The breaking story on all news channels is the 6year jail term handed out to Indian film star Sanjay Dutt. The drama called justice left me thinking on what justice is all about. From the way things go these days and from the choice of words of news reporters, it seems justice is all about punishment. That is something I am very uncomfortable with. I believe society needs to do away with punishment courts and bring in reform courts. Justice should be about healing, reform and correction. Punishment should be an option only when the accused refuses to follow a path of reform or simply refuses to cooperate in a manner beneficial to society. And there is no reason whatsoever to give someone a life sentence. Let us hold that until we know more about life and death, shall we?
Lets take the example of Sanjay Dutt. Without doubt he committed an offence by possessing an AK-56 (amongst other weapons) during the days following 1993 riots. But is that all to it? Who takes responsibility for the failure of law and order leading ordinary citizens to feel threatened and helpless; which leads to them taking desperate measures? Will the government stand trial and will the state chief minister go to jail for not attending to his/her responsibility? I am not trying to justify the crime committed by Dutt, just trying to explain.
Having proven his guilt, one must ask what are the options before us for Sanjay Dutt? The usual option is to hand out a punishment – some jail term. I ask, what purpose does this punishment serve? Does the society and the country benefit by Sanjay Dutt going to jail? Then there is the question of message to aspiring criminals. How about Dutt coming on TV, saying sorry to the country and telling us how much his action cost him in terms of peace of mind and grace? Isn’t that a better message? Hardened criminal minds in any case will not be affected by the punishment given to Dutt. But the “criminal due to drastic circumstances”, such as the Mumbai riots of 1993, will get the message.
How about Sanjay Dutt receiving a punishment that says “you will build an orphanage for children who lose their parents in riots and also build a hospital that attends to trauma patients”. That will benefit society, give Dutt a chance to reform, increase his love for society and increase society’s love and patience with people who are fundamentally good but just happen to commit an anomalous crime.
Possessing a weapon does not make Sanjay Dutt a criminal. He is not a threat to society. And his serving 6 years in jail will not benefit society.
So why are we sending him to jail? Why are we pushing him into a dark cold cell where his spirit will slowly die while he could have been so much more beneficial to society by staying outside? To satisfy our age old dusty notions of justice? An idea being carried forward from the days of monarchs and autocrats; that the criminal must be punished with no concern to the human life which, instead of being reformed, will be destroyed?
And Dutt is only an example I use. There are hundreds and thousands of such people in India who are not criminals but end up being jailed for years simply because out of the millions of moments in their lives, they lost control once. And behind nearly every such crime is the basic failure of the government to create a welfare state. Unfortunately, the government does not stand trail. It is a shame that we forget the hundreds of times these people have been good citizens and human beings. And sending them to jail probably stifles the good more than correct the bad. How sad.
Recent news stories increasingly give the impression that society is becoming intolerant. A fact highlighted by the many police brutalities in the form of lathi charge at protestors. I cannot forget a particular scene in which a policeman is shown holding up the face of a 70 year old man while he boots his cheeks. Repeatedly. The old man was minimally dressed and you could count the bones of his rib cage. And similar pictures are flashed every other month. What are we doing? Is punishment so desirable that we become animals?
I recollect another case which is an example of why our present system of justice is doing no justice to society. The case was of Salman Khan going hunting for Chinkaras – a protected species of deer. His crime is proven without doubt. And the justice system gives him some jail term. How does that help the Chinkara? How about this – ask Salman Khan to contribute 5 crore rupees to a Chinkara protection force and have him serve 3 months in a national park. That will help better the status of Chinkaras and give Salman Khan a path to reform. With each such reform judgment there is the potential to win the momentary criminal and turn him/her into a better human being. Since the “punishment” calls out to the goodness within each of us, people will come to love the idea of justice because it helps them become better humans.
Both Dutt and Khan are not criminals. They did not go murder someone in cold blood or rape someone or burn someone’s house. They are people like you and me who just happened to momentarily go astray.
Why do we call our code as Indian Penal Code? Look up the word ‘penal’ in a dictionary and this is what you get – “Having as its object the infliction of punishment, punitive; prescribing the punishment to be inflicted for an offence” – from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. Does this sound like something nice? Not to me. Maybe we should have Indian Reform Code.
Am I wrong in sensing that since in India it is very hard to bring a true criminal to justice, the few people who get caught in our legal nets (and who are sometimes nice individuals) get treated to the anger and frustration of our society? At any given time, there must be a few thousand people in Bihar who carry illegal weapons. And they go around shooting people with these. And the government is fully aware of these people. So, what are we doing about them? Nothing. They kill, rape, burn for years and decades and nothing, absolutely nothing happens. But a Sanjay Dutt, gets caught and dragged. We vent all our anger on him. He is punished for being a nice person who made a mistake. Had he been a hardcore criminal, he would have gone scot-free.
Someone on NDTV was saying “the courts cannot be emotional” and I find it very funny. What is wrong about being nice and humane? Is emotion not an integral part of being human? Does that mean the courts are/should be inhuman? How can a momentary error become cause for years in jail? How are we going to account for the goodness done by an individual? If it is hard facts that courts live by, then let us get ALL the facts about an individual. Not just facts relating to a particular case against the individual. Because we will be punishing the person and not just a part of him/her. Let us account for every moment of goodness, every act of kindness that the accused has done. And then let us sum up the good and bad parts and let the result decide the nature and quantum of sentence.
If Sanjay Dutt has been a good citizen otherwise, has contributed to NGOs and has been kind and loving to people around him, then those are also FACTS which must be taken into consideration. Specially in a country like India, where it is particularly difficult to be nice and kind because the system does everything possible to make you angry and frustrated.
I vote for Sanjay Dutt to be set free. Because there are no facts that prove he is a danger to society (while some of our parliamentarians definitely are) and thus needs to be kept behind bars. Infact, sending him to jail is the only real crime in this case.