Hari's Corner

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Is tolerance a legal virtue?

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Tue, Aug 11, 2009 at 20:43 IST (last updated: Tue, Aug 11, 2009 @ 20:56 IST)

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Recently I have been thinking about whether tolerance is really a virtue or a sign of weakness, specifically tolerance to infringement of one's personal or proprietorial rights.

In the legal world, Law of Torts is the technical term for that domain of civil litigation which deals with "wrongs" or legal damage to one caused by wrongful conduct or omission of another or others. This is a wide term covering the domain of trespass, conversion of goods, assault, battery, nuisance, damage caused by negligence, false imprisonment, fraud and everything in-between. In many legal systems around the world, some of these torts may amount to a crime as well. The key element here is that the wrongful conduct or omission may or may not be willful. In common law, the Law of Torts generally does not consider motive or intention except as aggravating or mitigating factors in assessing damages (there are some notable exceptions, of course). Motive or intention is of less importance than in criminal law.

Sadly though, most people are unaware of their rights - or even if they are, prefer to remain silent and suffer when those rights are infringed. I'm not saying that litigation should be the first step to solving any problem, but when there is a clear violation of a natural or legal right by another or others and such a violation is not trivial and causes considerable hardship, the Law should be invoked as a remedial tool.

The biggest problem is of course, the practical aspect. Most lay people are extremely hesitant about indulging in any kind of litigation, even when success is a highly probable outcome. This is understandable, especially in India, where civil litigation tends to drag on for ages (in some cases, decades) and there is a strong barrier to approaching the courts for speedy remedy and restitution of rights. And of course, tolerating a wrong is far easier than remedying it. But in cases where a wrong is continuous in time (like continuing trespass or nuisance) and the possibilities of compromise or self-help have been exhausted, the Law is the only option available. Indeed, tolerance under such circumstances is a sign of weakness and not approaching the courts in time may prejudice the case seriously against the plaintiff.

It appears to be cheaper to accept wrongs inflicted on our person or property especially when there is no explicit loss in monetary terms. What most don't realize is that in the long run it creates a barrier to effective remedy. As the latin maxim goes Vigilantibus non dormientibus aequitas subvenit (the law/equity assists the vigilant, not those who sleep over their rights).

Again, being seen as "tolerant" is a sign of weakness and may lead to further violations of your rights by others. For example, if you allow your neighbour to sing aloud at midnight and disturb your sleep without protest, it opens the doors to further assaults on your eardrums. In today's world, being meek is weak.

I am not advocating frivolous litigation, but in a country like India where awareness of personal and proprietorial rights is extremely low and the will/desire to stand up for them is even lower, basic legal education has to be made a part of the syllabus in schools. Otherwise, tolerance to wrongs will only increase and the violations of personal rights will only increase in magnitude and number.

Criminal justice is extremely important under any legal system, but civil justice administration is the best indicator of the social health of an emerging democratic nation where courts are the last resort and hope of justice for the common man.

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3 comment(s)

  1. You raise an interesting point, Hari. I've always treated situations with tolerance the first time (unless its a big violation of my space). But subsequent incidents don't get the same treatment. You are right. Continual tolerance is a sign of weakness.

    Comment by MrCorey (visitor) on Wed, Aug 12, 2009 @ 09:08 IST #
  2. MrCorey, thanks. There's yet another reason why many people fail to stand up for their rights. Because they feel that it will disturb their peaceful relationship with neighbours and friends.

    Sometimes it's the right attitude to take, but when people use this to their advantage, you are denying yourself a chance to resolve the issue. Too many people are willing to put with up a lot of nonsense because they don't want to be seen as "making a fuss." Hell, sometimes you have to make a fuss when all other means have failed.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Wed, Aug 12, 2009 @ 09:15 IST #
  3. sir i am aserving defence officer and i was on my way to hyderabad from nagpur ihad reached safely and never met with any accident. two months later i get notice that my vehicle had hit the scootrist and run away with injuries to the family.the details furnished are so exact that i makes me think again did something happen but actually i was travelling with my family and we reached safely our destination without the accident but police has traced my vehicle and haressing me .i would be grateful if i could be advised how to deal with such situations



    Comment by DUPINDERBEDI (visitor) on Fri, May 20, 2011 @ 20:23 IST #

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