanity.  India's problem is not just sexism but a systemic lack of respect for human dignity and life, and unless the depth of that breakdown is recognized, no meaningful reform can be instituted on any level.  Our moral outrage right now might be over a specific victim but the fact is that millions of others are also victims of some type of violence all the time in India; and unless that status quo is challenged at the very core, life in India will not change.  It might give us some comfort to punish the barbarians who did this but what will really give us closure will be the creation of a system of law and order that protects us from such barbarism and establishes true civilization in the country.

I know I speak for all decent Indians when I say that I hope the PM hears this clarion call, and steps up to the challenge that faces him.


Author Bio:

Sanjay Sanghoee is a banker and the author of Merger, a fast-paced financial thriller published by Forge Books and reviewed by Chicago Tribune, BARRON's and others - available on Amazon. He also writes columns for an Indian politics, art and culture website, Lassi with Lavina. He has more than a decade of experience in banking, ranging from Mergers & Acquisitions at Lazard and Dresdner to the investment side at Ramius, a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He currently sits on the Board of a mid-market Hispanic radio station group which owns 30 stations. Sanjay has an MBA from Columbia Business School. Please visit www.sanghoee.com for more information.

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