November 12, 2006

Let’s celebrate the death penalty (yes!); but justice is still a distant dream

Finally the verdict is out. It’s death to Priyadarshini Mattoo’s killer. And after being anti -capital punishment for as long as I can remember, I wanted death for the killer and am celebrating the punishment. For years, I looked at death sentence from a purely academic perspective of the role of a civilised society and how society can help reform people through education... appreciating Kiran Bedi’s work to reform people and deeply appreciating the humanity displayed by Sonia Gandhi in excusing Rajiv’s killers... and believing that as an educationist, I should always believe that we can educate wrongdoers into becoming better citizens.To me, the Priyadarshini Mattoo case was just another case of rape and murder, which I felt would not get justice due to our limping judiciary. And to me, the only way to avoid more such cases was to speed up the judicial process so that the fathers of victims too don’t feel raped and murdered, while waiting for justice – like the family of the tandoor murder victim and scores of other unknown victims feel today. Not that I think much differently right now.Currently, there are over 17.5 million criminal cases pending in various courts in India. Every Chief Justice invariably begins his tenure by promising to do something about the slow pace of justice in India, which makes people who get into any kind of litigation (especially in criminal cases) feel that the country has a judicial system which is merely on pen and paper. In fact, the saying, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, is just a saying to millions who are lucky that their daughters have not been raped and murdered. For the unfortunate numbers who go through the process, delayed justice is murdered justice. In the second week of October, the Supreme Court ordered the Union Government, states and all concerned authorities to take required steps immediately to “enforce the right to speedy trial” and said that this was necessary so that criminal justice remained effective, vibrant and meaningful, and so that it “does not remain on paper or is a mere formality.” In fact, there are more than 38,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court itself! While scores of victims await justice, perhaps worse is that there are scores of others in custody and under trial though not guilty. And the crime, in most of the cases, is that they are not rich enough to pay bail, speed up the trial or get justice in their favour. The biggest casualty in all this is the criminalisation of the common man’s life. Criminals roam freely in society without fear of law since the common belief is that they will always go scotfree. And it is in the backdrop of this criminalised society we live in – where fear of law is decreasing by the day – that I am excited about the death sentence for the killer. Justice is not just about giving justice – in time – and giving a chance to reform, it is also about acting as a deterrent to future crime and perpetrators of crime. And then, why in the first place should a society let a person live when he himself does not value life and has murdered somebody in cold blood – that too after being well educated.The death penalty makes me, an Indian citizen, vocal about the need to have an effective judicial system. I’m happy because now scores of other sons of powerful people involved in crime won’t sleep in peace and will shiver at the prospect of facing a similar fate, especially given the current scenario of public outcry movements... It makes me happy that their corrupt fathers – with no fear of law till now – will repent the fact that they never gave the right upbringing and education to their children and supported them even when they committed brutal crimes on the basis of their power and influence. It makes me happy that however illusory it might be, still, scores of fathers of raped daughters, murdered sons and the likes will feel that they have hope, however powerful the criminal may be. It gives me hope that other judges will be as fearless and decisive and be encouraged to give the worst punishment to similar criminals, thus unleashing fear of law amongst prospective criminals.Though, as long as we have humungous delays in justice, millions of cases piled up in courts and a complete lack of commitment from our Prime Ministers and governments to speed up the process of justice, justice will still remain a distant dream. But for now, let’s celebrate the death penalty!

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