If you observe a tightrope walker troupe, they erect their masts of bamboo and ropes by driving a two feet metal nail into the tar road to anchor the ropes. As these nails are hammered through the structural cross section of the road, they are like deep wounds through which water will travel below the road and, over time, can even lead to the caving of road that we citizens celebrate as a Bhuvo – a symbol of “failure” of the civic administration.

So, if one troupe is performing at ten location in a day, they end up seriously damaging the road by making twenty such holes per day. If we look at the cost city incurs from their vocation, the knee-jerk reaction would be that state should immediately ban such performers. But, is it just and fair for the state to disallow someone from making a living from a traditional skill?

If we look at the intense eyes little girl on the rope risking her life to entertain us for few bucks, it is easy to understand that human jurisprudence is all about tightrope walking.

Greed, be it individual or social, is a cancer if applied to jurisprudence. If justice system considers the cost of damage to the road vis-à-vis what city gains from a tightrope walking troupe, the result will be overwhelming in favour of banning tightrope walkers, but it will destroy livelihood and life of some of the poorest and hapless members of the society. A little girl making an honest living out of her skills will be crushed by a society looking only for collective benefit.

The tightrope walking girl is just a symbol of what is unfolding around us with our demolition drives for smoother traffic flows. Individuals in pursuit of their vocations have clogged the city to a level that collective is paying a huge cost.

One easy way out is to convert the issue into an economic cost-benefit equation. If we look at cows walking on the road and causing fuel-costing traffic jams, collective is paying an indirect cost that would be far more than even buying out all the cows at ten times the market cost. The state may be better-off paying tightrope walker troupes hundred times their earning for not performing.

As compensatory jurisprudence is practical and more acceptable, it is a tempting path for judicial system to take, but, especially in India where law enforcement is weak, it just ends up being a way to blackmail the state.

The real solution to this problem hides in human understanding of justice. Justice is all about fairness and hence its true core is equal application. Our innate sense of justice is relative and comparative.

A sense of injustice emerges when unfair partiality is felt. When a poor man’s roadside tea stall is demolished to make room for parking by the state, he is not as badly hurt as he would be when he realises that the upmarket café in the unauthorised commercial complex right behind his stall is continuing business.

The real need of the hour is for the state to exhibit a clear stand for unbiased law enforcement. If law will remain equal for all, its enforcement will not hurt; but if a message of favouritism is sent to those who have suffered, we are in form a social turmoil that can undo all the good that is achieved.

DNA 13-8-2018

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