For some time yesterday early morning after I switched on the TV, I began to wonder if Covid-19 vanished from the country overnight. There was not a word of the contagion, all that burst out on TV channels was the hanging of the four rapists in the wee hours in Tihar.
It seemed like a carnival at the gates of Tihar. Newfound trust in the judiciary as placards displayed “we trust Judiciary”. Then all kinds of bizarre slogans which I now fail to recollect. Men were jubilant, so were women. It all seemed like some medieval circus where public executions had taken place and the crowd braying for more blood. The 7 years of wait had finally come to close and the Indian judicial system that moves as fast as a tortoise has ground its way and brought to close a sordid chapter of gang rape, brutality, and murder that may pale the wildest of barbarians even the Vikings.
7 years ago on a wintry night, the unfortunate Delhi girl was stalked by six savage men and after thrashing her companion to an almost invalid state the brutes set upon her gang-raped her in the most flagitious and dreadful way only human beings can think of. That night India as a country and we as social beings failed the young girl miserably. We failed because we let six depraved societal beings physically violate her – she was mauled and torn apart. The brutality that even wild beasts would not do was heaped on her. We again failed when we most outrageously rechristened her “Nirbhaya”, or the fearless. How dare we? How dare we presume that the girl was not plowed down by mortal fear when six hellish, debauched men pounced on her and ignoring her pleas, cries, and entreaties ripped her apart like hungry savage wild dogs? How dare we call her fantastic names ostensibly to elevate her on a high pedestal of courage and bravery and thereby mollify our collective guilt? She, a frail teenager, I’m sure could do nothing to resist when six cannibals had her pinned her down and set upon her in the most gruesome fashion words fail to tell. And we try to believe she was “fearless”! It makes me sick and retch when I hear the girl being referred to as “nirbhaya”, it must put down our heads in shame. She ought to be known by her given maiden name, her memory must not live under a pseudonym the hypocrite society granted her. That is the least justice we can do for her.
One can empathise with her parents who were pleading for the execution of her daughter's rapists. Their anguish minds could not have seen beyond that and the moral, ethical side of jurisprudence. When the mother said with relief that at last, her late daughter got justice, we could hold out our feelings for her. What else can a mother feel? But it makes me wonder when the general public says that “Justice served for ‘Nirbhaya”. What justice could a dead person possibly get? One said her soul was writhing would now be at peace. Semantics and fantastic phrases apart, the soul is itself a mirage that we human beings invented to appease our longing for immortality. A satisfaction we get when we think a part of us live even after we are dead.
What justice is it that we could give the girl now she is dead that we as a society collectively failed to provide her while she was alive? What justice are we waiting to render to the teenaged Unnao girl who was brutally raped and later murdered? What justice can we now give Asifa the seven-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped for days and murdered in a temple in Kathau, Kashmir? How many more individual justice are we to ensure for rape and murder of women and little girls that happen every day in this country? It is offensive that we even think of finding satisfaction and expect to clear our conscience by invoking the end word in such cases- “justice served”. My foot!
We saw tribal instincts come alive in front of Tihar yesterday morning and the kill TV channels found in the news of the hanging of the quartet, baring a few channels like the Asianet News and NDTV who simultaneously dealt with the very foundation of the premises on which capital punishment continues to be on the statute in countries like India that we call civilised. The benchmark for “rarest of rare case”, is a flawed premise. A protest against capital punishment will in today’s India be as seditious and anti-national as criticising Hindutva. The old and humane avatar of Kiran Bedi the fiery cop, when she took charge as the first female Inspector General of the prison, carried prison reforms that were in tune with a society that claimed to be civilised. She was upbraided for trying to reform the incorrigible and calling for human rights in prisons. It is an old primitive tribal notion that believes prisoners do not have their rights as human beings. One can even ask the hackneyed cliché well if something that happened to the Delhi girl fell upon your kin you might then think differently.
There is a sine qua non for calling ourselves a civilised lot. That must first ensure the patriarchal mindset and misogyny are erased from the society; children from a young age are taught to respect women; if an accused when guilty of a crime is punished as per law and that very law must either address his or her transformation in incarceration or accept the fact that retributive justice is no justice but only vendetta as offensive as the crime itself. Look at people braying for blood of the accused or the guilty. We see that in primitive tribal societies. It doesn’t take much thought to understand that the men who were vociferous in front of Tihar, yesterday would perhaps readily stalk and violate a woman, molest, grope and harass if a given situation makes them believe that they can escape being apprehended or punished. That is the duality of people. You hunt the victim and later cry for her.
A few months ago much of the country applauded when the Hyderabad police stage-managed an encounter and bumped off three rapist murderers. We, like daft, were more than eager to accept their alibi that the men tried to attack the police posse before attempting to bolt. We even were content to think that extrajudicial killings were providing speedy ‘justice’. What we forgot to understand was we are going back into primitivity. Did we have a convincing trail that diligently tested the accusation those men were guilty of the crime? Or were they decoy planted by the real rapists – murderers? Did we realize the anarchy such extrajudicial, instant retribution can cause to the fabric of the society and its law and jurisprudence? Not a word thereafter, we moved on – in fact we have moved backward.
Now, when we stand up and be passionate about what we call retributive justice for the Delhi girl and thinking she finally got justice, we are lying unto ourselves and let me put it, mocking her soul if you may. There is no proof that retributive justice or capital punishment, and in primitive semantics an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth holds good as a deterrent. Only in uncivilised barbaric societies that still fall for that, quoting antediluvian practices and bizarre books can think of chopping one's hand for theft, stoning for adultery and decapitation for murder. When the world over societies has done away with capital punishment, I do not see why that medieval retributive punishment should not be removed from the statute of a country like India which claims to be civilised. Lifelong incarceration with or without a chance of parole is what would torment the criminal either leading to his or her reform or pathological decay.
To quote Henry Ford, “Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty”.