Be it mob lynching or bank fraud, there are threads of commonality between both. To rein in the problem, structural reforms as well as public and media support are the need of hour
Around March last year, a prominent businessman defrauded Indian banks of more than Rs 11,300 crore. Nirav Modi grabbed everyone’s attention due to the sheer magnitude of his fraud and the ease with which he managed to escape the clutches of the Indian Government and probe agencies. Fast forward a little more than a year and we found on June 18, 2019, that Tabrez Ansari, a 24-year-old Muslim boy, was attacked by a mob in the Seraikela-Kharsawan district of Jharkhand on suspicion of theft. What binds these two crimes together? At first glimpse, the two crimes could not be more far apart. One involves the enduring image of a multi-millionaire in a Rs 9 lakh ostrich leather jacket and the other, the abhorrent image of a young man being beaten to death by a mob while begging for mercy. On closer inspection, however, there are threads of commonality that run through both crimes.
Anonymity: Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant. It is an established fact that humans are more likely to do the right thing when the likelihood of them being recognised for kindness is high. In an experiment to showcase this interesting aspect of human behaviour, people were asked to submit their donations to a worthy cause anonymously. In another scenario, a set of people were asked to write down on a public notice board their names and how much they would be donating for a particular cause.
It turned out that people were more likely to be “kind” if they are aware that their actions are being watched in a social setting. The corollary of this principle is true as well: People are more likely to commit crimes if they believe that there is no way to identify them. This is what typically works in case of mob lynching where large groups of people believe that they are protected by anonymity. In order to prevent such instances of mob violence from happening, the police must adopt and use technology for their benefit. For example, in instances where a video records an instance of mob violence, the police could use the footage to identify the offenders and instigators of such mob violence and establish a pattern from these crimes.
In the case of economic crimes like the bank fraud committed by Nirav Modi and Co, the benefit of anonymity works differently. Each crime involves some moral compromise, especially so when the victim is visible and is affected directly by an action. In such instances, the perpetrator of a crime has more reason to not commit the crime because there is a higher moral cost or compromise.
However, in cases of economic crimes, the criminal act is often facilitated by anonymity of the victim rather than the perpetrator. For example, in the case of the bank scam, Nirav Modi did not individually ‘steal’ money from an individual but took it away from the banks — hence, he effectively stole money from all of us. In such cases, it is easier for criminals like Nirav Modi to live with the consequence of their actions. In order to prevent such crimes from happening in the future, it is important for banks and other institutions, who deal with such potential offences, to build necessary safeguards. These safeguards can be in the form of stricter audits or by publicising a particular firm’s repeated payment defaults.
Influence: Another common element between these two types of crimes is the important role ‘influence’ has in making such crimes possible. Influence comes in many forms — criminal intimidation or bribery or political pressure. In the case of Nirav Modi, for example, the scam was allegedly enabled by bribing certain bank officials. In the case of mob lynching or hate crimes, influence may not take such proactive forms. Instead, perpetrators of such crimes look at the environment around them and the messaging that they receive, which lend credence to their belief that their acts are not actually crimes or are somehow acceptable.
Such messages may take the form of TikTok videos that talk about mob violence openly without any prosecution or a former Union minister garlanding convicts of lynching. Whatever the form, both these crimes rely on influences that are available to them and use it to justify or enable their crimes. Some of these influences like bribery can be restricted by enforcing stricter laws like the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and the Right to Information Act (which the present Government has, unsurprisingly, sought to weaken). Other influences, like the messaging that our leaders send, can be weakened much more easily. For example, by not garlanding individuals accused of crimes.
No fear: While all of the factors highlighted above enable such crimes to occur in our country with unenviable regularity, the absence of any fear of consequence for their crimes provides criminals like Nirav Modi and perpetrators of mob violence with an added incentive to act with impunity. A look at the performance of our agencies is indicative of this.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is deemed to be the elite investigative agency, is reported to have a strike rate of just 3.96 per cent while dealing with major crimes. This is an appalling strike rate. In the case of the police, too, the strike rate is not very encouraging. Moreover, poor statistics exclude the fact that a number of crimes are not even recorded as FIRs by the police in the first place. It is not rocket science to tackle this problem.
There is no denying the fact that with enough pressure from the public and a strong glare by the media, the instruments of the state are more likely to be better at their job. However, it is ridiculous to expect the media and the public to raise its arms in every case. Instead, what is needed are structural solutions. These can come in the form of police reforms (which the Supreme Court has mandated for each State to adopt) or by way of introducing stricter laws such as a stern legislation to tackle mob lynching. A great start, however, would be if the present Government shuns its “hugs and garlanding approach” and comes out strongly against such crimes, whether it is mob violence or a bank fraud.
(The author is president of Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee)
Writer: Ajoy Kumar
Courtesy: The Pioneer