Who Is Prone to Crime?

I am reproducing here parts of an article of mine that was published in the ‘Viewpoint’ section of Femina in February 1992.

‘Sometime back, I got an opportunity to live for about six years in a remote area of Himachal Pradesh and get to know at close quarters, the simple village folk of that area.

One day, in the biting cold of a Himalayan winter, a scantily-clad villager came to sell spinach. He had just one bunch of fresh spinach with him, which cost 25 paise. I had no change, so I gave him a 50 paise coin and asked him to keep the change. But he returned after two weeks, walking miles through mountain tracks, in a weather that had become worse by then, to repay me my 25 paise (about .4 cent) in the form of a fresh bunch of spinach. ‘I cannot keep that which does not belong to me,’ was all the man would say when I protested.

As days passed, I witnessed more and more such examples of incredible honesty even in the face of dire poverty. Those mountain people could not ever conceive the idea of taking another person’s things, however desperately they needed them.

But this awe-inspiring honesty turned into a travesty of truth once it crossed the boundaries of those in need and entered the world of those who had plenty. Giving and taking of bribes, circulation of black money, or using government machinery for private purposes were all too common among the rich.

I am by no means saying that the privileged of the state were extra-corrupt. They were only as corrupt as their counterparts in the rest of the country. Still, at what stage of their evolution did they lose that breathtaking beauty of the soul which their beautiful mountain-land had bestowed on them and which their impoverished brethren continued to cherish?

After Himachal Pradesh, we lived for a couple of months in a village in Bengal. The keeper of the Government Rest House, a young man in his twenties (with a family to feed) charged the two of us only Rs. 110/= for our breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one month. And a week after I paid him, thanking my lucky stars for getting food so cheap, he returned Rs. 10/=, saying that he had miscalculated something and that the food had actually cost him only Rs. 100/=. ‘I will be punished by God if I cheated you,’ said the young man, returning the ten rupees. I don’t think I would have met the parallels of him among the well-offs in the state.

Now, a narrative I recently read in a weekly. A rich man, who somehow happened to lose much of his fortune, was spending the night in the courtyard of a temple. He was tearing off pages from a magazine to spread on the floor when suddenly a young man requested him to stop tearing the magazine.

“Please use this to spread on the floor,” the young man said, taking out the previous day’s newspaper from his bag, “and give that magazine to me. It has a poem by a favorite poetess of mine. I wanted to buy it but I did not have the two rupees (about 3 cents) for that.”

The man handed over the weekly and slept. When he woke up later at about 2 o’clock in the night, it was raining heavily. But the young man was sitting up, leaning against a pillar, singing the poem beautifully.

Poverty had not embittered the young man. Sustenance for his soul was perhaps more important to him than bread for his body. Notwithstanding his indigence, he loved the world around him and the creative minds it created, to perfection.

It is not that one is not aware of crime breeding in the slums and desperate needs becoming an incentive to steal. Still I feel that such things happen among the poor only when poverty and exploitation has driven away the last iota of resistance against evil in them. In the case of rich it happens more easily.’

I remembered this write-up today when I read the article ‘Small-town girl, Doon school boy’ by Hasan Suroor in The Hindu dated September 2, 2015. It is a beautifully-written article as all his articles are but there is something in it that I find very confusing. (The full article can be read here.) He says that

“Commentators appear to be struggling to comprehend how “normal” people like themselves — educated, successful, urbane and rational — could be capable of doing something so horrid.… For, what they are really saying is that such conduct would have been perfectly understandable if the dramatis personae had been from “lower society” (they are like that after all) but “these guys” are expected to behave differently…. that it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if this had happened in a poor ghetto as down there they are used to this sort of things.”

As the author says, “there’s no definitive data which shows that criminal behaviour is inherent in any specific strata.” But, if at all criminality can be traced to any cultural or social group, isn’t it the rich who are more prone to it? My exposure is only to the middleclass society and not to the upper crust. But what I have seen in life has made me believe that it is the so-called ‘respectable’, upper-class people of the society, which include politicians and the corrupt, power-hungry elite, who have scant regard for truth and are more prone to cheat and kill. The poor who have that tendency is much rarer. Is there anyone who shares my view?


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Animal love

One day, at my toastmaster’s meeting, I asked the following question:

Human beings appear to be very fond of pets. They spend a lot of time and money on them and take them to vets and give them medicines if they fall sick. Somebody is reported to have even spent a million dollars to get her cat cloned. But with all that, people seem to have no hesitation to go hunting and kill beautiful animals. Or kill animals for food, even though man can easily survive on vegetarian food. How do we explain this dichotomy of human mind that lets him love and kill with the  same ease?

The gentleman who answered the question said that some animals are simply raised to be killed. He said that one generally raises a cow to kill it while he raises a dog to love it – or something to that effect.  I did not feel it was a satisfactory answer. A cow that gives us gallons and gallons of milk is meant only to be killed? Or that sweet little bleating lambs are only meant to be killed? And the rough, barking dogs are meant to be loved?

Personally I feel that I would rather feed a cow than a dog. It is another matter that I am not very comfortable either in the company of a dog or a cow but somehow I feel no preference to a dog over a cow or a sheep.

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Hello world!

I am a writer. My published books are ‘The Vanished and Vanquished’ (a novel set in mid-20th century in the background of the Kerala matrilineal system), ‘The Elephant’s Trunk and Other Stories’ (children’s stories), ‘The Elephant’s Revenge and Other Stories’ (children’s stories), and ‘A Journey to Self-Publishing’ (my own story). All my books are Kindle editions and can be seen at https://www.amazon.com/author/kalyanikurup
I am a member of a writers group called ‘Writers of Chantilly’. My contributions have appeared in their anthologies. I was a member of ‘Toastmasters International’. Have done up to ACS.
Currently working on a children’s novel ‘Mystic and His Snake’.

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