Is stealing really a crime?….. by Pritish Nandy

Last week a 26 year old unemployed man, Sandeep Tatkare was caught by residents of Nallasopara, a Mumbai suburb, supposedly trying to escape after stealing a cell phone. It was 5 in the morning and bitterly cold. But it didn’t take more than two minutes for a flash mob to gather and catch Tatkare and deliver him the justice they thought he deserved. They tied his hands behind his back, beat him, kicked him, hit him with iron rods and left him almost dead. A few neighbours, seeing what was happening, called the cops, barely 5 minutes away. They arrived four hours later, only to file a case of theft against the half dead Tatkare. Was a case of attempted murder filed against those who almost killed him? No. The mob had melted.

Ten weeks earlier, an 18 year old boy, Sukhi Rehman Shaikh was brutally lynched in Dongri by a crowd that mistook him for a robber. He died almost instantly. A resident of Puna Estate slums in Danabunder, Shaikh was going to a grocery shop at 6 in the morning when he, too, was accused by a group of men of stealing a cell phone. So an alarm was raised. A flash mob instantly collected and quick justice was meted out to the young boy without anyone even questioning him and trying to find out if indeed he had stolen the phone. The police, again, turned up long after the frenzy had died down. They are still looking for those who lynched Shaikh.

What is it that makes perfectly normal people who have just about woken up in the morning suddenly get together and kill a person suspected of having committed a minor theft? They could simply recover the stolen property from him and give it back to the person it belongs to and then hand him over to the police. In both cases, they did neither. The mob dealt out merciless justice on the streets, in full public view. One victim died on the spot. The other’s teetering between life and death. The police intervened in neither case. And, till now, no one has been caught and punished.

So can we assume from these two incidents (and hundreds more that take place on the streets of India every day) that we, as a society, hate thieves? Rapists, murderers, bride burners are not lynched. Khap bosses are not lynched for ruthlessly killing their own kin when they marry without their consent. In fact they are lionised. So there must be something seriously wrong about stealing that it brings out the worst in us. Or is it only about stealing cell phones? Because we have seen some spectacular thefts in recent times and those who were caught got away so lightly that I, for one, thought that stealing in India was not a cognizable offence. There are many examples but the ones that instantly come to mind are the 2G scam where Rs 170,000 crore was stolen, the CWG scam where Rs 70,000 crore was stolen, and the Adarsh Housing Society scam where an entire building meant for war widows was stolen. We all know who the thieves are. They have been clearly identified, named. The proof against them is there for all to see.

Yet what happened to them? Nothing. Yes, they were removed from their jobs. But no one went after them and got the stolen money back. No one punished them. In fact, they are all strutting around, free men. So are hundreds of other politicians caught in the past for stealing. Remember Laloo Prasad? Remember Sukh Ram and the vast sums he purloined? Remember the BJP president caught taking money on camera? What happened to them? They were temporarily shunted out of their jobs and then, in most cases, sneaked back into office when no one was looking. If you look at our public life, theft is the most easily forgotten crime. Out of the 21 bureaucrats named in the Adarsh Housing Society scam, only two have lost their jobs. The rest are firmly ensconced in office and I am ready to bet will get away with it.

Only the poor in India are punished for theft. And the punishment they get is swift and brutal. Where do all these brave men in the flash crowds go when our netas and babus are caught stealing lakhs of crores? Why does the media go silent after a while? Do we all cower before the brute might of a political system that robs us every day and show our anger only towards those who can’t defend themselves? They are killed on mere suspicion while the powerful go scot free even when there’s clinching evidence of their culpability. Does politics provide immunity to these thieves while the ordinary citizen bears the brunt of our righteous anger? Are we such lily-livered cowards that we punish only the weak and allow the big time thieves to enjoy their loot?


78 Responses to “Is stealing really a crime?….. by Pritish Nandy”

  1. Sharmila,

    I think it is the burning angst, impotent anger and a feeling of helplessness that has been inflicted on the public psyche because of the rampant loot being carried out by our elected leaders and the powerful, which finds an outlet in such mob incidents.

  2. Mr. Nandy,

    I’ll never know if you read responses to your posts on Sharmila’s blog. But I’ll assume you do.

    1. The way you have presented the first two episodes, they don’t sound like the normal mob lynching that we see on local trains in Mumbai. There seems to be a pattern rather than an ad hoc instant reaction. Nonetheless, you know better since you quoted them.

    2. Are you making a case for the equal application of the law among all sections in the society or are you suggesting mob lynching of Raja, Kalmadi & Co? Its not clear. I would expect both from you. You have a touch of the rebel in you but you are also a Rajya Sabha member.

    3. The Indian Penal and Civil codes are not recognized inside my house. It begins and ends outside the fence.

    4. Theft and corruption are not the same thing. Corruption is a natural fall-out of the interventionist governance enabled by the constitution. Theft is something to do with poverty.

    Check out the political jargon and vocabulary used in the Congress Party:

    a. “High Command”

    b. “Rewarding” elected members with portfolios.

    c. “Rule”

    d. Each member is a “Worker of the Party” (not the people)

    e. Congress Party leaders “Cooperate” with the Law

    f. “Minority” Vs “Hindu”

    g. “Governing the nation” as opposed to serving the people

    h. “Deal with Terror” as opposed to fighting terror.

    And so on…

    The Congress party has changed the dialect.

    Corruption is the second child of the power that the Congress was handed over by the British. The first was a still-born called Independence.

  3. Fantastic piece of writing from Mr.Nandy…..I think of sharing it even on my blog…….once again a brilliant perception expressed verbally by him.

    • Salman – How have you been? Long time!

      • Ya di… had really been long.I am damn busy in studies.Two bachelor courses at a time….do not let me surf much.I left reading both the blogs yours and Mr.Bachchans.In fact,I had to. And believe me,I am equally sad about not being able to read from BOTH of you 😦 .Anyways,congrats for getting this wonderful blog associated with Indiatimes.May it prosper even more πŸ™‚

    • thank you my friend..

  4. Mr Nandy should also have touched on “mob mentality”. I am no psychologist but i am sure that’s a interesting field of study and which played a important role in those incidents.

    After all if 50 people gather and kick once, the person probably would die.

  5. Sharmila, MonaLisa, Aishwarya, and all EF,

    Opened a Twitter account on the insistence of the publicist.

  6. Is it that that ppl of India are so fed up of scams and all..but unable to do anything about it …so letting their frustration on whosoever is within their reach…!? Ineffective judiciary system and corrupt & inefficient police dept..both seems equally responsible too…for such anger…
    I personally do not support or agreeing with the ways of mobs to rule and punish anyone on spot like this…everyone is innocent till proven guilty.. everyone has and should have equal right to defend shall be given the chance to prove their innocence..
    Even though the item of theft found in his possession doesn’t give mob and right to beat,abuse,punish or kill him…
    India is a scary place to live….if one is not in possession of money and power..

    • 1. I feel, this is also an issue of gun control. Those who keep arms are safe. I always carry a legal one when I am in India. These are not the days of the Gupta – Maurya dynasty – this is the Sonia dynasty.

      2. Mob violence and mafia traps are similar in Mumbai. No one can tell the difference. A person is stalked and unknown faces attack from no-where. The targets usually avoid public sightings if they have the means.

      The neo-rich and speculators who are trying to get up the fortune ladder are not prepared and rarely know how to deal with extortionists. Specially those who work hand-in-glove with the police and politicians.

      • I am glad if there is something like gun control prevails in India…or else…in few years India’s population would have been half in numbers…
        I wonder how mobsters and mafia could be alike…!? There must be some difference in their working patterns…
        Whatever it may be…it is a scary world out there…more so…when law enforcement section is too weak…or part of it..
        There are many grey areas…more than one can handle..without losing one’s sanity…
        In India its hard to decide who is who….!
        A mobster can be a politician…or a politician is a mobster…! So does apply to police and bureaucrats…industrialists…builders and so on….list is very long…If I may say…

      • You cannot tell the difference in the crowd. Very innovative chaps.

        Did you mean there should be dress code, like Corleone grey suits for Sonio’s mafioso and traditional Indian for the mobs?

        Very difficult to make the rule… the mob will not agree! πŸ™‚

    • India is unsafe, it is most surely getting worse and if the mentality of the people does not change, there will be infinite damage to society.

      • You are right.

        But radical changes may not occur unless there are large scale civil riots.

        While transitional change will have to be driven from the top.

        Both come at enormous costs.

        Sacrifices, as an idea, are not sold easily unless they are done in the name of God.

      • Correction:

        I mean Sacrifices, as an idea, are not sold easily, except when they are done in the name of God.

  7. Sorry to say…but I wonder..Mr.Nandy and some other fall into the category of Top most writers…if I heard it correctly…
    where as …Lately…whatever articles are out here on blog… I see not much stuff to ponder upon in his/their articles..
    What is the point in writting the same stuff a school boy can offer…!? Is old school…still a school…!?I wonder…

  8. Sharmila,
    I know you are his fan…and I am sorry our likes differ…so..As I mentioned I found Mr.Nandy’s write up not so very appealing…By others…I meant.. on other blogs like some Shobh Dey and whosoever..I even forgot the names…
    I am just hanging around on this blog only because of you and Reader…if you guys stop writting and posting your articles…it would be Pritish Nandy Blog…and then definitely it would be hard for me to stop by twice a day on this blog…
    Then probably I might read it once a week..and that would be all…

  9. Aaawww…! Where did my post go..!?

  10. Wouldn’t that be nice..Reader..
    If a dress code has been introduced to the mobsters and mafias…like school uniform..!? πŸ™‚
    It would have been easier for ppl to find hideouts as soon as they see those particular uniformers from the distance…lol
    Rules can be made…if and whatever the governance want to…to break it inborn right of civilians…at least in India.. πŸ™‚
    ps. They can assign particular arms to different mob & mafia police…lol

    • MonaLisa,

      I look at rule-breaking from my own perspective.

      I don’t break rules. Only, I don’t accept those that I don’t agree with. Its not the same thing if you notice carefully.

      As I said in my reply to Mr. Nandy, Indian constitution and the laws do not apply inside my house. I have my own constitution and rules in my house.

      The Indian laws apply outside the fence. Those laws once tried to sneak into my house, personified as my wife and her father.

      I escorted them politely out of the house and locked the gates and doors after they had left.

      Unlike the mafia, mobs don’t deal and mobs don’t have strategies and game plans.

      Our politicians are excellent in handling mobs. They design tasks that only a mob can execute to precision.

      • Reader…
        Every household has its own are not an exception to have that…
        Constitutional laws arw applied mostly outside the house matters only until your own home/house(private) matter becomes a public matter..

      • MonaLisa,

        I can give you a million examples where the constitution and law invades my privacy in my house. Marriage is just one of the politico-religious intervention which the spouse brings home.

        There are many others.

        The important points are:

        1. A constitution or law that is not just for an individual or it is invasive or repressive cannot be good for the society.

        2. A constitution or law that is recognized by the individual is foreign rule.

      • Correction:

        2. A constitution or law that is not recognized by an individual is foreign rule.

  11. Aishwarya Says:

    Herd mentality is peculiar.
    In prep, my then 2-year-old told me that no one plays with Sharon in her group. I asked her but why she didnt want to play with her and pat came her reply, “Because no one else is playing with her!”
    Go to a textile showroom and feel the texture of a saree and in no time you will have 10 more women making a grab for it out of nowhere!
    Its like no one has a mind of their own.
    I am sure if there’s someone gutsy enough to kick Kalmadi and Raja et al, there’ll be a whole crowd emerge out of nowhere to do the same.
    But what every Indian knows and fears is that our law works only in favor of the rich, powerful, and the mighty.
    I saw ‘Dhobi Ghat’ and liked the movie. Its ‘real’. Not that I enjoy the harsh reality (!)…but I liked the sincere, no frills, no gloss, and no fluff portrayal of metro life. There’s a scene where Prateik’s friend is mysteriously killed and no one files a case because they know the law does not favor the poor.
    What will stay with me for a long time is the innocent face of Yasmin Noor. Is this what metro life does to our culture? Trampling and squashing it, so much so that its finally found by a stranger in some dark dusty place as a forgotten neglected memoir…

    • I didn’t like dhobi ghat – at least not the unedited version I saw.

      Probably because I didn’t notice the Mumbai city. I know it like the back of my hand. Sort of, been there done that. I was seeing the theme and the storyline. Like, what side of Mumbai is being shown.

      There was a bed scene every 10 minutes in the adult version. That guy Prateik is shown less as a dhobi and more as a kept-man where-ever he delivers the clothes.

      The American NRI beds Aamir and then Pratiek for kicks! The scenes were un-necessarily erotic.

      She also has a steady man-escort who is also on drugs.

      The muslim girl is gagged and used like a sex object by her own husband.

      The movie, as I said, is sure to sell outside Mumbai, specially overseas market, where people are attracted by the mystic of Mumbai. It is the next level of Slumdog Millionaire.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        I must have seen the edited version then…clean.

        It seemed as though the youth in metros live alone. Their lives revolve around their work and…partying with friends. What city life takes away is perhaps the strong family bonds and togetherness that was once synonymous with our culture.

        What I also felt strange is that artists are in a sense…voyeuristic. They bring on to canvas/paper/camera their impression of this world, by peering or observing other lives from a secret vantage point, so to say. Like Aamir being photographed by Shai from an adjacent building while he is watching a clip of a girl he doesnt know!

      • You hit the nail on the head. I was not finding the words.


        The characters of Aamir, the man-escort, the lead lady, even the idea of someone recording her life on the handy-cam etc…

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Its kinda creepy in that sense…

      • This time its not only me. Mant of our movie club guys thought the same.

        We were discussing Aamir Khan’s choice of themes from Sarfarosh, 3 Idiots, Peepli Live to Dhobi Ghat.

        There is a pattern involved.

        The movies are not nihilistic or lawless or anarchic like Dabbang or Rakhtha-Charitra or Sarkar.

        But there is a tone of cynical narcissism in the themes.

        Sarfarosh showed the network and routes of drugs and arms from Pakistan to Rajasthan to Mumbai and further down south. But for some strange reason the main villain’s character played by Naseeruddin Shah was shown in a sympathetic light.

        3 Idiots with an excellent theme about education-for-life choked off at the end with copyrights and billion dollar contracts for the protagonist.

        Peepli Live was a good runaway spoof on the politics of poverty, with media playing the clowns. It ended by allowing the protagonist to escape from the scene to the city. No justice for anyone!

        And now with Dhobi Ghat, he has once again given a reality show that doesn’t say anything at the end. No message, no problems, no solutions, no nothing. Every viewer is left to find their own issues and deliverables.

        Don’t get me wrong. Aamir is definitely on the right track. He reminds me of the Govind Nihalini, Mrinal Sen and Gulzar of yester years.

        But he is not the class of Girish Karnad or R.K. Narayan, yet. Aamir is too dark and insensitive by their standards!

        Perhaps it is unfair to make such comparisons.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Now that you mention it, there does seem to be a pattern. And I dont think its unfair to make comparisons. Once a product is out in the market, every aspect is open to analysis, appreciation, and criticism.

        What is interesting is that Aamir Khan must be doing it right because all these movies did well! He seems to know the needs, interests and psyche of the audience more than the audience themselves!

        Is there a kind of dichotomy in the endings? For example, in
        3 Idiots, there’s a school at Leh for the charity oriented and money for the protagonist for the business-minded! Something for everyone – buffet style! Manipulative. Clever.

        Dont know what that makes the viewers…

      • Aishwarya,

        There are two ways at looking at it:

        1. He has compromised the themes at the ends to cater for commerce. Or

        2. The proposed change has a trigger that can never be allowed by the censor boards.

        The first is not possible. There are intelligent people in every project who assess the concepts. And if you notice carefully, the end is part of the theme too though, I feel, cynically narcissistic.

        For instance, Sarfarosh ends with the statement on the injustice of partition because Moghuls ruled the nation before the Brits.

        3 Idiots ends with billion dollars for a technically ‘unquaified’ person.

        Peepli Live ends with the protagonist abandoning his wife and kids and running away to the city.

        Dhobi Ghat ends with ‘All are losers’ or ‘All are winners’ depending on the viewer’s perspective.

        I call this cynical and narcissistic.

        Its not a golden rule that all artists are narcissistic, egotistic or selfish.

        Girish Karnad, Bimal Roy, N. N. Sippy, R. K. Narayan, Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, etc were not narcissistic. They were certainly great artists.

        Ofcourse there are narcissistic types too like Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and Guru Dutt. They were also great artists but more renowned for their dark side – lacking pride and grouchos.

        Earlier, the second category was called parallel cinema.

        Aamir has done well to bring them into mainstream commercial. although he makes them on shoe-string budgets, if you notice – all inland outdoors and no fancy locations!

        He is sound on his concepts. No two ways about that. But, I feel, he can choose more positive ideals.

      • Aishwarya Says:


        Perhaps there is poetic justice in the endings for a certain section of the audience…

        I didnt quite understand how we apply the term narcissistic to differentiate parallel cinema directors from those of main stream.

        I seem to have lost my appreciative mood for movies… 😦

      • Imagine real life characters just as shown in those movies – a character from say pather pancholi or even Dhobi ghat.

        If someone like Shai or Prateik or Yasmin are watching the movie, do they get poetic justice at the end? All are shown as losers. They’ll come out crying over their fate. Thats what I call cynical and narcissistic.

        Narcissism in parallel cinema, in the earlier days, was like Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool as opposed to say Hrishikesh Mukerjee’s Abhimaan. The former took celebrities to a new egotistic low and the latter solved the issue with love and harmony.

        Commercial cinema, in those days, was like Manmohan Desai’s films – any film… all magical justice and fun!

        I wonder who coined the term ‘parallel cinema’… must have been one of the film magazines.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Poetic justice for say an ‘unqualified’ person watching 3 Idiots or a husband watching Peepli Live! It would seem to them like… Aha! There IS a way out after all! πŸ™‚

        Glad you mentioned Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Manmohan Desai movies…restored my mood…!

        You are right. It would be great if Aamir could choose more positive ideals for this so-called offbeat cinema.

        Parallel cinema is a quaint term. Must have been coined by someone like Rachel in ‘Friends’ who impromptu comes up with the term ‘apartment pant’s for a perfectly ordinary pair of black slacks!


  12. This is for Aishwarya:

    Three examples:

    1. Gulzar – sinking, sinking, sinking gone!

  13. 2. From an AB film – upbeat, neither dark nor glam

  14. 3. Haadsa – commercial, all glam..

    • Aishwarya Says:

      Thank you. All of them in Mumbai – 3 styles of presentation – lovely!

      Songwise I prefer the first. Picturization, the second.

  15. All three were for you.

    I like this one: πŸ˜›

  16. Aishwarya Says:

    This is for you. πŸ˜› πŸ™‚

    • I am scared of you. You know too much about my likes and dislikes.

      I like Sonali Bendre, no matter what stupid things she does on screen! I forgive her everything!!!

      Here is one of my favorites of Sonali Bendre. And now lets change the subject before Sharmila throws us out… πŸ™‚

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Your favorite Sonali Bendre song is Ek ladki thi…but posting it here will confirm my kickout…

        You are scared of me? This is the first time someone said that to me…

      • Let go. Sonali Bendre is now happily retired from films and doing TV ads, selling stuff that I don’t buy – diapers and insurance policies…


      • You are wrong about Ek ladki thi… She caught my attention in her very first appearance on the screen… it was an item number.. wait…

        It was an AR Rahman – Remo Fernandez number in the movie called ‘Bombay’… It had a goan beat… can’t remember the title of the song… there was very llttle dance or anything.. she just moved around like a model on a ramp… hang on.. I’ll check on the tube…

        Got it… can’t post here.. choreography is too hot… but I had liked her from that very song… she was cool and carried herself with ease… like the typical marathi girl next door… no fancy airs… and a smile that could break weak hearts…

        The song is ek ho gaye hum aur tum… from ‘Bombay’

      • Embedding disabled… I don’t think there is anything objectionable in that… oh well… no problem.. its just a song…

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Both AR Rahman songs…good choice.

  17. Aishwarya,

    This movie ‘Bombay’ has an exciting memory for me other than discovering Sonali Bendre.

    I was landing in Mumbai for vacation on a Friday. The movie was releasing that day. Sister said she had already got tickets for the first show at 1500 hrs but there was none for me. I asked them to go ahead without me.

    The movie was releasing in a hall called Rahul in Pune – 70 MM panoramic screen – the biggest silver screen in Pune those days.

    There was a lot of expectation too.

    Firstly, it was a movie based on the Mumbai riots of ’93. The killings outside the bus-station at Dadar were still fresh in our minds.

    Then it was a Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman film. AR Rahman had already surprised everyone with his scores in Roza.

    And top it all it was an ABCL film… No other reason was required for die-hard fans like me!

    I booked a full cab from Mumbai to Pune. My house was only a KM off the highway, unloaded my luggage at home and took the same taxi to the city, picking up someone special on the way. Paid twice the normal tariff!

    The gates were closed by the time we reached. We had lunch in the restaurant on the next floor and searched for the usual black sellers.

    Got two tickets for 500% premium each!

    Went inside the hall just as the ads and the Films Division documentary were over.

    After a brief pause, the large wide screen was filled with the black and white Censor Board Certificate of the film… Title: ‘Bombay’… so many reels… so many meters… owners names etc..

    There was absolute silence in the hall. Dead still. All eyes were rivetted to the screen as the certificate faded out and it went pitch black.

    And then, in bold white capital letters, the opening line appeared from the left bottom of the screen, one letter at a time, in complete silence…


    Next moment… the hall was filled with deafening noise.. whistles, screams, claps, yells…


    The rest is history.

    The movie was a super-duper hit even before the first frame hit the screen!!!

    • Aishwarya Says:

      Wow! Thats quite an experience!

      The name ‘Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd’ sounds better than ABCL…

      Its amazing how we have been discussing so many things, all revolving around Mumbai!

      • Its what old people like me do in the afternoons… I am idling in my office… πŸ™‚

        Closing time in fifteen minutes…

      • Aishwarya Says:

        πŸ™‚ Its what most do, especially with the holiday mood here… public holiday tomorrow…

      • Have you noticed, every so many years from Devanands CID to Hadsaa and now the dhobi, someone gets bitten by the Bombay bug.

        Its a dream destination for millions of cuckoos with star-dust in their eyes. It hoists some and crushes some.

        But its the most lassez faire city in India. Anything and everything works for money.

        I have a friend called Sukumaran in Thane who makes about 2-3000 Rs every day between 0930 and 1130 and goes home for the day. He laughs at me for going off to the ME.

        One of his many methods is this. There is a Kotak Mahindra online trading outlet near his colony. The rule is that all transactions of sale and buy of shares must be completed between opening and closing time on the same day.

        He makes a list of scrips that are going down and another one for up.

        Opens his DMat with a sell on a downgoing scrip at the higher price. Like say, sells A at 100 at 0930. Its recorded against his account as sell at 100, outstanding.

        Waits for two hours till it is down to 98 or 97 and buys it at the lower price to top-up his account. Pockets a cool 2-3 per share for nothing. The credit is free between opening and closing. He calls it the HM Model. HM for Harshad Mehta.

        Bombay is the only city in India with a lassez faire capitalist model for day-to-day living… nothing happens in the future for the common man.. there is no future.. everything is now, here, done and over…

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Your friend’s working hours has helped shake off my notion that Mumbaiites are always in a hurry, working multiple shifts/jobs, or travelling to and fro between office and home.

        I have been there on only short visits or in transit, too fast paced for me…

        Do you ever feel you should have stayed back?

      • No. I suffocate in crowds.

        Mumbai is so populated one feels as if everyone is on the road.

  18. Have you changed the blog settings? Where is the log inbox?

  19. Mahindra cars…

    […]Is stealing really a crime?….. by Pritish Nandy « Sharmila says…[…]…

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