Crime and humanity
“Demonetisation: is keeping cash in hand a crime now? It’s becoming increasingly hard to tell.”* Such a headline calls attention to itself not only because of the fact of demonetisation and its after-effects, but because it also connects having cash with crime. The idea of holding one’s own earnings in cash certainly does not qualify as a criminal act. We can also with equal certainty say that some actions are unambiguously criminal, for instance thievery and murder. This project is aimed at clarifying the idea of crime and will hopefully provide a starting point for a meaningful discussion on crime at the middle and high school level. Teachers of various subjects need to work together on this, and ideally, two consecutive periods should be assigned for the project each day over a week, with some sort of an activity, say a play by the children at the end of it.
Day 1. Clarifying the notion of crime
This could be taken up in either the language classroom or the history classroom. Get your students to recall the story of Robin Hood. Or remember a film in which the leading actor engages in great violence. Notice how we are glad that Robin Hood robs the rich, and that the hero fights and sometimes even kills the villain and his henchmates? We feel this way because we believe that they are on the side of justice. They attempt to correct the wrongs in society, and we take the moral high ground with them, even though their actions are actually against the law, and any court of law would certainly see them as criminals!
Let’s look at another scenario: thousands of people were thrown into jail during the struggle for Indian independence. Tell the students about the lives and actions of three prominent personalities, for instance Mohandas Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, and Subhash Chandra Bose. Focusing on their actions, get your students to discuss what they were found guilty of, and whether these people could be called criminals. You could ask specific questions such as: Can passive resistance like Gandhi’s be called a crime? Is making bombs and throwing them at people a crime? Can raising an army to fight against the government be treated as a crime? Dividing the blackboard into two columns, note on one side the actions that the students believe can be considered as crimes and on the other, note those that cannot be so labelled. What kinds of crime exist?
Activity 1: List and explain words like abduction, arson, assault, battery, burglary, fraud, hacking, heist, hijack, homicide, smuggling, sexual assault, and so on. Using a dictionary, ask the children to find out the meanings of these words.
Get the children to understand that there is a difference in actions considered immoral and those considered illegal. Religious and cultural norms have a great role to play in such matters – in fact, it is in such norms that the seeds of identification of wrongdoing lie. Norms are beliefs or rules laid down to make life easier for the entire community, and they curtail the freedom of individuals in order to ensure that a society functions smoothly. Going against the norm is verboten, and this is where morality too comes into play – socially unacceptable actions may be labelled as ‘sin’.
But this was in the days when the words of the religious or the political head was taken as law. In contemporary times, there is a legal system in place in most countries of the world, and any action that violates the law in any way is illegal. Take for instance the wastage of food that might happen at a grand wedding – this could be viewed as immoral, but not illegal. On the other hand, utilising the electrical or water connections which the government provides without having it metered is not immoral, but it is illegal.
The author is a writer and researcher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.