After Brutal Rape Verdict, An Oscar Wilde Quote For SC: 'Judges, Like The Criminal Classes, Have Their Lighter Moments'

by R Jagannathan - Apr 21, 2022 11:49 AM +05:30 IST
After Brutal Rape Verdict, An Oscar Wilde Quote For SC: 'Judges, Like The Criminal Classes, Have Their Lighter Moments'The Supreme Court of India. (SAJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
  • If three judges think the rapist-murderer’s sentence needed reduction, let them do it. But why make a mockery of the victim’s family’s real grief?

The Supreme Court of India has, once again, proven that it is more into virtue signalling and displays of erudition than any effective ability to dispense justice.

In a judgement involving a rapist who smothered his four-year-old victim to death after violating her brutally, a bench comprising justices U U Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi had this to offer us in terms of pearls of wisdom: “Considering the gravity and seriousness of the offence, the sentence of imprisonment for the remainder of the appellant’s natural life would have been an appropriate sentence, However, one of the basic principles of restorative justice as developed by this court over the years also is to give an opportunity to the offender to repair the damage caused, and to become a useful individual when released from jail…The maximum punishment prescribed may not always be the determinative factor for repairing the crippled psyche of the offender. Hence. While balancing the scales of retributive justice, we deem it appropriate to impose the sentence of imprisonment for a period of 20 years, instead of imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life for the offence under section 376A”. (italics mine)

Worse, the bench quoted Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright, to add insult to injury for the child’s grieving family. Wilde said: “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and ever sinner a future.”

But, dear judges, here are some quotes from Wilde, that are applicable to people who, instead of being true to themselves, think they have to live up to some image.

“A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself, to be a member of parliament, or a successful grocer, or a prominent solicitor or a judge, or something equally tedious, invariably succeeds in what he wants to be. That is his punishment. Those who want a mask have to wear it.” (bold italics mine)

Wilde also said that “Judges, like the criminal classes, have their lighter moments.” He had no problem putting judges and criminal classes in the same sentence and mental framework.

Thus, while our bench seemed to have some empathy for at least one member of the criminal classes — the rapist who got a lighter sentence in the name of “balancing the scales of retributive justice” — it had nothing more than empty words for the molested and murdered child.

Several additional points need making.

First, the judiciary is clearly informed by the Christian concept of sinner and saint, for Wilde’s quote comes from that context. In the Dharmic context, over and above human judicial systems, it is karma that decides the ultimate nature of retributive justice. It is not about sinners and salvation. Moksha depends on what you do with your karmic lot. Our Constitution and the judiciary are not rooted in Dharmic concepts at all. Hence the need for building judgements on western jurisprudence and quotes from Oscar Wilde.

Second, the concern for giving the sinner a future ignores the need for the victims and her grieving relatives to be given a sense for closure. What about their future? Gratuitous remarks on saving sinners cannot bring a sense of closure to anyone affected by the child’s gruesome last hours in this life. Instead, what they now know is that the sinner will be among them before they themselves pass away.

Third, nobody need quarrel with the bench’s decision to reduce the sentencing to 20 years instead of life, if that is what it believes is good for society. It is the job of judges to commute sentences that they feel are warranted by the circumstances. But did their own judgement think the crime was not the rarest of the rare crimes, one that was “most barbaric”? The judgement read: “A tiny, bud-like girl was smothered by the appellant before she could blossom in this world. The monstrous act of the appellant suffocated the victim to such an extent that she had no option but to leave this world. Once again, all the constitutional guarantees have failed to protect the victim from the clutches of the demonising acts of the appellant. In the opinion of the court, any sympathy shown to the appellant would lead to miscarriage of justice.” (emphasis added)

Fourth, who will monitor whether the rapist-murderer, after his release, will actually do something to “repair the damage caused”, and “become a useful individual when released from jail?” Again, nothing more than platitudes and empty assumptions here.

The fact remains that the court decided that someone not deserving of any sympathy, was deserving of it anyway. They allowed the miscarriage of justice.

Okay, if three judges think the rapist-murderer’s sentence needed reduction, let them do it. But why make a mockery of the victim’s family’s real grief? And did they ever consider what the family may face, if, after 20 years, the convict thinks that his life was ruined by the court’s sentence, and he needed further revenge for his incarceration?

Oscar Wilde’s quote needs some modification. Judges, like the criminal classes, need time for reflection on their follies.

Justice U U Lalit, who will become Chief Justice from 27 August 2022, should have plenty of time to reflect on his bench’s judgement after he retires as Chief Justice on 8 November 2022. His tenure will be short. He will be succeeded by another woke judge, D Y Chandrachud, who will have a long two-year tenure.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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