Monday, August 22, 2016

“Keep it in the Family” Syndrome – Misplaced Loyalty

“Keep it in the Family” Syndrome
A Garb for Pseudo-Ethics
Musings of a Navy Veteran


Recently – I saw the movie RUSTOM

The film is based on the famous 1959 Nanavati Case 
(Commander K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra)

I am sure you are aware of this landmark murder case in which Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati – a Navy Commander – was tried for the murder of Prem Ahuja – his wife’s lover. 


As per information on the Nanavati Case on the Internet – it appears that – Commander Nanavati fired 3 shots at his wife’s lover who dropped dead – and then – Commander Nanavati headed straight to confess to the Provost Marshal of the Western Naval Command – and – on his advice – Nanavati surrendered himself to the Deputy Commissioner of Police.

The murder case received unprecedented media coverage and inspired several books and movies.

Commander Nanavati – accused under section 302 – was initially declared “Not Guilty” by a Jury under section 302 – but – the verdict was dismissed by the Bombay High Court – and – the case was re-tried as a bench trial.

The High Court sentenced Nanavati to life imprisonment for culpable homicide amounting to murder – and subsequently – the Supreme Court of India upheld the conviction.

Nanavati was granted pardon after spending 3 years in prison – and – after his release – Nanavati – his wife Sylvia – and – their 3 children – all migrated to Canada – and – settled in Toronto.

Nanavati died in 2003.

The Nanavati case was the last to be heard as a Jury Trial in India – as the government abolished jury trials after this landmark case.

RUSTOM (Movie) – Twist in the Tail

The movie ending is different – with a “Twist in the Tail”.

The protagonist Commander Rustom Pavri walks free after the jury declares him “not guilty”. 

On the eve of the judgement – while talking to the Investigating Officer (Police Inspector Lobo) – Commander Rustom Pavri justifies killing his wife’s lover (Vikram Makhija)

Rustom says that the real reason he shot dead his wife’s lover (Vikram Makhija) was to prevent India Navy from acquiring a “sub-standard” Aircraft Carrier which would have compromised national security.

Vikram Makhija was an “Arms Agent” – and – he had entered into a conspiracy with “Bigwigs” (including high ranking Naval Officers and Bureaucrats) – to siphon off money by importing a “sub-standard” warship.

Rustom is deputed abroad to a foreign country to inspect the ship – and – he discovers the “scam”.

He is shocked to learn that his friend Vikram Makhija is the main conspirator and his own senior officers are involved neck-deep in the scam. 

The corrupt “scamsters” try to “persuade” Rustom to give a “favourable” report to accept the “sub-standard” ship.

The corrupt “scamsters” try to bribe Rustom – and – later they threaten him – but – Rustom – who is a patriotic and honest officer – refuses to compromise his integrity.

On his return to India – Rustom he telephonically informs the Defence Secretary about the scam – and – Rustom tells him that he will not spare the main conspirator Vikram Makhija (who – Rustom has coincidentally learnt is having an affair with his wife Sylvia).

(It later transpires that the Defence Secretary is also involved in the scam). 

Rustom proceeds to Vikram Makhija’s house and puts three bullets into his chest.

Vikram Makhija drops dead.

Everyone (including the investigating officer Inspector Lobo) thinks that Rustom killed Makhija because he caught him having an affair with his wife.

However – at the end of the movie – while talking to Inspector Lobo – Rustom reveals that real reason why he killed Vikram Makhija.

Rustom says the he killed Vikram Makhija since he was the key conspirator in the shady deal to import the sub-standard aircraft carrier warship.

Thereby – he managed foil the shady deal and prevented the import of a sub-standard warship whose acquisition would have compromised national security.

Inspector Lobo asks Commander Rustom Pavri: “What about the other conspirators like the Senior Navy Officers, Defence Secretary etc…? Why didn’t you expose them and ensure that they got punished…?”

Rustom says: “If I had exposed them – the “image” of the Navy and Government would have got tarnished – so – I did not expose those persons in “high places” to protect the reputation of the nation…”

Does the movie want to give a “message” that it is okay to condone high-level corruption in shady Defence deals – on the specious logic that – exposing high-ranking perpetrators will tarnish the “good image” of the Armed Forces, spoil the reputation of the Defence Establishment and embarrass the Government…?

In the Movie – Rustom displays “Misplaced Patriotism” by his misguided belief – that – he is defending the honour of the Navy and the Nation – by concealing the extent of the scam and withholding the names corrupt senior officers – due to which high-ranking perpetrators of the scam escape punishment and get away scot-free.

Hence – the “moral message” is that – for the “greater good” – it is justified to let wrongdoers get away scot-free just to protect the reputation of the organization.

Bizarre logic – isn’t it…?

Or maybe – it is not so bizarre.

Don’t we see such cases of “misplaced loyalty” in real life…?

This phenomenon is visible at work – at the organizational level – and – in personal life – at the familial level.

MISPLACED LOYALTY (The “Keep it in the Family” Syndrome)

Misplaced loyalty makes you remain silent when you know you should speak up – at work – and – in personal life – especially when it comes to personal friendships and close family relationships.

We see this phenomenon of “misplaced loyalty” in organizations – in the military (under the garb of “izzat”) – and – in “civvy street” too – in civilian bureaucracy – in business houses and the corporate sector – and – of course – in political parties.

Engaging in misplaced loyalty in professional life entails complying with a “code of silence” about the internal affairs of your organization.

In the Military – “Regimental Loyalties” (keep it within the unit) – and “Ship Loyalties” (keep it within the ship) – are examples of such misplaced organizational loyalties.

At the family/personal level – incidents of Incest, Sexual Abuse, Inappropriate Behaviour, Adultery, Pedophilia and Domestic Violence that happen within a “family” – these incidents may be “hushed up” to avoid “washing dirty linen in public” – because of the fallacious fear –  that exposing the wrongdoers may bring a “bad name” to the family and tarnish the reputation of the entire family.

I call it the “keep it in the family” syndrome. 

The term “family” is used literally to mean personal family comprising relatives – as well as metaphorically – to refer to organizations (workplace “family”).

“Misplaced Loyalty” due to the “Keep it in the Family” syndrome sometimes makes you condone unethical acts of individuals/organizations who you feel are a “part of the family” and towards whom you feel a sense of “loyalty”.

“Misplaced Loyalty” attitudes of – “Keep it in the Family” – “Don’t Wash Dirty Linen in Public” – result in a “pseudo-ethical” tendency to “brush misdemeanors under the carpet” and “hush up” wrongdoings – due to which culprits get away scot-free.

Owing to these “Misplaced Loyalty” Mindsets in Organizations – Frauds and Scams are “hushed-up” – Corruption and Wrongdoings are not exposed – and – Scandals are swept under the carpet.

In extremis – even heinous crimes are “hushed up” due to the propensity to “cover up” criminal activities due to “Keep it in the Family” Syndrome.

Both at the macro-level and micro-level – in organizational environments – and – in family settings – “misplaced loyalty” due to “keep it in family” syndrome may have deleterious consequences.

Wrongdoers will get emboldened to commit misdemeanors even more brazenly with disastrous consequences.

The widespread corruption, various scams/scandals and proliferation of crime bear testimony to this fact.

Due to the “keep it in the family” mindset – in workplaces and in family settings – if sexual perverts who indulge in “inappropriate behavior” are allowed to go scot-free – they may get emboldened to commit worse misdemeanors like sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape etc.

“Misplaced Loyalty” is dangerous – for the “family” – and for society at large.

Even if it means “embarrassment” to the “family” – isn’t it better to “name and shame” wrongdoers and punish these malefactors at the very first instance…?

Exposing transgressors in the very first instance will help “nip things in the bud” – and – will deter these wrongdoers from committing graver misdemeanors – which may prove to be even more detrimental to the family/organization.

During my long career in the Navy – I did come across a few instances of attempts to “cover up” due to “keep it in the family” syndrome (“Misplaced Loyalty” arising from “fear of reputation damage” or so-called pseudo “honor codes”) – but – by and large – instances of misconduct were duly reported and the offenders were punished.


Coming back to the movie RUSTOM – it is one thing for a Naval Officer to commit an “honor killing” by shooting his wife’s illicit lover – but – it is quite another thing for a Naval Officer to kill a civilian conspirator in a defence scam while “protecting” high-ranking officers involved in the same scam and justifying the “hush up” on the bizarre logic that exposing these high-ranking officers will tarnish the image of the service.

I wish the movie had stuck to the original story – and – not twisted the story by a hotchpotch sub-plot about corruption in defence deals – and – ended up with the protagonist justifying his “Misplaced Patriotism” – due to which he does not expose corruption in the shady defence deal – on the specious logic that “naming and shaming” corrupt high-ranking officers involved in the scam would “tarnish the image” of the Navy (and Nation) – and – thereby allows the conspirators to get away scot-free.

To sum up:

Misplaced Loyalty (due to “keep it in the family” syndrome) is a garb for pseudo-ethics and proves detrimental to the greater good in the long run. 

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