Asaram, Tejpal, Devyani and our attitude to the law

One evening, during my first visit to Taiwan over 15 years back, after my colleague and I had purchased a few Video Games CDs, we asked the salesman where we could get copies of the CDs made. Suddenly, there was total silence in the shop, and everybody turned around and stared at us. The salesman, who looked extremely upset, quietly said, “Sorry, it is illegal. Nobody will copy these CDs. If anybody copies these CDs, he will be put in prison. If you need 2 sets of CDs, please buy 2 sets.”

We bought 2 sets of CDs and left. As we walked back to our hotel, we wondered why the people in the shop were so shocked. Even if it was illegal to copy CDs, it wasn’t such a big matter. The salesman had acted as though we had wanted to commit a murder! Back home in India, it could have been done just the way I would have had documents photocopied: just hand over the CDs to our ‘Office Boy’ with instructions to get 1 copy each!

Later, I realized that copying these CDs was illegal in India as well. But many people seemed to copy CDs and about anything that could be copied. They were vaguely aware about something called copyright, and knew that what they were doing was not legal, but they did it because “Everybody does it!”

During subsequent visits to Taiwan, I observed that the people there were generally much more law-abiding than people (with similar socio-economic-educational backgrounds) in India. I have never come across anybody jumping a red light, or parking wrongly, or not wearing a seat-belt, or speaking on mobile phone while driving, or driving after drinking more than one alcoholic drink. Further, unlike in India where most people complain about how laws/rules are a pain, nobody in Taiwan (at least the people I met) complained about the laws/rules. For example, a few years back, the Government suddenly became very strict about drunken driving. I have not heard a single complaint about this. In fact, everybody I know in Taiwan supported the Government’s new strictness and justified it.

This is almost diametrically opposite to how we generally conduct ourselves in India. We jump red lights quite often, we park wherever we like, we wear seat-belts or helmets only to avoid paying fines, etc., etc.

What is the average Indian’s attitude to the law in India?
1. Laws are made for others, not for me.
2. If it’s possible to break a law without being caught, break it.
3. If, by chance, I’m caught, I can (and should) get away by throwing my weight at the law enforcer, or by bribing him/her.
4. If the law enforcer is foolish enough to ignore my ‘weight’ or my bribe, resulting in a legal issue, engage a good lawyer to represent me.
5. If possible, proclaim that there’s a conspiracy and that I’m being discriminated against because of my gender, religion, caste, language, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, whatever. If this is supported by sufficient people, there are good chances that action against me will be dropped.
6. Try to get protection on medical grounds, or by claiming some kind of ‘immunity’ or by getting somebody else to take the rap.

Whether it’s Asaram Bapu, Tarun Tejpal, Devyani Khobragade or anybody else, the sequence of events follows almost the same pattern. Despite all the hue and cry, the US State Department has stated that the charges against Devyani Khobragade will not be dropped. (Details are available in this Firstpost article.) Does this not mean that there is sufficient reason to believe that she has violated US laws? Is this acceptable because “Everybody does it”?

When will we learn to accept that laws are made to be followed, and that law-breakers will be punished according to the law of the land?

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17 thoughts on “Asaram, Tejpal, Devyani and our attitude to the law

  1. The problem is that “pahchan & pahunch” are the norm in India to browbeat an official doing his duty, as also corruption is ingrained into every one.
    For me, the less said about the Devyani case the better as each day it gets murkier.

    • In Devyani Khobragade’s case, it appears that our Foreign Ministry is using her alleged ill-treatment by the authorities as a ground for dismissing all charges against her. This works in India. Let’s see what happens in her case.

  2. it is indeed a very common trait of the ‘chalta hai’ attitude to nonchalantly break laws believing that they are meant to be broken and people can get away with impunity. not questioning the us authorities for their ‘insensitivities’ as not respecting diplomatic immunities, devyani is no angel – she knew the minimum wage requirents and sought to cover herself with a subsequent rupee agreement that she ought to have known is illegal. Her assets are disproportionate as her dad was more controversial too.

    • How the US authorities treated her is one thing. If they were wrong, we must protest and seek their apology.
      The charges against her are something else. It is not correct to say those charges should be dropped because she was ill-treated by the authorities.

  3. This is true. I’m reminded of the incident in Delhi university, where students ganged up with teachers against Oxford publications, when they protested the massive photo-copying of their books that was going on the university campus…

  4. One day a company CEO liked my new designs, I handed over a pen drive. But a few months later the company made new design keeping a my design reference while I was given an impression that there are some alterations are made. This clearly shows that no one can be trusted.

    • Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time. In your case, if you speak up, it would be the CEO’s word against yours. People will claim they believe whoever is more powerful, even if they know he’s lying.

  5. The last comment about the CEO who did not give credit to the employee for the employee’s idea, reminds me of a movie I saw recently on dvd called ‘ A Flash of Genius’. It is a true and very inspiring story of a man who fought and won against the big car companies in Detroit, (General Motors and Ford ) who stole his idea and used it. It takes him more than 15 years in court, and is discouraged by everyone in his life, who think you cannot win against these giants. The ending is beautiful .

  6. “If it’s possible to break a law without being caught, break it.” This I believe is the single biggest contributing factor to all the problems facing India today. Lovely post 😀

  7. ‘Everybody does it’ attitude is everywhere here, in India. Corruption, i.e. ‘greasing the palm’ also is common here, for getting the ration card or passport…even I, a woman, has done that, because work will not get done unless we ‘pay’ them. I paid without battng and eyelid!

    I feel like visiting Taiwan…just to see the people of that country!

    The 5th point is very true. It is happening everywhere here.

    I wonder about Devyani too…If she is here, she can just admit herself in a hospital!

    The main reason for all the problem in our country is, I feel, ‘vote bank’!

  8. You are so right. The corruption is not just endemic, it is rooted within each of us Indians. we are willing to break any law we can get away with. Imagine a national challenge where every one of us swears to do nothing corrupt for a day. If there is no one willing to give a bribe, government work will perforce be done…with the salary having to suffice.

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