Photograph of Anil Chawla



Author - Anil Chawla

Dear friends,


My article about denial of mercy to Dhananjoy generated some very interesting comments. A few women friends wrote to me in a tone as if I was on the side of a rapist. Luckily, no one accused me of being one myself. Yet, it was a bit unnerving. So, I decided to write a sequel. The article Crime and Punishment develops the subject from a social and philosophical perspective. The debate on this article has been more heated than the previous one.

Generally, I refrain from replying to comments to avoid confrontaion and bruised egos. This time I made an exception in the case of Ram alias Rambo, an IITian friend who lives in Sydney. I guess that I was a bit harsh on Ram. But, I know that he is a fellow IITian and we are used to treating each other in a brash manner. So, with due apologies to Ram, I am sure that we remain the best of friends. You, the reader, be the final judge in our debate that turned a bit bitter.

Anshumala, another fellow IITian and a social activist asked a very interesting query about religion. I have replied to her in some detail.

There is also a very interesting comment from Mr. Mark Frey, who is Swiss and till a few years back used to visit India regularly to promote Indo-Swiss collaborations.

With Best Wishes and Regards,

Anil Chawla

August 2004

Dear Anil,

I agree with you whole heartedly. A few years back when a school kid in America shot and killed 15 or more students, I remember reading an analysis in News Week or Times Magazine, where the Author had suggested that as many as eighteen or so individuals influence a child's mental growth and character: his parents, teachers, friends, strangers he meets ..... To this list we must add influences such as environment, artificial expectations created in a modern society etc...

So, in a society such as ours when an individual commits a crime, the society must share part of the blame.

Whether or not we should do away with Capital Punishment is however a very difficult question to answer. Probably a practical way to take a decision would be to weigh in religious doctrines. What does the major religion, Hinduism have to say on the subject? The Muslim approach to the problem, in their othodox laws (in personal crimes), is to allow the victims to take the final decision. Christians of course go overboard in forgiving the sinner - may be the main reason why most Christian nations have abolished the death penalty - except USA, which is a major anomaly.

Harsh punishments induce a brutal mindset in the society, leading to increased crime rate. A brutal mind has no place for love or kindness.



Punishments, harsh or otherwise, as opposed to revenge, are proposed by the deterrance theory, which till date is the most commonly accepted one to the law makers as well as to the common man. But, its results are not as visible as originally presumed, as the contemporary law enforcement agencies have fallen short of implementing it in full.

Deterrance theory purports that every crime is punished, and as soon as possible. For example, if every instance of signal jumping leads to death or permanent injury, number of such occurences would be countable on fingers.

Atif Hussain

Dear Anshu and Anil,

Intresting topic for debate " Innocence and guilt and Crime and punishment"

I am sure you do not have an answer nor do I..

Law IMHO is not a true deterrent to crime.. Crime can be prevented by teaching children good values when young at school.. This issue comes up now and then in IIT Global Groups.. Our education system makes us literate at the best but does not educate us.. We need to teach moral science at schools and we need cubs and guides to make our children good citizens.

I can go on and on especially about the Jarwanese tribe in Andamans as I was born in Port Blair, Andamans!!!


Dear Rambo,

I expected something better from you - not just rambling in a cynical manner like a foreigner who hates India. (Is that why you are called rambo?)

Under-reporting of crime is a universal phenomenon. Even in USA, only 16% of rapes ever get reported to police. No, I did not invent that figure. You can check by clicking at this link.

To get over the problem of under-reporting of crime, Victimization surveys are carried out. In USA, Naional Victimization Surveys are carried out by Department of Justice, USA. In a victimization survey, randomly selected respondents are asked about their being victim of any of the specified crime in a specified period of the past. This has nothing to do with reported crime or police statistics.

United Nations Interregional Crime & Justice Research Institute has carried out victimization surveys for a large number of countries in the world. For developed countries they conducted interviews on the phone and in developing countries interviews were conducted on a face-to-face basis. In developing countries interviews were conducted only in a few major cities. In India, hence data is available for Mumbai only. I have quoted from the same. You can check the institute's website to see their methodology and detailed statistics.

If you believe that your stray impressions have a higher level of truth than a UN survey, then I can only pity your intelligence. Or is it that you are running all your web activity to only malign India and it was too difficult for you to digest some hard facts that paint a good picture of India!

With Best Wishes & Regards,



Here we go again. You expressed your views and I did mine. Why this personal attack ? And the pity for my intelligence ?? Are we all not entitled to hold our own views ?? Same as you do?

You have admitted yourself that your data is froma survey of just Bombay And to me Bombay is not representative of all of India. Think about it.

I am no foreigner who hates India You definitely got that wrong.. May be the mistake I made was to comment on your article.

And you have a good day mate


Dear Rambo,

I normally do not get angry. But this was one time when I did get angry. Sorry for that!

I do not mind criticism of my views or my articles. But this was not a criticism of my article or my views. You had expressed an opinion (without any basis) questioning statistics. The opinion reflected an anti-India bias and hence the outburst.

About Bombay not reflecting the country as a whole, it needs to be supported by research. There are bound to be differences between Bombay and the rest of the country. However, if one looks at various crime statistics available, the difference is not very large.

As a general rule, opinions may be countered by opinions but to counter statistics, one needs more statistics. If one tends to oppose statistics with opinions, this reflects a bias and if someone has a bias against my country, I get angry, very angry. Sorry for that!

Dear Rambo, I did not say that you are a foreigner. I said you behaved "like a foreigner who hates India".

Everytime, we take up cudgels for reforming India or for removing corruption from India, we must do it out of love for the country and not because we think that it is a wretched place that we hate. If one has no love for the country, one has no right to try to reform it. This is a fine dividing line, but very crucial.

With best wishes and regards,

Anil Chawla

Dear Anil,

You have said in your article that all religions teach love, kindness and compassion. But I want you to comment on all this :

That religions have been the cause of maximum wars, bloodshed and hatred in history, after greed ( desire to loot and capture).

Not only this, it is 'socio-religious' scriptures like "manusmriti' that have lead to inhuman treatment of dalits, widows, childless women etc, and women in general. Dalit women have been rape victims in India to the largest extent. Widows are left to die in Varanasi, under gross neglect. Not only this, mythological texts like the 'puranas' show women in horrible light where a heaven is a place of lust with beautiful women ( apsaras) all around ( what about heaven for women by the way?! Don't they deserve it?), and stories of power struggles and lust. Since our texts specifically mention that women should be 'under' father, husband or son, women have been denied property rights, even though legally given to some extent, and have been made subordinate to men for centuries.In millions of household their conditions is worse than slaves where they are beaten, or burned/ tortured for dowry, or humiliated in many many other ways. So much for 'pride in low crime rates against women'. Once in Europe somebody made a deriding statement to me 'Oh well, you people pour kerosene over your women and burn them, no?' I felt as if I had been slapped in the face!

Similarly, Islam and its doctrines have lead to burqa and inhuman control and subjugation of women. Cristianity did no better in the Victorian era in controlling women. Some Christian societies gave even the right to vote to women as late as the seventies!

If you fish out from scriptures there are thousands of evidences of disrespect for women/girls ( e.g. Savitri, in the famous Savitri-Satyawan story asks for only 100 sons from Yamaraj and not even ONE daughter!) in almost all organized religions of the world. Some old religions which really did respect wome greatly were dominated and crushed by the patriarchal state in history, even before Christ, or in tribal cultures later.

Don't you think, all this 'religiosity' has lead to a great devaluation of women/girls/daughters in general? In today's India, we kill many lakhs of girls in the womb. If it was out in the open ( it is all there in census figures, which most Indians are unconcerned about), so much of bloodshed would have been called mass genocide and would have invited massive condemnation from the world community ( like the persecution of Jews by Nazis). But here in India not many talk about such things. Female infanticide has always been there in some regions and communities, now female foeticide has added on in a very alarmingly large numbers.It is most predominant in urban, educated, middle class.In HP, where traditionally women were better off, we kill roughly 60,000 girls in six years now, in a tiny population of 60 lakh!

I agree, of course, that such maladies cannot be cured by laws and punishments alone.Please comment.


Dear Anshumala,

Religion is a complex subject. Yes, you are right, albeit partly, when you say that religions have been the cause of wars and destruction. But that alone does not make it all bad and no good.

Religion can be said to a mix of various elements - history, moral and social norms, myths and clergy. Of all these elements, I have been very critical of clergy. I have at times criticized Vishwa Hindu Parishad since they appear to me to be doing a churchification of Hindu religion. Many of the ills of religion arise from clergy. But about this aspect, I shall not talk at the moment.

The other aspect of religion that I shall like to talk about is both positive and negative. Religion provides the social and moral norms that bind a society together. It is like this if I come to your house, I know what to expect because we follow some social norms. Speaking of extremes, I want to be sure that you will not decide to kill me or my dog and serve the meat for dinner. That may sound horrible, but we are conditioned to think that it is horrible because our social and cultural norms have engrained this into our heads. Of course, as I understand, in some provinces of China, I may not be so sure about the safety of my dog.

We rarely realize the role that such basic values have in our social and family life. Most of our sexual norms have evolved over centuries and religion has either adopted them or has put its seal of approval on the norms. But the two are inseparable now. It may sound strange but the hush-hush associated with genitals is also a part of the socio-cultural-religious norms. Arthur Koestler in one of his books describes a tribe where women would expose and scratch their genitals in full view of all present. In Indian villages it is considered not at all improper for a women to breastfeed her baby in the presence of the complete household and even strangers. A common story in villages in India is that one morning some women were sitting in a field, were doing their morning duties and were chatting. Some men happened to pass by. All the women covered their faces even though their bottoms were fully exposed. When asked the reason for this, a women said all the bottoms are the same, it is is only the faces that are different and hence the need to cover the faces.

I have given the above examples, which might appear obnoxious to some, just to illustrate the point about the role of basic socio- religious-cultural values to make any interaction possible in a society. Taking this a step further, most women consider rape as the ultimate crime against a woman. This attitude is also a product of the socio-cultural-religious norms. In some tribes in central India, rape is not a criminal offence, but a civil offence. If a member of the tribe rapes a woman, a panchayat of the tribe sits in judgement, and the maximum punishment is a feast for the whole tribe by the rapist.

Religion as a bundle of such socio-cultural norms evolves over time. Sure enough, every religion develops some norms and practices, which are against the very basic principles that the religion was supposed to stand for. That is why every relgion needs reformers from time to time, who will correct the course. Reformers have a more difficult time in religions that are based on one book, where all truth was revealed to a chosen one at a particular point in history and no further revelations are either possible or permitted. On the other hand, relgions like Hinduism, Shintoism and other pagan religions have a constant evolution and reform is accepted as a continuous process, even though there might be some resistance.

But even Christianity or Islam is not devoid of assimilation of different cultural norms. Mahatama Gandhi once said that to be a Christian in India means to have a bread in one hand and a glass of whisky in the other (quoted from memory). Most of the christian practices across the world, even church bells, are derived from pagan practices.

Irrespective of how the socio-religious-cultural-moral norms and practices originate, there can be no doubt that a society would not be possible without these. There is no country in the world that has been able to eliminate religion. Soviet Union tried to create a relgion-less society based on fear. It did not work. The communist experiment lacked a conceptual framework that could inspire men to be moral and to work for the benefit of society. Concentration Camps in Siberia failed to inspire a nation to improve efficiencies.

Religion provides the basic framework that makes a society possible. It is like a technical protocol that enables my computer and fax machine to communicate with your computer and fax machine respectively. When individuals join to become a society, they become a force and acquire strength far in excess to and disproportianate to the strength that any individual has.

The power of society is misused on one hand by the society as a whole and by a few individuals (clergy) in the society. External use of power leads to wars and internal use leads to oppression on some weaker sections of the society. Just because the power of society is misued by a few does not mean that we should disband society or should demolish the foundations that make a society possible. In this respect, religion is like science and technology. More people have denied in the past hundred years than in any prior century due to extensive use of science and technology in wars. Yet, we cannot eliminate the use of science and technology.

Every generation must fight for reform, for ensuring that the power of religion or society is not misused. While we do that, we should not, as is said, throw away the baby with the dirty water in the tub. A society, where moral norms collapse, cannot survive for long. USA and Russia have much lower level of poverty than India, but have much more crime than India. The crime there is symptomatic of a deeper malaise.

It is a common practice to deride India in Europe, Australia and America. Please remember that we were brutally enslaved for a thousand years and yet we have survived. Our problem is that we often look up to the people who enslaved us and compare ourselves with them. They are rich today because we are poor. Industrial revolution happened only after a massive transfer of resources took place from the colonies. Poor people have all bad traits - is that not a universal fact? After all, the rich control the media who will show only images that show the rich in good light. How many photographs of mutilated bodies have you seen from 9/11 and how many from Gujarat earthquake or Godhra? There is no doubt that as a country, we face problems just like every other country and society faces. But our problems are blown up while the ones of rich countries are underplayed. In case of India, the problems are blown up even more because this is one former colony that refuses to classify itself as part of the ex-colonies and has aspirations to be a part of the masters - a fit case for being crushed in a most disgraceful manner.

To conclude, we must all work together to reform Indian society but we must also realize the strenghts of India and its social-religious-cultural norms. Let us not be naive and condemn all that is old. On the other hand, we must also avoid the attitude of putting all that is ancient and old on a pedestal. A rational approach, where we accept elements of religion to the extent useful and good for social and individual life, should be adopted. Catholic (and even protestant) churches condemn this as a cafteria approach and want to sell a package deal wherein you must take the whole or nothing at all. Fortunately, we have other religions like Hinduism that permit a cafetaria approach.

With Best Wishes and Regards,

Anil Chawla

My compliments to Anil and Anshumala.

This is one of the best intellectual exchanges I have seen in these groups. You have educated even this senior guy on the variety of issues facing not just India but all other countries as well. Keep it up.

narayanswami IITM 68

Absolutely Brilliant!

I just read your response to Ms. Anshumala's query. And those words sum up my reaction.

Amit Alampally

Dear Anil

There are two issues in your last article which have caught my special attention as a distant observer of social and cultural developments in India: key words are "rape rate" and "punishment as deterrent to crime". However, I have no intention to comment, or even criticise, your statements about the Indian law and its application; I am neither qualified nor competent for that. My remarks are only marginal, based on personal observation:

1. Rape Rate

As you know, I used to travel a lot throughout Asia. Of all countries, India was the one I visited more often and where I spent more time than in any other one, often 4 weeks or more on one single trip. When I left after such a stay, I made a strange observation: I had forgotten that women have legs.

What I want to say is that I know hardly another country (except direct neighbours) where there was less of that continuous and omnipresent sexappeal than in India. Please understand correctly, I say many strikingly beautiful women of all ages, but the way they are dressed and move does not all the time ring an alarm bell, as it does in South East Asia, or for that matter in the West, where there is a state of permanent seduction.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the fact that sex does almost not exist in public places is one explanation for the low rape rate. Probably not the only one, because as far as I know it is also much less frequent that someone is attacked and robbed in the street, in spite of masses of poor people, than for instance in Latin America. Therefore there must be something more, perhaps sort of a surrender to fate.

As you know, my last visit was 4 years ago. Already at that time, I had noticed some changes and I wonder how things have developed since. I am afraid that in the long range India will not be spared of the "globalisation" of moral standards. I saw more bare skin in ads than ever before, young women wearing fashionable dresses or T-shirts and jeans, couples dating in public, etc. - at least in a city like Mumbai.

I do not know if there really is some sort of correlation, but my personal impression is that the traditional life style explains (at least to a large extent) that there is less sexual aggression in India. What I , however, know for certain, is that I always appreciated this atmosphere. Don't think I have illusions about the reality; I know of cases of adultery, I saw the prostitutes, I am aware that it is not the paradise for women, especially in rural areas, but as a visitor I always felt at easy because I was not bombarded by sexual appeals at every corner.

I am not sure that I was able to properly explain what I wanted to say. Just one last remark: I am a bit surprised that in the statistics you the annex, Switzerland seems to have the highest rape rate in Europe, and I find it somehow difficult to believe it when I compare with what we see in the news. But this would require some in depth analysis. However, I have some doubts.

2. Punishment

I believe that there is a fundamentally different concept as a consequence of the fact that no punishment as such, no matter how hard, not even death sentence, is sufficient for preventing crime. Also here convicts go to jail, but jail does not mean slave work and starvation, but essentially is considered as a "time out" for preparing social reintegration. The penalty is that someone is locked up, but the time is used for giving him the necessary help for a new start in life (learning a job, psychological treatment, etc.) You may say that luxury only rich countries can afford; the idea behind it is that it is cheaper than to lock up the same people time and again.

Obviously this humanitarian approach of giving a second chance does not always succeed. Especially not all sexual criminals can be cured and only recently the Swiss voted for a new law which allows, even makes it mandatory, to keep such people forever in custody.

Sorry, I am afraid that my comments are a bit long. I hope it is at least clear what I wanted to say.

Best regards

For the original article "CRIME AND PUNISHMENT", Please click here.

Please write to me your comments about the above debate.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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