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Is jumping customs duty not such a big deal in India?

June 2, 2007

Avinash Bhonsale, a rich Pune builder, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. He was caught by the customs police at Mumbai International Airport with electronic goods and foreign currency worth Rs 84 lakhs when he tried to walk out through the green channel.
The media took him to the cleaners and now some newspapers are suggesting that the media over-reacted. True, the media did go overboard in reporting the story (the media goes overboard in reporting everything, including Aishwarya’s hairstyle!) and harped far too much on Bhonsale’s lavish lifestyle…but to suggest that Bhonsale’s crime was not such a big isssue?

An eminent and influential newspaper columnist has criticized the publicity Bhonsale’s case generated. He feels that “…surely this offence is a common occurrence at any international airport. Should it have merited such voluminous attention?…at the end of two days of reporting, the question remains to be asked: just how big is Bhosle’s crime?”

Well, I don’t feel sorry for anyone whose misdemeanours are splashed day and day out in the newspapers. Big or small. In any case I do not think that what Bhonsale did was small.

He was caught stealing (in my opinion evading customs duty is stealing) Wouldn’t the story of any rich man who tried to steal become sensational news? And Bhonsale is not ordinarily rich. He owns a personal helicopter and has a palatial house in Baner, Pune, which he rents out for Rs 3 lakhs a day to film units (according to newspaper reports). He also moves in the top circles and his friends are the top politicians of the state. Apparently he can walk in and out of Mantralaya without being stopped! And there are strong rumours that Brad Pitt and Anjelina Jolie stayed at his Baner house during the shooting of The Mighty Heart.

Maybe I don’t feel sorry for Avinash Bhonsle because this newspaper article (saying that the media should go easy on him) has come right on the heels of a statement by Shiv Shena Chief Bal Thackeray that Maharashtrians should look up to Bhonsale because he has worked hard to build his fortune! Apparently, Thackeray also said that North Indians look up to people like Harshad Mehta and Anil Ambani (according to the report which unfortunately I could not get online) so why are Maharashtrians criticizing sons of the soil like Bhonsale?

Well, its true that there are many who are jealous of achievers, but I don’t think it applies in this case.
I am a Maharashtrian and I am certainly not proud of Bhonsale. I can admire any man who works hard but not someone who steals.

Have we sunk to such a level that we need to admire people who evade customs duty? If we have to admire anyone lets admire our spiritual leaders, our writers and poets, our artists and scientists and yes businessmen, if they have come up without resorting to underhand dealings.

India may be a hurry to develop, in a hurry to get rich, but if we have to pay a price by sacrificing our values, its better to slow down our rate of growth or remain poor. Its one thing for a man to steal, but quite another for eminent people to say that evading customs is not a big deal.
Only those nations which take crimes like these seriously can weed out corruption from their midst. Look at what Singapore has achieved because of its strict laws.
It is precisely because the media knows that Bhonsale has protection that the media went to town with the news of his misdemeanour. If the media doesn’t do this, who will?
If a rich man picks a pocket, wouldn’t it be sensational news? Or do people feel that if a rich man’s sleight of hand is bigger, larger, then it is suitable to his status and therefore not that newsworthy? As long as we think that rich people stealing is not such a big deal, we are never going to get rid of corruption in this country.
I don’t think we need to worry if the media sensationalizes Bhonsale’s case. There is much worse the media can do.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2007 11:14 am

    Hello Nita,
    I realise that I have missed alot of posts. Tried to go through all if them. Great as usual.
    I was very intrigued by your articles on China and your experience when you went there. Were you in Hong Kong by any chance because I have learned that that is one of their more developed cities.

  2. June 2, 2007 11:23 am

    We were in transit through Hong Kong but we did see the city from the air! But my husbannd has been there on business and from what he tells me and from what I hear from others – Mainland China pales in comparision to Hong Kong. The only problem with Hong Kong is that being an island, there is little space and thus everything is very small. On Mainland China everything is sprawling and wide and that is one of the charms of the place.
    However, the Chinese govt. has Hong Kong as their role model and in every case try to replicate it. To some extent they have succeeded I guess.

  3. June 2, 2007 6:02 pm

    Nita,
    Raja Bhaiya and Taslimuddin become ministers after commiting heinous crimes like rape and murder -do you really think Bhonsle commited a big crime. Amarmani Tripathi fights election from jail and is elected, Jayalalitha has scores of corruption cases against her and she is free-I don’t know what to say.

  4. June 2, 2007 7:18 pm

    I’ll give you an example. Should we go easy on a molester because he did not commit rape? Whether the bribe is small or big, whether its molestation or rape, it has a punishment that needs to be given. Iam not suggesting that Mr. Bhonsale be punished like a murderer is. Heshould get the punishment he deserves, which he is not getting. Everyone has to pay the price, face the punishment, bear the humiliation. But to think that Mr. Bhonsale should go free (i know you are not suggesting that, but there are thosewho feel so)just because his crime is ‘small’and because he is hardworking and rich and come up the hard way?
    Its not logical to me.
    A man has to be punished for his misdemeanors.
    And I am glad that the media highlighted the whole incident, and told people how rich the man is. The man deserves the humiliation. Perhaps the next time he will be more careful before behaving in this manner.

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