Radical social critics often complain bitterly that the invocation of law and order is a fiction that merely upholds the legitimacy of propertied classes.
The common man,who suffers most from the unequal rights under this system,whether in the hands of the police or in the callousness of bureaucracy,or for that matter,’the law’s delay’ in Hamlet’s monologue,tries ineffectually to escape its toils.I recall still with bemusement an honest Bihari small trader’s conviction that any contact with the police is trouble,and is to be avoided like the plague.In the holy land of law and rights,America,it is becoming uncomfortably clear that Black Americans also are convinced that the policing is system heavily loaded against them.
Still,within limits all these agencies in established nation-states enjoy some kind of prestige and credibility among a fairly large section of the population. But in our country there has been a steady and steep decline in its authority,prestige and legitimacy as an arm of impartial
justice.Some three or four decades back a Supreme Court judge’s remark that the police in our country were ‘the best organized criminal gang’, it was considered rather dramatic and sensational. But today,I am afraid, it sounds almost prophetic.
I pick up a local Assamese newspaper and discover with disquiet that on one single page there are reports of half a dozen violent and desperate crimes like rape,murder,murderous attacks and so on.People I am afraid are getting quite accustomed,blase about such things.
Moralists will say this is a symptom of loss of sense of values thanks to destruction of native culture under Western influence and so on.But it is still a fact that life goes on and for most people struggle for life is getting so absorbing that they cannot spare much time for even just this bit of empathy unless the media take it up and go to town about it.Some incidents like ‘Nirbhaya incident’ in a public bus in Delhi rouse people from their apathy,but such occasions are rare.Getting rarer when over the year people get beaten to death by Lynch mobs and many accused go scot-free.Law and order becomes such a mysterious entity under these circumstances that they keep their counsel to themselves and cease to react.
There is no doubt that as money and power ditch all attempts at justification with crude and brazen assertion the people in their private thoughts believe in the Hobbesian view of society as a wretched, pitiless,nasty mess.You call it by whatever name,capitalist beastliness,or ‘animal spirits’,depending on which side of the ideological divide you are,things do appear to get more horrifying and squalid by the day.
A recent incident has struck the people with horror as well as feelings of grief and anguished sympathy.A meritorious and innocent college girl was attacked with a machete by a fourth-grade employee of the college library in the heartland of rural Assam, until recently invoked as a haven of peace,kindliness and contentment.
Nandita Saikia a B.A student was set upon and critically wounded by the young man because she rejected his advances.Her father and a friend were also injured in the unexpected savage assault.TV screens show her mother crying her heart out and report mass demonstrations demanding capital punishment for the impenitent murderer.His injured egoism is noticeably different from the cliche about the forlorn and pining lover scorned by the object of his love.He must have read about and seen on TV scores of such incidents of revenge and asserting honour and must have been impressed more by the sensational publicity than by any surge of human sympathy.He might have also seen on the Discovery and Animal Planet channels plenty of programmes showing the natural order of violence and ferocity.However disquieting it is it has become the staple of films,videos and even documentaries.Sometimes with a veneer of cultural rationale,sometimes not.This is the kind of world we have moved into.
Where do the police fit into it?
Setting aside the basic problem of class society,even in a capitalist democracy the police in general enjoy some trust and respect from the numerous middle-class.But this is fast evaporating owing to certain political factors.There is not even a shred of dignity,principled behaviour and respectability.The news media resound day after day with revelation of hair-raising venality,crooked behaviour and blatant partiality.Courts keep on wringing their hands,but are in no position to check and control it as the executive remain unmoved by the outcry.The unworthy and venal officer gets promoted and pushed up,the one who sticks to principle is relegated to impotent obscurity.The guilty learn they can act with impunity and the innocent are regularly booked for crimes committed on themselves.There is apparently a vast and incessant process to subvert what we ordinarily mean by law and justice,led from the front by a section of the police and from behind by unscrupulous people enjoying political authority gradually advancing like a menacing cloud across the skies.
While brute power intimidates practically everyone,no one,but no one,has an iota of respect for the arm of the law.That implies that the whole society has lost its habitual sentiment of respect for the police. Criminals and crooks gloat in this atmosphere of total amorality and do as they like.Respected retired officers are in distress and despair.As Yeats wrote at the advent of fascism:
”Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.
Hiren Gohain is a social scientist and literary critic