Do we encourage corruption and crime?

A boy, looking around 15 years old and dressed in baggy Bermuda shorts and a T shirt was about to leave the supermarket after having purchased a kilogram of rice when the billing clerk called out to him and asked him what he had in his pockets. When the boy answered, “Nothing,” the billing clerk walked up to the boy and demanded that he empty his pockets. The boy refused to do so, whereupon the billing clerk stated that he would call the police. Hearing this, the boy took out a chocolate bar from one of the pockets of his baggy Bermuda shorts and gave it to the billing clerk, who immediately put his hand into the boy’s pockets and brought out some more chocolate bars and a few small packets of almonds and cashewnuts! By this time, the Manager, a middle-aged man, had reached the spot. The billing clerk reported to him that the boy, who had purchased a kilogram of rice worth Rs. 60, had shoplifted items worth around Rs. 400!

The boy immediately protested that he was being wrongly accused by the billing clerk, saying he had bought these items at another shop. The billing clerk angrily landed a tight slap on the boy’s cheek and was about to do more, but the Manager firmly restrained him and ordered him to go back to the billing counter.

The Manager showed the boy the supermarket’s price labels on the shoplifted items, and gently told him that there was no doubt that these items had been shoplifted. The boy, who was weeping and trembling, kept saying, “I’m sorry.” The Manager put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “Your parents are our regular customers. They are very nice people. Do you think they would be happy that you’ve done something like this? Normally, we take very strict action against shoplifters. Bu, since you are a young boy, and because we think this is the first time, we will not take any action against you this time. I hope you realise that you’ve done something wrong. Please don’t do this again. Go home now.” The boy thanked him repeatedly and left.

I witnessed this entire incident two days back. My immediate reaction was to appreciate the manner in which the Manager handled the situation, though I could not help wondering whether he would have handled the situation in the same way if the boy had belonged to a poor family. Would he would have encouraged, perhaps instructed his staff to beat up the boy?

Later, I wondered: what is likely to happen now?

a. The boy’s parents are likely to be ignorant about the incident. In this case,
i. The boy may be tempted to try shoplifting at other supermarkets, taking care to ensure he doesn’t lift too much each time since he would have ‘learnt the lesson’ that it was his bulging pockets that gave him away this time.
ii. The boy may not attempt shoplifting or any other dishonest acts ever again.

b. If the boy’s parents learn about the incident from the boy, it is most likely that the boy will claim that he was wrongly accused, that it was all a misunderstanding, etc.. Most probably, his parents will believe him, tell him to be careful of ‘bad people’ in future and decide that they all should not patronise the particular supermarket.

In both cases, it’s difficult to say whether the boy has learnt that honesty is the best policy, or whether he has learnt that getting caught was his mistake. He may have learnt one wrong lesson: if he’s caught and he’s guilty, he can get away by issuing a ‘sincere apology’! Perhaps, if it’s a serious crime, he could get away by ‘offering to recuse himself for 6 months’ as an act of atonement!!

I think the Manager could have handled the situation in a much better manner, particularly since he knows the boy’s parents. He should have asked the boy’s parents to come to the supermarket, given them proof that their son had shoplifted, and requested them to take corrective action to prevent recurrence of this incident, in his supermarket or in any other shop.

What do you think? Shouldn’t we take steps to prevent corruption and crime? Does our attitude of ‘forgive and forget’ allow people to get away too easily? Are we actually encouraging corruption and crime by this excessively soft approach?

(This post was originally published on Nov 30, 2013.)

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Unbelievable, but true!

One morning, I was in the office of my customer, the promoter of a large manufacturing business, when our discussion was interrupted by a telephone call from his son. He explained that his son had joined an engineering college in another city a few months back. His son was staying away from his parents for the first time, but he seemed to be managing quite well. Since his college, which was in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city, did not have a hostel, he and 3 classmates were sharing a 2-bedroom apartment in the city, 2 boys to a room. They commuted to and from college by the college bus, and used public transport for other trips. They had also made their own arrangements for food, laundry, etc.. Since I enjoyed a good rapport with this customer, I jokingly asked him whether business problems had prevented him from arranging an apartment with caretaker, cook, car and driver, etc. for his son. He replied that his wife and he had decided that their son should be like any other student. Living an unsheltered life would prepare him better for the future. While he would inherit his position in their company, some experience of the lifestyle of common persons would, hopefully, ensure that he would be a humane employer. Fortunately, the son had enthusiastically agreed with the parents. I knew my customer and his wife were both very down to earth persons, but I was impressed!

That afternoon, I met the Works Manager of the same company at their factory. I happened to speak about my conversation with his Chairman. He laughed and said, “That’s nothing. Six months back, Chairman telephoned me and told me that his son had just completed his Pre-University examinations, the results of which would be announced after 9 weeks. He had expressed a desire to familiarise himself with the working of our company. Chairman had appreciated his son’s desire and suggested that he could learn about our products and our production process by working in our factory as an Apprentice for 2 months. This was subject to the condition that he would work like any other Apprentice and would be treated as an Apprentice, not as the Chairman’s son. The boy had agreed. Chairman told me that his son would meet me the next morning, and instructed me to induct him as an Apprentice for 2 months. It was my responsibility to ensure that he would be treated like any other Apprentice. He would wear the same uniform, travel from and to home by the same Company Bus and be subject to the same rules and regulations as all other Apprentices. I pleaded with him that I could not do all this with the person who would be my boss after a few years. His reply was, “Today, I’m your boss, so just follow my instructions! Don’t worry. When my son becomes your boss, I will be his boss!!” Chairman’s son worked 2 months as an Apprentice. We have all seen what a down-to-earth young man he is, and we all look forward to the day when he takes charge of our company.”

I have not been in touch with this customer for many years now, so I do not know what kind of person and what kind of employer the son has turned out to be. But, I have always hoped that, like this couple, more parents try to groom their children to be humane individuals, not just well-qualified professionals.

(This post was originally published on July 27, 2013.)

Are we a nation of cowards?

When I visited my bank yesterday, I found it unusually crowded. I realized this was because of the strike by bank employees the previous day. There were about 20 persons standing in the waiting area. Obviously, all seats were occupied. As I walked to an empty corner, I noticed one seat was occupied by a backpack. I wondered whether the backpack belonged to the young man sitting in the adjacent seat or to somebody who had left it there while (s)he had gone to one of the counters. I walked up to the seat and asked the young man whether the backpack belonged to him. He silently picked it up and placed it on his lap. There was no word or expression of regret from him.

This young man could clearly see many persons, including a couple of elderly persons, standing. Forget offering his seat to one of the elderly persons, he had kept his almost empty backpack on another seat!

While I was disappointed by the young man’s thoughtlessness, I was much more disappointed by the fact that nobody else had bothered to find out why the seat was occupied by a backpack. I’m sure some of the persons had seen him keep his backpack on the seat. The young man may have been insolent, but he did not look threatening in any way.

I’ve seen many similar incidents where people silently tolerate the inconvenience caused by the thoughtless behaviour of their fellow-citizens. I’m sure everybody has seen many such instances.

Most of us Indians do not speak up against such thoughtless, but relatively harmless, behaviour of our fellow-citizens. Why, then, are we surprised, shocked and outraged when we read reports of people being silent onlookers when girls/women are subjected to verbal and/or physical sexual harassment in public places? Can we expect meek persons to suddenly transform into assertive persons?

Why do we refrain from speaking up? Why do we quietly walk away from undesirable situations or, if that is not possible, choose to suffer in silence? I think we are groomed to do so because this is one of the so-called ‘middle-class values’. “We have neither the strength nor the money to deal with them. We are common middle class people.” This is what most ‘middle-class’ parents tell their daughters and sons … yes, sons also. Parents tell children that they should avoid undesirable situations. By chance, if the children get exposed to an undesirable situation, they should quietly walk away. They should not hit back, they should not talk back, they should not ‘lower themselves’. In short, most middle-class parents groom their daughters and sons to be cowards.

We should all remember Mahatma Gandhi‘s words, “Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”

Law-enforcers and law-makers, or law-breakers?

The following figures were reported for traffic violations in Pune from January 01, 2014:
Cases registered:
Helmet violations: 22,140
Seat belt violations: 70,989
Signal jumping: 1,24,995
Riding triple seat: 11,364
Total number of traffic violation cases: 6,84,692
Total fine collected: Rs. 7.67crore

From these figures, it appears the Pune traffic police are sincerely trying to ensure that the citizens of Pune follow traffic rules.

However, Mid-Day, which reported the above figures, also reported that, on November 11, 2014, around 300 police officials were seen visiting the Commissionerate on Pune Station Road without wearing helmets (on two-wheelers) or seat belts (on four-wheelers) that the traffic police has deemed mandatory for all. However, the traffic cops did not fine them, but simply denied their vehicles entry inside the premises.

The Mid-Day report adds that, once the news of this ‘action’ became known to other police officials, several had found a way to bend the rules. Those who had helmets were made to wear them as they turned up at the Commissionerate gate. Officials who did not have their own helmets simply borrowed helmets from others just to pass the traffic cops. In fact, some of the policemen kept a few common helmets at the gate itself, which were then recycled amongst all those who needed to enter the Commissionerate. The helmets were immediately removed once they were inside, and promptly sent back to be used by other cops.

What about our law-makers? The Times of India reports that Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways rode his two-wheeler in Nagpur without wearing a helmet on October 25, 2014. The report adds, “This is not the first time Gadkari was seen driving helmetless. After winning the Lok Sabha elections, he was driving ‘triple seat’ and recently a TOI reader shared a photo of him, his wife Kanchan and granddaughter on a scooter coming out of an ice-cream parlour.”

How can laws be implemented when our law-makers and law-enforcers are law-breakers themselves?

Don’t we see this in our homes and workplaces as well? Parents expect their children to follow certain dos and don’ts that they themselves do not follow. Teachers have one set of rules for their students and another set of rules for themselves. Bosses expect their juniors to follow rules that they themselves break with impunity.

Isn’t each one of us guilty to some extent?

Where and with whom should the change begin?

Parenting by example

Some years back, my neighbour, a businessman, had mentioned that he normally discusses the highlights of his day’s work with his family during dinner. This was his way of grooming his 9 years old son who, he hoped, would eventually take over his business. One evening, when this neighbour’s son was playing with his friends, his elder sister reminded him that he had not prepared sufficiently for his Mathematics test the next day. The boy, obviously more concerned about his game than about the next day’s test, ignored her. She pointed out that he had to do well in that test to make up for his poor performance in the previous test. If he did badly in the next day’s test, he would be in trouble. His reply: “Don’t worry, Didi! I’m sure I’ll do well tomorrow. By chance, if I do badly, I’ll bribe the teacher to give me good marks.” Obviously, my neighbour’s grooming was effective!

On another day, I was at another neighbour’s house when his son returned after purchasing some items from the local grocer. The boy handed over the bill and the change to his mother, who realised that the grocer had given excess change by mistake, Rs. 37 instead of Rs. 27. She requested her son to return the excess amount to the grocer immediately. The 12 years old boy was reluctant to go out again as it was very hot outside. His mother insisted, explaining that, while Rs. 10 was a minor amount for them, it was a significant amount for the grocer, hence they should not take even the slightest chance that they would forget to return it later. To the best of my knowledge, the mother was not trying to groom her son. She was only doing what she thought was correct. In the process, she was being a wonderful role model for her son!

With reference to honesty, discipline, compassion, punctuality, fairness, tolerance and other values, which of these examples fits you best as a parent/elder?

(This is a re-post, with changes, of my post dated July 13, 2013.)