Thursday, September 25, 2008


Calcutta is a lawless city. It struck me that foreign embassies and consulates might well be wary about issuing visas to people from this city, out of a concern for protecting the civic virtues of their land. Perhaps the same can be said about several other cities or states in India, or even all of India itself. I would not blame them. Like with the HIV virus, one can’t be too careful.

Surendra Munshi has written in today’s Telegraph about Calcutta’s lawlessness. I found that quite devoid of any substance. This is a subject I have been thinking deeply about, everyday, for almost twenty five years. And I have also been thinking seriously about this recently, together with some focussed study, in the context of a writing assignment. So yes, I have some perspectives. But this is something every citizen has to think about for himself or herself, making an effort to comprehend the complexity and diversity of the city, looking at one's own daily conduct, coming out of one's class subjectivity and making an attempt at arriving at a public perspective.

Habitual violation of the law – is not something that relates merely to the city’s poor and downtrodden, something they are compelled to do in order to survive. The biggest violator of course is the state itself, the govt of West Bengal. But to be precise, actually we do not have a govt here, we have a political party that is the supreme authority and not a leaf stirs in the state of West Bengal without the sanction of the party.

Callous disregard for law is also something characterising the lives and conduct of Calcutta’s elite and affluent citizens. Not for them such trivialities as law, for how then can they exhibit the power they possess by virtue of their wealth. And thus do they set a definitive example of how power is to be expressed when wealth is acquired by whatsoever means.

The final result of the lawlessness is that the civic fabric, the whole web of cooperation, civilty and ordinary decency without which human co-existence in a metropolis would not be possible, is completely torn. But no one seems to notice, or care or be alarmed. Everybody goes about their daily life as if nothing was amiss. But the results are there for all to see and hear. The bell tolls, for me, for you, for all.

I am reading José Saramago’s Seeing. Its about a capital city where seventy per cent of the voters cast blank votes in the national elections. And at the repeat election, eighty three per cent of the votes are blank. The authorities, seized with panic, declare a state of emergency and decamp from the capital. I just read a section where the president of the country makes a speech on television after escaping from the capital city. Though in the novel the citizens of the capital city were heroic, and the speech of the president is written satirically by Saramago, I thought the speech was a befitting one to deliver in all seriousness to the venal citizens of my city, Calcutta, to describe their epidemic of lawlessness.

“…You are now a lawless city. You will not have a government to tell you what you should and should not do, how you should and should not behave, the streets will be yours, they belong to you, use them as you wish, there will be no authority to stop you in your tracks and offer you sound advice, but equally, and listen carefully to my words, there will be no authority to protect you from thieves, rapists and murderers, that will be your freedom and may you enjoy it. You may mistakenly imagine that, guided by your free will and by your every whim, you will be able to organise and defend your lives better than we did using the old methods and the old laws. A very grave mistake on your part. Sooner or later you will be obliged to find leaders to govern you, if they do not irrupt like beasts out of the inevitable chaos into which you will fall and impose their own laws upon you. Then you will realise the tragic nature of your self-deception. Perhaps you will rebel as you did in the days of authoritarian rule, as you did in the grim days of dictatorship, but do not delude yourselves, you will be put down with equal violence and you will not be called upon to vote because there will be no elections, or if there are, they will not be free, open and honest like the elections you scorned, and so it will be until the day when the armed forces who, along with myself and the national government, today decided to abandon you to your chosen fate, are obliged to return to liberate you from the monsters you yourselves have engendered.”

No comments: