Part 4

Criminals Due to Poverty

by PR Sarkar Icon

Most crimes throughout the world are committed due to poverty, except in countries where the minimum necessities of life have been met.

Of course the tendency to engage in antisocial activities because of poverty does not manifest equally in all places or among all people.

The degree of such crimes varies according to the moral strength of an individual. But no matter how strongly developed the moral consciousness of a person, if poverty threatens his or her very existence, usually the person will try to attack the prevailing social structure.

This being the case, I cannot in the name of human dharma reject the reasons such people give, if they give any reasons at all, in defence of their actions. They demand simply the right to live, and on this human right stands the well-being of society, the justification for its existence.

Throughout history millions of people have died due to artificial famines created by other human beings. While walking along a road, weary, plodding legs have given way and a person has collapsed in a pitiful heap on the ground, yet he or she has refrained from stealing.

Although a high standard of morality is one reason why the person did not make a last desperate bid for self-preservation, it is not the only reason.

Starving people, particularly if they lose their vitality by slow degrees, do not have the moral courage to fight. Knowing the end is sure, they seek refuge in the arms of death.

Basing their way of life on incorrect philosophical and religious teachings, they accept their miserable situation as destiny.

Perhaps, at that time, if they were led by a spirited leader and inspired by his or her fiery lectures, or if they received guidance about the course of action to take, they would collectively attack the prevailing social structure.

In such circumstances, their actions might perhaps be described as immoral, but they certainly would not contravene the dharma of human existence.

Sometimes honest people, who hate corruption from the depths of their being but fail to keep their mental balance due to the pressure of poverty, resort to crime just to maintain their existence.

What will happen in such circumstances if the judge looks only at the crime, or is even slightly indifferent to the questions of cause and effect related to the crime?

Such offenders – who may be more honest than most well-fed, well-dressed, so-called honest people – will be thrown into jail and branded as criminals merely because of deficiencies in the system of production and distribution of basic requirements.

Due to the bad company there, and overcome with shame, hatred and humiliation due to their punishment, they will gradually turn into habitual criminals after being released from jail.

In areas hit by famine many crimes are committed due to poverty, but as soon as the economy improves the number of crimes decreases. This proves that most of the people in whatever country are not by nature criminals, nor for that matter is the human race in general. People want to be properly clothed and fed and to pass their days happily.

They do not want to have the path of their natural development stop at an impenetrable iron door constructed by narrow-minded social-law-givers.

Those who ignore their conscience and repeatedly commit crimes due to poverty, eventually turn into habitual criminals. If somebody steals or robs out of hunger, or is goaded by their propensities into some mean act, it will be the duty of society to find out what the person’s needs are and then remove them in some lawful way.

But if society fails to do its duty (I have already said that human beings have not yet been able to create a society in the true sense of the term) and punishes such criminals instead, focusing only on the magnitude of their crimes, all feelings of remorse will vanish from their minds and in their place a sense of desperation will arise.

They will feel that since they have already been stigmatized and have nothing further to lose, there is no point in suffering by earning a living in an honest way.

They will think, “As I am sinking, let me sink to the depths of hell.” Those who have committed crimes due to poverty (whether due to lack of food or clothing, or physical or mental factors), will blame society for their offences. They will claim that their poverty is the result of a defective social structure, and in most cases this allegation will be true.

If the breadwinner of a family dies a premature death, a dark shadow of poverty will often fall over the family, and it may disintegrate. Its sweetness and purity will be destroyed due to poverty. The young boys and girls will become beggars, increasing the number of parasites in society, or they will become the playthings of antisocial forces, eventually turning into thieves, armed robbers, thugs, pickpockets or agents of some professional beggars’ association. They will become slaves in order to survive. Young widows from communities which follow a double standard of morality will also be compelled or tempted by various forces to lead antisocial lives.

Hence the solution to all these different antisocial activities is hidden in the creation of a sound economic and social structure. The man who is despised as a thief or treated with contempt by society might have been a genius if he had been brought up in a healthy social environment.

The woman who is shunned as a prostitute might have been respected as the leader of a women’s organization or honoured as the mother of a famous person, had she received a little sympathy from society in the early part of her life. That is why I contend that those unfortunate men and women carry a burden of sin created through the collective efforts of society as a whole.

They are not responsible for their sins, or if they are, their sins are considerably less, or at least no greater, than the sins of selfish, mean-minded people who call themselves honest.

It is doubtful whether the Supreme Creator, let alone humanity, has the right to punish those who commit crimes due to poverty. Still, from the moral standpoint, I cannot support criminal acts. I would suggest that before committing such crimes they should become revolutionaries. It is the duty of those with a good knowledge of morality to guide them in their revolutionary activities. Let them separate the gold from the dross in the fire of revolution.

On the subject of corrective measures for those who become criminals due to poverty, honest people have no alternative but to exhort them to launch a revolution. In this situation the position of a judge is like that of a figurehead; he or she has nothing to say or do.

Psychologists and sociologists also have very limited scope for action; the pathways that lie open to them are very circumscribed. The solution completely depends on the firm economic foundation of the different individual countries as well as of the entire world.

If anyone is at fault it is every one of the world leaders. Their responsibilities do not end when they gain power by creating false hopes and deceiving the common people with remote and unattainable dreams.

People can score points in intellectual battles by hiding their inefficiency behind grandiloquent speeches, but if they do, the demands of the proletariat, who struggle for existence like animals, will not be heard.

They will never be able to forget their hunger and ignore their psychic longings and simultaneously dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to the enormous task of developing their country and building a universal human society in a better way.

Those whose stomachs are full can always forget about the hunger of others. The world has become accustomed to, but has experienced quite enough of, the procrastination and heartless histrionics of such blood-sucking brutes.

By inventing crises, they force the needy to commit crimes; by hoarding grains, they cause artificial famines and indirectly incite starving people to steal; and by making people’s circumstances difficult and subsequently enticing them with money, they encourage men to abandon their families and compel women to earn their living in an immoral way. Because they remain above suspicion and appear to be honest according to the laws of the land, which in many countries are enacted for the benefit of the upper stratum of society, ordinary people are unable to raise their voices in protest.

It can be said that the only path open to them is the path of revolution. People look among the leaders of their country for someone to take up the noble task of protecting ordinary, simple people like themselves from the exploitation of blood-sucking brutes. Those who transform ordinary people into beasts by forcing them to live in extremely difficult circumstances are, in my opinion, the ones who should be put on trial. To burden judges with the trials of those who become criminals due to poverty, is to do an injustice to them.

However, it is fallacious to think that the economic structure is the sole cause of crimes committed due to poverty. There are many instances of affluent people also indulging in drink, drugs, gambling, licentiousness, luxurious living, gluttony, etc., in order to forget their psychic problems or to gratify their instincts. Due to their addiction, they lose their wealth and finally get into debt to finance their bad habits.

Eventually, when it becomes impossible for them to pay off their debts, they get involved in a wide variety of criminal activities.

Privation is clearly the superficial cause of such crimes. But society is not responsible for this type of privation as it is entirely self-created.

It is imperative to take corrective measures to reform such types of criminal. In order to be able to reform them, it is essential to cure them of their addiction.

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