The Hangmen

After prime time (and not so prime time, yesterday night) drama lasting days, with appeals, and petitions, Yakub Memon was finally hanged today.

First of all, I wish to thank the judiciary. Their job wasn’t easy. This was a high pressure case — public pressure on one hand to hang him, and pressure to afford him a lenient sentence from one part of intelligentsia — and while I have my doubts about death penalty per se, not just in this particular case, I cannot thank the judiciary enough for doing their best within the framework of justice we have in our country. Kasab, Guru, and Yakub Memon all have got the chance to defend themselves. Due process was followed.

The judges have ruled.The President has made his mind. The Governor has had his say. I’d request fellow liberals to not question the judgement beyond this point. I think it was the former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee who had said: the Supreme Court isn’t final because it is right, it is right because it is final. For many who have expressed opinions on the case, we do not have access to the full admissible evidence, and it’s time to move on. Questioning the court’s verdict is meaningless now, and counter-productive.

We’re not a country that has reformative justice (beyond juvenile) system, as far as I understand. We’ve retributive justice. The change is not going to happen overnight. As a society we believe in retributive justice. Indeed, the popularity of our action films are a testimony to that. What we have done, in civilized world, successfully, is to move away from personal vendetta to retribution through a neutral party — the government, and its various arms.

“Use kanoon ke hawaale kar do, kanoon use saza dega” (hand him to law enforcement, they will deliver justice — actually that’s not a right word to word translation, because saza is punishment, and punishment is supposed to serve as retributive justice, to compensate in whatever way those who lost a near/dear one) is a dialogue one is used to encounter, especially in the 80s/90s Bollywood movies. There is a reason for that. As persons affected by a crime, it’s very difficult to be objective about “justice”. A state machinery, working within well defined processes to investigate, and indeed punish on behalf of society is a step in the right direction. That even someone like Ajamal Kasab, seen on camera killing people, in a war against our state, got a chance to be heard, and the due process was followed is a huge step away from a crowd frenzy filled instant vendetta.

IMG_20150316_143904The next step — of moving towards reformation — is that much more difficult. Our jails are more likely to turn a petty criminal into a hardcore one, rather than reforming him/her, if there is such a possibility, to begin with. Our society is no different. We kill in the name of family honor. We kill for the want of a male child. We kill in the name of religion. We kill in the name of philosophies …

But that tiny possibility of reform is something that we have to believe in — both for individuals and for the society at large. If not, then really, it’s hopeless.

Beyond retribution/reformation, there is always the notion of deterrent that justifies punishment — even severe ones. But for deterrent to work, the system has to be swift, and consistent. That is a pipe dream considering the fate of cases against those who are accessed of organized violence: from pre 1984 to 2002 and beyond. The terribly long delays in dispensing justice, the systematic abuse of arms of law to change course of investigation, lack of any working witness protection program, corruption at every level, have made deterrence a joke in our country.

Yes, what we’ve achieved today as a society is plain old retribution in a civil manner. Let’s not gloat about it. Civilization demands more of us. We should aspire to be more than hangmen.

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