(1) The research conducted by Charles Goring on three thousand criminals to establish a relationship between their respective occupations and frequency of committing crime has shown that poverty has no correlation with the frequency of convictions. He further suggested that relative economic prosperity is no ground to explain decline in crime rate.
He opined that offences such as arson, wilful damage to property and sex crimes were frequent among labour class, agriculturists, seamen and soldiers while persons with commercial occupations commit less of these crimes but more of the offences of acquisitive nature. Commenting on this point Cohen observed that honesty is not the monopoly of only the rich persons; many people lead an honest and upright life despite their extremely poor financial condition.
(2) Gabriel Tarde, the eminent French criminologist in his ‘Penal Philosophy’ also subscribes to the view that a large number of crimes occur not due to commercial or industrial progress but because of inequitable distribution of wealth and man’s lust for luxurious life. The acquisitive tendency in man often tempts him to commit illegal acts.
(3) Dr. Banger’s assertion that poverty is an essential condition of crime because a person is always prepared to do anything to get relief from his miserable economic condition, seems untenable in the light of the fact that even the wealthiest persons who are usually big industrialists, businessmen, financiers or monopolists often resort to dishonest means such as falsification of accounts, black-marketing, tax-evasion, hoarding, infringement of trademarks and copyright, etc., despite their huge earnings.
This obviously does not support Dr. Bonger’s theory of criminality founded on poverty—delinquency relationship. One can understand a poor man committing a theft to meet his bare necessities of life but why does an industrialist or monopolist evade tax or maintain a false account? This is a question which really has no satisfactory answer. It may, therefore, be concluded that Bonger’s theory of economic factor as a sole cause of criminality is not wholly correct. There are many other indirect factors which affect crimes differently.
The above observation can be further illustrated by the stock market scam at the behest of India’s biggest stock-broker Ketan Parikh in 2001 which involved irregularities and manipulations in the stock market in all their ramifications and transactions including insider trading relating to shares and other financial institutions.
The Government had to appoint a joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) in April 2001 consisting of thirty members including 20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha to probe into the role of banks, brokers or promoters or Stock Exchanges, financial institutions, corporate entities and regulatory authorities and fix responsibility of persons or institutions or authority in these illegal transactions. This amply demonstrates that it is not necessarily the need but greed and craze for amassing wealth that motivates even the wealthiest persons to indulge into criminal activities.
That apart, instances are not wanting when persons living in extreme poverty exhibit high sense of regard for honesty. They even decline to accept any kind of reward for their honest act since they consider it as a part of their duty to be honest and truthful to others. In doing so, they are obviously guided by value considerations and ethical standards of life rather than their economic condition. This clearly shows that poverty alone does not always lull the virtues of benevolence, honesty and justice in men. In fact, these are the qualities which have nothing to do with poverty or abundance.
(4) Dr. Bonder’s view that capitalistic trend of society is responsible for criminality is also not wholly tenable. The socialistic policies launched with a view to eliminating excessive profits and other evils of capitalistic economy have equally failed to yield favourable results. The nationalisation of industries and State control over production have hardly been successful so far prevention of crime is concerned.
Nationalisation essentially involves taking over control of private management by the State while the other factors of production and distribution remain unchanged. In the State controlled undertakings, the management and control is entrusted to some public officials who are again the individuals.
Therefore, how can it be said with certainty that these public officials shall not be tempted to personal gains so long as acquisitive tendency which is a part of human nature, persists in them. Moreover, State control presupposes absence of profit motives. Consequently, there shall be no incentive for production hence there would be scarcity and crisis which in turn will give rise to crimes relating to property such as theft, extortion, stealing, hoarding and black-marketing.
It must, therefore, be accepted that undoubtedly there are certain crimes which result out of capitalistic society but there are others which necessarily generate in a socialistic pattern of society. For example, in socialist countries such as Russia and China, the crimes arising out of capitalistic economy are rare but other types of crimes notably, political or religious offences have abnormally increased.
The political instability and general discontentment among the people in these countries often leads to offences such as treason, sedition, and revolt against the Government in power. Therefore, socialisation as a solution to eliminate economic factors of crime has proved a breeding ground for generating crimes of political nature.
From the foregoing analysis, it may be inferred that crimes are committed by persons because of their subjective tendency therefore; economic changes through State control and nationalisation cannot inject a change in this human tendency. Socialistic policies can limit crimes only to an extent that the chances of profit motives by private persons would be considerably eliminated and there will be no occasion for violations of commercial laws for selfish motives.
But it is fallacious to think that crimes shall be completely wiped off by switching over to socialistic pattern of society. This, in other words, means that it is not the poverty alone that generates crime but it is the poverty in relation to other factors such as acquisitive tendency in man and his craze for gaining more and more wealth that tends to make him a criminal. Considered from this standpoint the crimes committed by the poor as well as the rich can be satisfactorily explained.
It must, however, be reiterated that crime and poverty are endemic to any society, whatever be its form—whether it is capitalistic or socialistic and whatever may be the extent of its material development. Just as poverty cannot be wiped out so also crimes cannot be wiped off though they can be reduced and controlled with all out effort towards material development and prosperity of a nation.
The relevancy of poverty to crime is sufficiently highlighted though some of the judicial decisions wherein the accused were compelled to commit gruesome murder under pressure of extreme poverty Thus, in In re Maragatham, the accused were husband and wife who were starving for about ten days without any food or work for their subsistence.
Therefore, they decided to put an end to their lives along with their one and a half month old female infant. They tied themselves together with a rope and jumped into a well. They were, however, rescued but unfortunately the infant was drowned. They were convicted of attempt to murder of their infant child and committing suicide under Section 307 read with Sections 34 and 309 of the Indian Penal Code.
In yet another case of Shreerangyee v. State of Madras, the accused was a hardworking but unfortunate woman who was deserted by her husband. She had five children but was unable to support them for want of adequate earning. Her financial position further worsened due to her youngest child’s severe illness and doctor’s demand for money for the treatment. Shreerangyee tried in vain to raise the sum.
Having exhausted all the legitimate means to earn a living, she, in exasperation, killed all her five children by drowning them and finally jumped into the well. She was, however, rescued and convicted, under Section 302 IPC for killing her children. The Court in this case ruled out poverty as an excuse for the murder of innocent children and attempt to suicide.
The cases referred to above, clearly indicate that social perspective of justice had been completely lost sight of in the rigidity of legal process. Though in some of the subsequent cases, the courts have evinced deeper concern for the poorer sections of the society, but there is urgent need for restructuring of the existing judicial mechanism so as to make it more humane and re-assuring that the poor and weak are not forced to resort to criminal acts out of sheer disgust and desperation.
Judiciary’s deeper concern for the poorer sections of the society who suffer more within our legal system than others, was once again reflected in the case of Bavadas Bowri v. State of Assam, In this case, the appellant, who was an indigent and disabled man belonging to a backward class was convicted of murder under Section 302 of I.P.C. and was sentenced to imprisonment for life.
In the exercise of his right of private defence, he used a pen-knife against strong adversary who was assaulting him with a bamboo stick. It was for this reason that the appellant was forced to fight for his life and the thrust given in these circumstances had caused the death of the assailant.
The High Court of Gauhati accepted the right of private defence of the appellant and observed that the entire case had been conducted sluggishly. “Poor quality of justice dispensed to the poor is a common feature of the judicial administration. Justice Lahiri, inter alia, observed, “a public prosecutor should have the strength not to disown the poor….he must exercise power of withdrawal under Section 321 of Cr. P.C. if he finds that the charges are not genuine. The primary duty and conduct of judiciary is to do justice within the four comers of law…”
In Joyannathan v. State, the involvement of the appellant (a small farmer of Perambur) entangled in a village quarrel landed him in a police case. Police took over a year to frame a charge-sheet during which the appellant’s life became a hell as he had to part with his two acres of land and milk business in order to meet frequent visits to Magistrate’s Court and also to support his wife and three helpless children.
It was only after the revision petition was filed by the brother of the appellant in High Court of Madras, that his revision was allowed. Moved by the plight of the poor appellant, the High Court ordered to quash all the criminal cases where the police had kept the FIR’s unduly pending over six months.