There is one, and only one, thing in modern society more hideous than crime, namely, repressive justice
— Simon Weil
A the trial for the Delhi rape case has begun. My mind goes back to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Amongst the other themes that Dostoevsky explored in this epic saga, criminality, justice and judgement take centre stage. The title itself suggests a process that everyone should expect — punishment follows crime. Crime comes before punishment. But the novel shows that often punishment comes before crime; specially, if you are vulnerable and powerless. This is true for the normal citizen in India; it is also a shame that not only does punishment come before crime; it is also the victim who is punished and not the criminal.
In the case of sexual offences, women do not report them because they are unlikely to get a conviction. There have been cases where rapes of victims have been committed at police stations — this is the punishment meted out for being the victim while the criminal roams free. What is the punishment to the protector? It should be so severe that no one dares do it again. What about all those women who have acid thrown on them leading a ‘life in death’ while the perpetrators are roaming free and leading normal lives. Does India have a conscience? The case of Madurai victim Angammal has been going on for 14 years with no hope of conviction. She was raped inside a police station, while her son watched in horror. Her husband was severally beaten up. Her son has become a lawyer to fight for justice for his mother. There are so many cases of abuse of power by the police, of justice delayed and justice denied. What we need is police and judicial reforms at the earliest. The judicial system needs a total revamp, laws need to be relooked at and not abused, as in the case of an ACP in Mumbai, who is on the rampage quoting archaic laws. In the words of the current law minister, “Law is perceived as impotent in the face of grave injustice.”
It is the common citizen irrespective of caste, creed or gender who is afraid of the police. What the police forget is that protection of people is their responsibility; they also forget that their salaries are paid by the taxes, which the citizens of India pay. Each and every taxpayer of this country is their master.
Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing
justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the
dams that block the flow of
— Martin Luther King Jr.
The game is of power and money and the means is crime. Crime has become the display of power. Somewhere we need to break the entire police, mafia and political nexus. Let’s not make mockery of the word ‘justice’ and keep saying we respect law and it will take its own course. Our judicial systems fail on all counts — prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment. Conviction rates for crimes of all kinds are worsening. Punishment is not the only deterrent to crime, but in the absence of other forms of restraints at least the fear of conviction and punishment should exist.
What are the police and the judiciary waiting for in this case? What forensic evidence do they need when they have the victim’s testimony and an eyewitness account? There is talk of setting up fast track trial courts, but why can’t a swift and telling judgement be delivered now? Why is a juvenile being treated differently while the crime in this case is so severe? Why is he not being paraded around the country so that everyone can see him? The press has been reporting the fact that the Sanjay and Geeta Chopra case was decided in 4 years and should be used as an example. I am amazed at the levels of fortitude of the people of our country — it should take not more than 14 days to decide this case. An example has to be made in this case — a precedent has to be set.
Saint Augustine had said, “In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organised robbery? “On what basis do we call ourselves a democracy? Let’s get back to basics. The preamble to our constitution promises to secure to the people of India justice — social, economic and political; liberty of thought expression, belief, faith and worship; and equality of status and of opportunity. If we were honest with ourselves we would admit that the citizen of India enjoys none of the above. I can only hope that the current case will serve as an eye-opener to the people who rule this country — that they will remember that their responsibility is towards the people of India; who must demand their right to live freely without fear.
The citizen’s right to justice brings me back to Dostoevsky’s book — punishment has to be meted out for the crime, but the judiciary must also realise that in some cases there is no redemption. Extreme acts of violence must be responded to with severe punishment. In the words of Barry Goldwater, “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
(The writer is CEO of KPMG India)