Morality as crime buster

Excerpts from the speech delivered by U Mapa, former Public Trustee at the 18th AGM of The Asia Crime Prevention Foundation Sri Lanka section.

I am thankful to the Executive Committee of the Asia Crime Prevention Foundation for inviting me to deliver a talk this evening. Having heard the impressive list of speakers who had addressed this forum in the past, I accepted the invitation with some trepidation when Mr. Senanayake conveyed to me, that I have been selected to speak. But, I truly feel honoured to be addressing you today at your AGM. I consider it a privilege.

Needless to say that ‘law and order’ are integral parts of civilized society. Therefore it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that an effective criminal justice system is maintained to preserve law and order. The system casts a heavy burden on the State to protect and safeguard the property and person of every citizen; in other words to prevent crime. To fulfil this responsibility the State has the machinery: to enact laws, to punish offenders, to rehabilitate them and to educate citizens about their rights and duties; and, rule of law plays a critical role in preventing crime.

The police and the armed forces should be conscious of their responsibility. The Constitution has provided for safeguarding every citizen from inhuman treatment by these State organs. The Supreme Court has made this requirement quite clear in a case decided under Article 126 of the Constitution, as follows:

Mr. Mapa addressing the 18th AGM of The Asia Crime Prevention Foundation Sri Lanka section

“The Police Force, being an organ of the State is enjoined by the Constitution to secure and advance this right and not to deny, abridge or restrict the same in any manner and under any circumstances. Just as much as this right is enjoyed by every member of the police force, so is he prohibited from denying the same to others, irrespective of their standing, their beliefs or antecedents”.

In the same judgment the Court observed:

“It is the duty of this Court to protect and defend this right jealously to its fullest measure with a view to ensuring that this right which is declared and intended to be fundamental is always kept fundamental and that the executive by its action does not reduce it to mere illusion.” (Sudath Silva Vs. Kodituwakku 1987-2 SLR page 126).

While full responsibility lies with the State organs to maintain law and order, individual citizens are also under a duty to assist the State to prevent crime. Therefore, setting up of crime prevention societies is a salutary feature. I was pleased to know this Foundation has conducted seminars on crime prevention and criminal justice, at national level. I understand you have been conducting especially designed educational programmes on crime prevention for schoolchildren.

Before we discuss what measures to be adopted to prevent crime, we need to know the magnitude of the problem. I say this because of a specific reason: about 30years ago, while I was functioning as an additional magistrate of Colombo, I attended a workshop on crime prevention organized by United Nations Asia and Far East Institute(UNAFI). We had not heard then about suicide bomb attacks; crimes that have plagued the world today. We had only heard of ‘battas’ (a hand made explosive device, using arrack bottle stoppers) occasionally thrown by a criminal, either injuring or killing the targeted person. But with ingenuity, the battas have now been transformed into hand grenades. The trend is: committing sophisticated and organized crime. In addition, we have acts of terrorism by fanatics.

This trend is increasing. According to Global statistics over the last few decades, crime has skyrocketed. The UN website on crime prevention says: “ the number of repeat offenders among former prisoners –over 50 per cent in many countries- remain discouragingly high.” This situation has arisen despite tough measures, such as deterrent punishments, being employed by many countries to prevent crime. Therefore the question arises: have crime prevention efforts been successful? The answer would be: not to the expected level.

The basic principle in solving a problem is: one must understand the root cause, that has caused the problem and then take corrective measures.

Now, what makes a person inclined towards criminal activities? Criminologists will analyze the underlying cause/s as: poverty, drug addiction, sudden provocation, inhibited sexual urge etc. One of the websites on ‘Crime Prevention’ gives the cause for crime as the ‘desire’. True, it is solely due to this mental factor that crime is committed; it does not arise, like lightning and thunder, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods etc without human intervention. But, does criminal desire arise without a cause? According to Buddhist Teaching the root cause for desire is the combination of greed, hatred and delusion.

Emperor Ashoka wanted to expand his empire; so he conquered many parts of India. And, so did Alexander the Great. Both of them were motivated by boundless greed. But later they realized the futility of their craving. Ashoka who was reputed as a ruthless dictator transformed himself as a pious ruler. He went on to say: ‘he who does reverence to his own religion while disparaging the religious beliefs of others wholly from attachment to his own religious belief, in reality, inflicts, by such conduct, the severest injury on his own sect.’

How do we proceed to convince those who have the propensity to commit crime; particularly those fanatics who are ready to die as suicide bombers, to give up violence? They will not listen to us and give up crime. They naively believe that they are on the correct path. This is why an innovative approach to prevent crime must be considered.

Answering a question by a student of St. Xavier’s University, Bombay, with reference to Gandhian principles President Barack Obama admitted, during his recent visit to India that he had not been able to practice those sacred principles; but he would endeavour to ‘see himself in the other’.

The Golden Rule which has come down to us from ancient times quoted from the Bible is: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. This basic tenet is accepted by all religions. Verse 34 of Cap 41 of the Qur’an says: “Repel (evil) with what is better” which means according to a commentary ‘foil hatred with love’.

I might also refer to Bagavad-gita. It stresses the need for spiritual upbringing of a person with particular reference to non violence.

Now we come to the obvious question: how to implement these proposals? One must begin early in one’s moral life. When morality is practised from young age it becomes a way of life- so natural. It is through practical training and education a person understands the distinction between right and wrong. I remember a foremost educationist of our country commenced a training programme for selected schoolchildren- such as school prefects- to practise loving kindness. He was able to execute this programme as he was then a member of the Governing Body of National Institute of Education. But unfortunately there was no state backing to it by making it a part of school curriculum. Yet, it proved to be a salutary project.

The realization that is needed is that resorting to crime would breed hatred and danger- threatening social order; and such compassionate feelings are generated from the practice of loving kindness and value education. I am not suggesting that less attention should be paid to punitive measures against those who commit crime. But this is what the UN website on Crime Prevention has to say:

“With crime stubbornly resisting so- called ‘punitive’ efforts to fight it, interest among legal experts has gradually shifted to innovative methods of preventing criminality, rather than punishing it.”

My perception is that deterrent punishment prevents crime to some extent. But it is extremely important for the application of Rule of Law. This Foundation, comprising men of experience in maintaining law and order, should vigorously pursue and ensure the operation of this cardinal principle. But my emphasis is: ‘prevention of crime through education’. The generally accepted objective of education today is to prepare the student for the workplace. This perception has to be readjusted so that the student is geared for peaceful and harmonious living with others in his society.

Last week, I read in the newspapers that world renowned jurist, our own countryman: Judge Weeramantry had emphasized the importance of ‘Peace Education’ as a way towards harmonious living.

Quoting this eminent jurist I venture to suggest that the innovative approach to crime prevention must be spiritual. It is incumbent upon every one of us to guide the younger generation to practise morality; and be a role model for them.

This Foundation should also pursuade the authorities to include ‘Crime Prevention’ in the school curriculum, so that a properly planned strategy could be implemented. The Religious Affairs Ministry would lend a helping hand to such a programme, for next year we would be commemorating the Buddha Jayanthi.

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