Reform better than mere punishment?

Reform better than mere punishment?

So finally, after 14 long years, sentences in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case have been announced and all the accused, including the high-profile film star Sanjay Dutt, have been convicted. The punishments vary—from death sentences to probation.

Everyone has an opinion on the judgement. I am no exception. I am sharing mine here.

After I heard about the conviction, I pondered: What is the purpose of punishments? The idea of punishment strikes me as odd. The law of the land is not about getting even, is it? I think the law is for protecting the society from anti-social elements. In my opinion, punishing people with death penalties or rigorous imprisonments doesn’t serve the larger goal of the society.

I am strongly in favour of reform and rehabilitation in place of punishment. We must aim at eliminating the crime, not the criminal. This is not to say that we leave criminals free to roam. By all means confine the convicted in closed spaces like jails. But give them an opportunity to get reformed. In fact, active steps should be taken towards changing the criminal’s bent of mind.

In my column, I have covered fragmented efforts of some jailors, police officers and NGOs in bringing reformist activities such as meditation camps to jails. Read All in the mind. Also read about Bihar Government’s initiative: Fresh move for reforms in jails.

However, the best-known reform activist I know of is Kiran Bedi, winner of the 1994 Ramon Magsaysay award, whose initiative of introducing Vipassana meditation brought about a change in the outlook of inmates of Tihar jail, one of Asia’s largest prisons. Bedi is definitely a role model for police officers anywhere in the world.

But initiatives like hers should be taken by the central government at the universal level. Every prison in the country should become a reform centre with one objective: eliminate crime.

Any opinions?

4 Replies to “Reform better than mere punishment?”

  1. “The law of the land is not about getting even, is it? I think the law is for protecting the society from anti-social elements. In my opinion, punishing people with death penalties or rigorous imprisonments doesn’t serve the larger goal of the society.”

    In my opinion, it does. If a criminal who was responsible for death of thousands of people, he is better kept away from the society. By giving them death penalty, the criminal is being isolated in a permanent way. It’s not that law wants to get even – it’s not revenge the law seeks, rather the law wants to send out a strong message that criminals at this level (mass murder) will not be treated with kind.

    That said, I personally think there are very few criminals who deserve a death penalty. A man who rapes an innocent 4 year old – death penalty for sure. This thought continues and I ask myself – this man committed the crime on an impulse, but bombers plan months in advance. In these few months, if they don’t find their conscience pricking them even once and have never thought twice about the repercussions of their action, then they are worse than that man who raped a kid. So, death penalty for them too!

    Good points, G.
    I am all for confinement of criminals and keeping them away from the society. But I am not sure if harsh punishment alone acts as a deterrent. Besides, I am not saying don’t punish. I am saying: don’t stop at punishment. Go beyond. Try to reform them. Try to weed out the crime, and you will automatically eliminate the criminals.

  2. Apt! It prompts me to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt: “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

    Thanks Baldo. BTW, how is it that you’re always ready with an “apt” quote?

  3. A thought provoking article. This is a very old debate with passionate arguments on each side. It is difficult to say that one side of the argument is completely correct – there are always shades of grey that can make the matter complicated.

    There have been great leaders who have spent their entire lives trying to find the right path. Judges, who may personally have disagreed with the judgements that they had to make, but were bound by their solemn commitments to uphold the rule of the land.

    We can only give a very personal and uninformed judgement – based on our emotional state of mind. For those who say that reform is better than punishment, I would ask them to try and convince the innocent victims whose lives are shattered by cold blooded and inhuman acts. If the kith and kin of the victims can forgive the perpetrator in their hearts, they have paid the biggest contribution towards abolishing evil.

    Living our comfortable and moderate lives, it is very difficult to comprehend the emotions and the compulsions that create such acts and the affect the victims.

    For those, who profess killing as a way of ensuring law and order – it is a very difficult justification to make. Violence and killing can never resolve can only make things worse. As a simple example, the entire world is now in the throes of a war because there are two sides who both believe that they are good and the other is evil. Religion, which is meant to bring about the right path of living, is being misused for creating distrust and hatred.

    Killing someone may deter a few, but it may also incite many others to rebel and take on the path of violence and hatred – can we then justify this act in the name of law?

    It may seem that I am against corporal punishment (in fact I lean in that direction), however, I am not completely convinced. There are a huge number of criminals (politicians, scamsters, religious zealots etc.) who are getting away with clean murder ..without ever being in any danger of getting caught by the judicial systems?

    What can one do to take our abilities to provide justice irrespective of caste, creed, race, clout and money? This needs to be addressed if we want to strike at the root of evil and eliminate it.

  4. This article stirs thoughts. I did read about Kiran Bedi’s initiative in the Tihar jail. Hats off for her patience and vision. But I would judge the success depending on the success of those leaving the prison for the outside world. Within the four walls of the prison, its a world in itself. The dynamics within the wall is not similar to that outside the wall. Would the rehablitated person be able to handle the pressures of the outside world without needing to get back to crime? I dont know, just wondering.

    I am a fence sitter on this subject. I am for and against death penalty depending on the enormity of the crime. There are points to consider- What part are we playing in making these criminals? If they were driven to a life of crime, what is it that the society at large isnt doing that makes them chose this path? Can we really rehablitate them? If so- How do we do that? Who pays for their rehablitation? Would all the citizens pitch in to help?
    (Most Ideals are not Practical) Can we really trust(trust being a fragile thing) them to live within the society without infringing on another’s right? If the victim of the crime was someone close to you would you still consider not punishing the criminal? If you decide on not punishing, did you forgive the perpetrator? If you decided on punishing, does it mean that justice is served? or was it revenge?
    These questions and many more are the reasons why I sit on the fence.

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts.. Thank you for sharing.

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