Asaram, Tejpal, Devyani and our attitude to the law

One evening, during my first visit to Taiwan over 15 years back, after my colleague and I had purchased a few Video Games CDs, we asked the salesman where we could get copies of the CDs made. Suddenly, there was total silence in the shop, and everybody turned around and stared at us. The salesman, who looked extremely upset, quietly said, “Sorry, it is illegal. Nobody will copy these CDs. If anybody copies these CDs, he will be put in prison. If you need 2 sets of CDs, please buy 2 sets.”

We bought 2 sets of CDs and left. As we walked back to our hotel, we wondered why the people in the shop were so shocked. Even if it was illegal to copy CDs, it wasn’t such a big matter. The salesman had acted as though we had wanted to commit a murder! Back home in India, it could have been done just the way I would have had documents photocopied: just hand over the CDs to our ‘Office Boy’ with instructions to get 1 copy each!

Later, I realized that copying these CDs was illegal in India as well. But many people seemed to copy CDs and about anything that could be copied. They were vaguely aware about something called copyright, and knew that what they were doing was not legal, but they did it because “Everybody does it!”

During subsequent visits to Taiwan, I observed that the people there were generally much more law-abiding than people (with similar socio-economic-educational backgrounds) in India. I have never come across anybody jumping a red light, or parking wrongly, or not wearing a seat-belt, or speaking on mobile phone while driving, or driving after drinking more than one alcoholic drink. Further, unlike in India where most people complain about how laws/rules are a pain, nobody in Taiwan (at least the people I met) complained about the laws/rules. For example, a few years back, the Government suddenly became very strict about drunken driving. I have not heard a single complaint about this. In fact, everybody I know in Taiwan supported the Government’s new strictness and justified it.

This is almost diametrically opposite to how we generally conduct ourselves in India. We jump red lights quite often, we park wherever we like, we wear seat-belts or helmets only to avoid paying fines, etc., etc.

What is the average Indian’s attitude to the law in India?
1. Laws are made for others, not for me.
2. If it’s possible to break a law without being caught, break it.
3. If, by chance, I’m caught, I can (and should) get away by throwing my weight at the law enforcer, or by bribing him/her.
4. If the law enforcer is foolish enough to ignore my ‘weight’ or my bribe, resulting in a legal issue, engage a good lawyer to represent me.
5. If possible, proclaim that there’s a conspiracy and that I’m being discriminated against because of my gender, religion, caste, language, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, whatever. If this is supported by sufficient people, there are good chances that action against me will be dropped.
6. Try to get protection on medical grounds, or by claiming some kind of ‘immunity’ or by getting somebody else to take the rap.

Whether it’s Asaram Bapu, Tarun Tejpal, Devyani Khobragade or anybody else, the sequence of events follows almost the same pattern. Despite all the hue and cry, the US State Department has stated that the charges against Devyani Khobragade will not be dropped. (Details are available in this Firstpost article.) Does this not mean that there is sufficient reason to believe that she has violated US laws? Is this acceptable because “Everybody does it”?

When will we learn to accept that laws are made to be followed, and that law-breakers will be punished according to the law of the land?