Dr Panchanan Dalai
midst the recurrent menaces of crimes in the cathedral city Bhubaneswar, there is an exigency of grasping such crime cultures; and this is so as much for the city-dwellers as for the custodians of the law and order. I am no barrister to magistrate upon crimes and criminology, but as a litterateur, I believe, I too have a role to play, at least in the comprehension of recent criminal cultures. Remember, had it not been for the 18th century English novelist Henry Fielding, the birth of policing in England would not have been possible. And, Fielding was proposing for policing system in a time when English city-streets were infested with road-robbers; so much so, even the powerful gentry were unable to commute to theatre places. Read, for example, the report of an 18th century English essayist, “My friend asked me, in the next place, if there would not be in some danger in coming home late (from play houses), in case the Mohocks (criminals) should be abroad.” I think this has been the situation in our cities too, which needs immediate thoughts and remedies, before such evils replace justice and moral goodness.
Insurgence of crimes in Bhubaneswar is a cultural shock for me. It is antithetical to the history and spirit of the city and to its simple and peace loving people. It is honesty that has propelled Odisha to national and international repute, irrespective of regular bouts of natural calamities it confronts. Our honesty cuts across professions and performances. I have witnessed even the most diplomatic Odia politician addressing public in the most congenial way; similarly, I have seen formidable police officers trying nobly to educate commoners about implications of crimes and law. These are the police officers who should be lauded for trying to debunk the dreaded colonial style of policing and, at the same time, initiate ‘Police Education’. Some of their pandemic policing innovations are unprecedented in Indian policing system. It is imperative that we also need ‘Police Education’, as much as we need medical education, disaster education, or even computer education in the schools. I think curbing crimes is a police-public partnership as much as a city is a partnership of people and geography; and for this policing partnership, we need to educate and sensitise our people to thwart any kind of crime culture foreign to our state, let’s say, the recent gun culture in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. Remember, there is a great affinity between ‘Gun’ and ‘Gone’ cultures, irrespective of their spelling differences! Should we therefore not be reminded of the proverbs- ‘to nip in the bud’, or “a stitch in time saves nine”?
A city is not just a territory or conglomeration of crowd; rather a best city is also a living entity, which embodies qualities of humans. Aristotle, therefore, defines a best city thus – “the best city is happy and acts nobly. It is impossible to act nobly without acting [to achieve] noble things…. The courage, justice, and prudence of a city have the same power and form as those human beings share in individually who are called just, prudent, and sound. “The urban ethnographers would definitely agree with this humanised definition of a city, which is not just a concrete jungle out there to be defended with muscle and machineries only. The stories of Athens, Sparta, Rome, Constantinople, Indus valleys, etc. reflect the importance of syncretism between human civilization and human habitations. A city has a soul, and that has to be kept unaffected from all sorts of human evils.
However, city-crime is not something new. Crimes dominated even during the most enlightened and civilized eras. For example, during the Renaissance time of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth-I, Britain had to fight with increasing crimes, despite the presence of an impressive legal system in England. Consider also Shakespearean and Jacobean revenge tragedies, which dramatised English criminal mentalities. The famous speech – “To be, or not to be” – is not only an example of Hamlet’s cognitive indecisiveness, but also his criminal anxiety of murdering his own uncle. Similarly, sulphur, slaughter, sword, arrow, poison, scandals, conspiracies, thieving, spying, trespassing, etc. were the most conspicuous means of crimes, as we have our own kinds – plundering, assault, adultery, murder, counterfeiting, smuggling, lynching, chain snatching, pestilential gangs, not to mention of crime’s digital manifestations in our times!
What, therefore, worries us is crime’s modern incarnations, its evolving criminal engineering, its cultural meanings and repercussions. I am sure all the schoolmen of classical times would have failed to fathom these newer species of crimes. These are certainly great and grave matters of concern, not only for the custodians of law but also for civil society in general. Henry Fielding held the lower classes and rural rustics as potential perpetrators of crimes during the 18th century England. It is a pity that now the cities have to fight with crimes involving both the educated and illiterates. It is true that ours is a new urban space and crime is our epicurean epic! But it is also true that we need to deconstruct and rewrite this urban epic to turn the concrete jungle into a convivium, a space for ‘living together’. The absence of this would definitely yield what Homer imagined – “All ills that come to men whose city falls; the people are laid waste, the streets afire, and strangers drag the children all away…”
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Banaras Hindu University. The views expressed are personal.