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Lessons From a Tragedy

Don't let go of small transgressions unchallenged. Raise your voice and act - now...

If there is a broader lesson in the ghastly events of the last fortnight, it is that all of us need to complain loudly and frequently about everything that is wrong. This has nothing to do with crime or women’s safety specifically. It’s just as true for investments and personal finance--the domain that I have observed closely for more than two decades now.

And it’s not about the outright criminal activities, but the things that have become part of the routine. There’s no shortage of individuals or businesses that keep taking small liberties with your money as part of their legitimate activities. It’s not the shady gold coin or teak tree or emu farming Ponzi schemes—those are beyond the pale anyway.

It’s your bank—a name known around the world—that quietly makes changes in how it’ll charge you if your balance falls below the minimum. It’s the online brokerage—a well-known name in the business—which starts emailing you research reports you never asked for and then tacks on some fees for it. It’s the phone call you get from one of the oldest names in Indian business, and the caller claims to be selling an ‘investment plan’; when you dig deeper it turns out to be an insurance policy except the caller skilfully avoided using the word insurance. And don’t even ask about how the credit card business is run around the world.

All of this goes on because no one ever complains. It normalises behaviour that should be unacceptable, and emboldens the perpetrators (or others watching them) to try bolder and bolder stratagems. In a way, this is a variation on the ‘Broken Windows’ theory of criminology. If small transgressions go unchallenged and unfixed, it creates an atmosphere where big ones can happen. The solution is not to let anything go unchallenged—complain and protest at every wrong, no matter how minor.