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Ethical Perspectives on Electric Theft

A comparative analysis across religions and moral societies
01:00 AM Dec 29, 2023 IST | Fiaz Fazili
ethical perspectives on electric theft
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Electricity theft, the unauthorised consumption of electrical power without proper payment, raises ethical concerns in various societies around the world. While stealing electricity is generally considered illegal and morally wrong, this piece explores whether any religious or moral principles may justify such actions. By examining different perspectives from major world religions and moral philosophies, we can gain insights into the ethical implications of electric theft.

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Legal and Moral Frameworks: Before delving into religious and moral perspectives, it is crucial to understand the legal and moral frameworks that generally condemn theft, including electric theft. Societal laws and moral codes usually prohibit stealing as it undermines the principles of fairness, justice, and social order. This provides the baseline against which we can evaluate the ethical justifications for electric theft.

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Socio-Religious Perspective

Society norms are indeed often influenced by collective perceptions of what is considered right and wrong. These norms emerge from a combination of cultural, religious, ethical, and legal frameworks that shape the values of a community. Christianity, one of the world's largest religions, emphasizes moral principles such as honesty, integrity, and respect for others. The Ten Commandments explicitly state, "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15), making it clear that theft, including electric theft, goes against Christian teachings. While some may argue for civil disobedience in cases of perceived injustice, the overall Christian stance strongly discourages theft as a means of addressing grievances. Judaism, like Christianity, condemns theft in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:15). The principle of honesty and respect for others' property is deeply ingrained in Jewish ethical teachings. Electric theft, therefore, contradicts Jewish moral values and is unlikely to find justification within this religious framework. Hinduism, follows the principle of ahimsa, non-violence, and non-injury; it's is central to Hindu ethics. Electric theft may be seen as a form of harm to society, and thus, it could be argued that it goes against the principles of ahimsa. Buddhism, with its emphasis on right livelihood and ethical conduct, discourages actions that harm others. Electric theft, being a form of dishonesty and potentially harming others through power outages or increased costs, conflicts with Buddhist principles. Therefore, it is unlikely to find justification within Buddhist moral teachings.

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Power theft in winter months is a serious issue in J&K that not only compromises the power distribution network but also results in significant revenue losses for the department. It  increases miseries of law-abiding citizens to face increased power curtailment schedule. While incidents of hooking in metered areas on bare conductors have witnessed a steep rise over the last month, consumption of energy by consumers in unmetered areas over and above their agreed load has also sharply grown, putting a huge strain on the power curtailment schedule. In unmetered areas, the usage of power by consumers is three to four times their registered load, leading to frequent DT damages and low voltage conditions, thereby resulting in distress cuts. The surge in incidents of massive hooking and power theft has been causing damage to Distribution Transformers, prompting the corporation to issue stern warnings of legal action against offenders.

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I have not been able to convince myself on religious lines to defend or support this theft. Our territory mostly inhabited by people who follow different faiths including Islam should know that ''theft is theft “and an accountable sin unless repented for. The concept of theft is generally considered unethical and punishable in various legal systems, and all religious faiths. Different societies and legal systems may have varying definitions and punishments for theft, but the fundamental principle is the unauthorised taking of someone else's property or sharing with the intent to deprive them of it temporarily or permanently. Regarding electric theft, these are specific forms of trespassing or encroachment on someone else's rights or property, and they can also be subject to legal consequences.

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Laws related to electric thefts and land vary by jurisdiction, and consequences for such actions may differ depending on the specific circumstances and local regulations. It's important to note that the legality and punishment for offenses are determined by the legal system in place, not by religious teachings. While ethical principles may align with legal norms in many cases, they are not always synonymous. Additionally, discussions on the ethical aspects of theft and property rights may differ among individuals and communities, including those with various religious or cultural beliefs.

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The Quran condemns theft unequivocally (Quran 5:38). The emphasis on honesty and the prohibition of theft aligns with Islamic teachings, suggesting that electric theft would be inconsistent with Islamic morality. However, some might argue that economic hardship or social injustice could be reasons for disobedience, but this perspective is not universally accepted within the Islamic tradition. Electric theft, which involves unauthorized use of electricity without proper payment or permission, is considered a violation of both legal and ethical principles. Islam encourages believers to fulfil their obligations, including financial responsibilities, and to avoid actions that harm others or society.

From a secular perspective, ethical theories such as utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics provide frameworks for evaluating the morality of actions. Utilitarians may argue that electric theft harms the overall well-being of society, while deontologists may condemn it as a violation of rules and social contracts. Virtue ethicists may emphasize the importance of cultivating virtues such as honesty and integrity, which electric theft would contradict.

The ethical justifications for electric theft are scarce across various religious and moral traditions. The universal condemnation of theft, rooted in principles of fairness, honesty, and respect for others, forms a strong basis against any religious or moral endorsement of electric theft. While some may argue for civil disobedience in the face of perceived injustice, the prevailing ethical consensus remains aligned with discouraging theft in all its forms.

Author besides being a medical doctor is very active in positive perception management of various moral and social issues.

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