Photograph of Anil Chawla

Punishment and Forgiveness

Author - Anil Chawla

TV channels and all wise men and women of India seem to be falling over each other in declaring how the country is being somehow stupid in letting a criminal who have served his punishment as per law walk out free. Drama and emotion to this great chest-beating is being added by the parents of Nirbhaya (Jyoti Singh), who was most brutally raped three years ago. This couple is declaring that justice has been denied to their daughter since her tormentor is now going to walk free.

I find this attitude of the parents of Jyoti Singh as well as of all the wise men and women against all norms of jurisprudence and theories of punishment.

Parents of Jyoti Singh

Punishment to a criminal is not for the purpose of revenge. It is only a barbaric society where the purpose of judicial punishment is revenge. When Jyoti was raped, it was not a crime against one woman alone, it was a crime against the whole society and social norms. Therefore, the society and its instruments like police and judiciary took up the matter and punished the criminal as per the laws of the land. Hence, it is ridiculous for anyone to speak of denial of justice to Jyoti.

Any criminal who undergoes punishment for his crime is no longer a criminal. He has atoned for his crime and has a right to be treated as a normal human being. In fact, one theory of punishment is that punishment is an opportunity for the criminal to reform himself and start a new chapter in his life. It is wrong to treat a person coming out of a jail or juvenile home after serving his full sentence (without creating any disturbance or bad behavior at the prison) as a criminal. This shows lack of faith in human beings to reform themselves. It also amounts to wanting to punish a person beyond what the law has prescribed.

In this particular case also, I object to calling that person coming out of the juvenile home a rapist. He was a rapist and having served his lawfully prescribed punishment has earned the right to be no longer burdened with the slur. He deserves opportunity and right to live a normal life. People who are shouting that his moving on the streets of Delhi is a danger to the women of Delhi, are simply wrong. It will be better for them to show some kindness and compassion towards this person who surely did a terrible crime once upon a time. Every human being deserves a second chance and there is no reason to deny this second chance to this young man walking out of the juvenile home.

The way to reduce crimes is by kindness and compassion, and NOT by harshness and mistrust. Extremely cruel and harsh laws make the society more harsh, heartless and cruel leading to an increase in crimes. Rape is a symptom of a bigger malaise in the society - the bigger malaise is harshness, lack of compassion, revengefulness, absence of kindness, selfishness, absence of compassion etc. Some thought needs to go into the fact that Delhi with more policemen and judges per 1000 persons as compared to say Bastar has more rapes than Bastar. Clearly, the strong arm tactics of law, police and judges have failed to reduce rapes in Delhi. It is strange that there are cries for more of the same when we know that they have failed to deliver.

There can be no disputing the fact that women are safer in a society that values kindness, compassion and empathy.

Kshama (forgiveness) is an Indian value that we seem to have forgotten. Kshama stems out of kindness, compassion and empathy. Someone who talks of revenge can never forgive anyone. A society where everyone is out for someone else's throat based on the wrong done by the other at some point of time in the past will be a terrible society to live in. Such a society will be most horrible for women. Such a society will have much more rapes and other crimes against women.

Parents of Jyoti Singh need to realize that by crying to get harsher punishment for someone they are not helping anyone. In fact, they are only adding to the actions to make Indian society more harsh and less forgiving. The best that they can do for themselves and for the society is to forgive the man who has served his punishment as per law. They seem to be burning in the fires of revenge doing more harm to themselves than to anyone else. It is high time that they doused the fires with the shower of coolness of kshama.

As someone who is concerned about making our society a better place to live, let us think about making our society more kind, more compassionate, less selfish, less revengeful and more forgiving. Let us not confuse revenge with justice! Let us learn to allow the law to attempt to reform! Let us learn to have hopes about a human being and about every human being!

22 December 2015

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer and a lawyer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a legal and management consultant by profession.

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