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Beware of the interpreters of law

You can stop reading right now if you have not knowingly or unknowingly violated any laws ever in your life.

Date: August 14, 2014

Place: Chennai

Two of my friends and I went out for dinner on a motorbike. Yes, three of us on a single bike. It’s difficult, potentially dangerous, yet extremely common in India. Security was tightened across the city as it was the eve of Independence Day. On a turning, our luck ran out, and police waved us to stop.

My friend to the policeman: “ஸார், ஐ. ஐ. டி பசங்க.. " (Sir, we are IIT students)

Policeman: “சரி, சரி.. போங்க " (Okay, okay, leave)

(Pardon my inaccurate Tamil spelling)

This is a common instance. Not particularly noteworthy. What about possession of weed or other narcotic substances? I can count in one hand the number of people I knew who didn’t use drugs. Yet, none of my friends or any IIT student has ever been arrested for possession or sale of weed. Why? Policemen in Chennai have “respect” for IIT students, and usually let them go for minor and “major” offences like narcotics cases.

None of us have a 100% clean record. If you think you have, think harder. We have knowingly and unknowingly committed violations of law for most part of our lives. If that’s the case, why haven’t we been investigated and arrested? The cost of tracking down every single petty crime, especially victimless crimes is way too high. Law enforcement has to prioritise which cases to put their limited resources on. When the nature of crime changes, from petty victimless ones to major crimes, all depends on the political priority of either a local politician, ruling party, or the police themselves. Have a grudge against the accused? Go hard at him. Something to get a promotion? Sure. Want to divert the attention of the public? Dig up some dirt.

How can we be 100% sure that we don’t fall into scheming calculations of outside actors? We can’t be. You could be next.

Arun Sudarsan
Arun Sudarsan
Economist and Policy Researcher

Arun is an Economist, passionate about Open Data and its potential to increase state transparency and accountability. Loves teaching. Previously worked at NITI Aayog. To subscribe to this blog’s mailing list, please enter your details here. Check your spam folder if you are missing updates. Thanks for subscribing!

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