“Be you never so high, the law is above you.” — Dr Thomas Fuller wrote in 1733.

My column this week is prompted by two front-page items in one of the most widely circulated German newspapers.

Appallingly, both the news items on India were there for wrong reasons — the Taliban-like diktat of a khap panchayat in Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh and the reprehensible incident of a teenage girl being sexually molested, in full public view, by a group of 20 men in Guwahati. The news item said that, on the one hand, political leadership and the police force were not interested in curbing the power of these vigilante courts. On the other hand, the newspaper attributed the growing malaise of vigilante courts to the clear breakdown of the ‘rule of law’ in India. Europeans are shocked by the despicable attacks on women.

The newspaper said, “Indian society seems jam-packed of men bereft of graciousness, full of indifference, stumpy on morals and, spilling over on testosterone. Indians get away with impunity, anyplace, anytime”.

It is clear that the main reason we have low convictions in India is that the police, law enforcement machinery and the majority of Indian males do not think sexual harassment is a serious problem. The root of violence, crime and an unsafe environment in India is the loss of basic moral and ethical values that prevailed before Independence. Our education system lays little emphasis on ethical and moral education, all in name of ‘secularism’.

NO RULE OF LAW

Stories that make headlines evoke outrage and public outcry but very little changes. A popular society weekly in Germany wrote recently: “ Indian laws do not frighten the people anymore. Indeed, the so called ‘rule of law’ has become codswallop and gibberish, in India.” In all of Europe, it is only fear of punishment that deters unscrupulous anti-socials from perpetuating crimes, not glib talk of the rule of law.

That is precisely the reason that, when immigrants from Asia including India and Africa, come to live in Europe, they suddenly become good law-abiding citizens. Europeans believe that, where due process and rule of law are debased, only social Darwinism can prevail.

It is hardly in doubt that India is currently in the midst of a serious social crisis. Regrettably, our own ‘Neros’ are content with fiddling, while the country burns. My father who is a lawyer of 60 years says “Just as air is essential to man”, “rule of law is the life of a constitution and where it ends, begins the rule of man”. And therefore, we have khap panchayats.

WHITHER INDEPENDENCE?

In the final analysis, the destiny of the country is ours to make or mar. In exactly three weeks from today, Wednesday, 15 August 2012, the 65th Indian Independence Day will be celebrated. There isn’t much to show for our ability to take charge of our affairs or, improve the existential condition of the vast majority of the population.

(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

(This article was published on July 23, 2012)
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