Italy’s Court Rules Stealing Food No Longer A Crime If You are Hungry

In a one of its kind judgment, Italy’s highest court of appeal has ruled that the stealing of food when in desperate need of nourishment cannot be considered a crime.

The judges in the court of cassation found that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man of Ukrainian background who had purchased a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted “in the face of the immediate and essential need of nourishment” by stealing only a minimal amount of food, and therefore this could not be treated as a crime.

The case of Mr Ostriakov compares to the story of Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, and was hailed in some media reports as a humanitarian act when more than just a few Italians are going up the roster of the country’s “hungry” every passing day – 615 to be precise – in spite of reforms and improvements in the economy.

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Media and the people, the world over have welcomed this judgment as a “right and pertinent” ruling. We are glad that the law took a sound note of bitter reality, though it’s sad that a case concerning a needful taking of goods under €5 went through three rounds in the courts since 2011 before the final, and visibly the most practical decision was arrived at.

A columnist writing in La Stampa mentioned that, for the supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America”.

As sad as it is to witness – albeit from a distance – the state of the hungry and the impoverished, it is indeed extremely heartening to see the courts realising that “in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve”.

Considering the state and numbers of the Indian “hungry”, it’s a wonder when Indian courts will take a cue. Especially, since the rich, powerful and seriously guilty convicts are the ones to walk free first, and very many thousands of people from far below the poverty line wait – behind the bars – for the verdict on “petty” cases. We shall look forward.

May the good sense prevail (across borders)!

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