Hyderabad Episode: To The Common Man, Justice Is When Punishment Is Delivered, Not Merely Conviction

Hyderabad Episode: To The Common Man, Justice Is When Punishment Is Delivered, Not Merely ConvictionSupreme Court of India. 
Snapshot
  • It is easy to understand the common man’s anger and apathy towards the justice system.

    The Nirbhaya rapists were sentenced to death in 2013 and the Shakti Mills rapists were sentenced to death in 2014.

    They are convicts, but are yet to be punished as per law.

Abducted, gang-raped, murdered, burnt — these four words explain the horror of the chilling crime in Hyderabad where four men brutalised a 26-year old veterinarian.

The shock, fear and outrage resurrected the spectre of Nirbhaya once again, and a nation with a scarred conscience, hungry for a sense of justice, simply looked at the system with contempt.

Such is our disillusionment with the law that we openly and silently rejoiced when the four accused were killed in an encounter by 10 police officers in the early hours of Friday, welcoming the overthrow of due process and ‘innocent until proven guilty’, just to witness the natural link of crime and consequence.

It is easy to understand the common man’s anger and apathy towards the justice system. The Nirbhaya rapists were sentenced to death in 2013 and the Shakti Mills rapists were sentenced to death in 2014.

They are convicts, but are yet to be punished as per law.

Nirbhaya’s mother was once surrounded and backed by top politicians, lawyers and frontline activists during a powerful wave for justice. Now, she is a lone woman moving lower courts to carry out the death penalty — the Supreme Court mandated punishment for her daughter’s rapists.

In fact, the Nithari case convict, Surinder Koli, was first sentenced to death in 2009, which was converted into a life sentence in 2014. Koli is now back on death row after a CBI court handed him his 10th death sentence in March.

In 2012, trauma, fear and grief was galvanised into anger and activism. There emerged a national conversation, an expedited investigation and new laws were passed to strengthen the criminal code.

On the other hand, we we were also exposed to the ugliness of our society — the trivialisation of the debate in Parliament, the misogyny, apathy and ‘dented and painted’ remarks of many political leaders.

India’s Daughter made us look evil right in the eye with the remorseless words of one of the convicts, Mukesh Singh, who said, “a decent girl would not be out at night”, adding that Nirbhaya "should not have fought back".

The conviction of Nirbhaya’s rapists did not serve as the pill for public anger. Our fury has been re-directed again and again and our faith in the causality of crime and punishment dissipated, with the Hyderabad horror breathing new life into that fire.

Civil society has been locked in a futile exercise of crime and outrage, where the former fuels the latter, but nothing is harnessed to truly achieve ‘fast track’ action through the courts.

Seven years since Nirbhaya, the killings of the Hyderabad rape accused show that our faith in the civilised notion of justice — the multiple layers of legal procedures and codes — has rotted away.

The Hyderabad case highlights that, to the common man, justice is punishment, not conviction.

There is no doubt that it is borne out of a frustration with the apathy of the police, the slow, rusty wheels of the courts and the pantomimic outrage of the political class when dealing with crimes against women and children.

If we look up the word ‘justice’ in the dictionary it says, "the system of laws in a country that judges and punishes people."

In his Retributivist Theory, philosopher Immanuel Kant maintained that the judicial system must be a 'conscious’ arbiter of justice.

Describing the 'rarest of rare cases’, he stated that, "there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death. No possible substitute can satisfy justice."

There have been multiple crimes where the judicial system has judged but not punished, as legal remedies are tediously exhausted and delayed at the same time.

The faith deficit has led millions across the country to accept and celebrate the Hyderabad encounter as real justice, opening dangerous avenues for our law and order system.

Depraved crimes like the Nirbhaya and Hyderabad cases wound the spirit of a nation, and beyond laws and procedures, the judicial system must take cognisance of that to maintain its duty as the prime dispenser of justice.

The current status quo is only delivering oxygen to the emergence of a parallel system where armed police officers and vigilantes may fearlessly become judge, jury and executioner.

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