It has always been debated in India and abroad alike, that countries should have harsh punishments in order to curb heinous crimes such as rapes and murders. Despite the apparent cruelty that persists, the questions which come to one’s mind are that, ‘why can’t we have harsh punishments for crimes like rape and murder?’, ‘what is justice?’, ‘does a heinous crime deserve a heinous punishment?’
In India, jails are meant for reformation more than punishment. A convict is expected to be reformed on completion of his sentence and is deemed fit to rejoin society. However, there are cases coming up on and off of brutal treatment in our jails, and also before they are convicted. There are also the cases of inappropriate sentences being awarded, of e.g., a Chartered Accountant was given a life term for forcing the pilot to trigger the hijack alert on a flight; a person in Puducherry was arrested for posting ‘offensive messages’ about Karti Chidambaram, the son of P.Chidambaram. Similar stories are playing out across the country where the state, under the guise of “sending a message”, decides to take the harshest possible action against its own citizens.
Punishment, as an idea of justification, has two main schools of thought: one is Utilitarian and the other is retributive. The utilitarian ideology states that the punishment is justified if the result is for the betterment of the society, or of the person being punished. This approach fits because crimes are seen universally as a social evil. Utilitarians see reduction of crime as a goal in itself. That deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation are the best ways to reduce crime in a society.
The retributive approach sees punishment as an end in itself; as a response to the wrongdoing of the person. Kant’s theory says, “if a wrongful act has been committed, then, the person who has committed the crime has upset the balance by inflicting suffering on others”. Basically, meaning that punishment is retaliation to the wrongdoing.
Uma Bharti, the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, made a statement in one of her rallies saying rapists should be tortured, and be made subject to brutalities. She supported her opinion by giving an incidence from the time when she was the Chief Minister of M.P. She, like many other people, doesn’t know that if she had passed such an order, she was going against the Constitution. A country cant run on anger of its people. Judgements and sentences can’t be given out of prejudices and vengeance. Revenge is something which is strictly personal, and its causes can be varied and even irrational. In a country, we seek Justice, not revenge. So, her saying and executing such barbaric orders could have, rather, should have, gotten her arrested. There can be no measurement wrt to revenge. This is where a dispassionate justice system comes into the picture.
In Indian jurisprudence, there is a precedent, ‘Innocent until proven guilty’. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. The people who were beaten up by the police in M.P. were only accused of rape, and not convicted. Tomorrow, if someone is wrongly accused of some wrongdoing, this very ideology comes to light- that, the person can’t be sentenced unless he’s tried by a court. When a Chief Minister makes such comments disrespecting the law, how can the ordinary people respect law? If we compare our laws on crimes like rape to those in Saudi, it can’t match because of our democratic nature.
Should a punishment needs to be justified, it should be done on the basis that morality is restored. It is morally correct and beneficial for the society that people can’t get away with wrongdoing. If deterrence can’t stop a person from committing a crime, what would? Law comes after the crime has been committed. Despite having stringent laws on so many offences, we see offenders in numbers, be it tax evasion, rape, murder, theft etc. The justice system must be left to do its job. Vengeful actions may prove disastrous for any society. This is because, in due course of time, a voice being raised for the right reason will also be muted by public force. And this proves to be totalitarian more than democratic. For the many who get caught after committing a crime, justice is served. But, what about Vijay Mallaya?
Author: Akshay Palande
Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.