Published: 02nd March 2019
Should justice be retributive? History says that the punishment should fit the crime and not exceed
In another Biblical instance, Pilate, the Roman Governor, condemned Jesus to death just to pacify a mob that bayed for his crucifixion
The rule of ‘an eye for an eye’ was part of the law given by Moses to ancient Israel and was quoted by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:38). It meant that when meting out justice to wrongdoers, the punishment should fit the crime and not exceed.
Gandhiji reiterated this doctrine when he declared: ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’, which was later proclaimed by Martin Luther King Jr in his struggle against white supremacy in America. Crime and Punishment is the title of a famous Russian novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, first published in 1866, centering on miscarriage of justice. In another Biblical instance, Pilate, the Roman Governor, condemned Jesus to death just to pacify a mob that bayed for his crucifixion – even while knowing that Jesus was innocent and symbolically washing his hands. The balancing of crime and punishment is a delicate issue confronting judges down the ages. New, creative ways of awarding punishment are being adopted by judges — tempering justice with humanism. But first, the facts as reflected in two recent judgments which are far from retributive.
According to a report by Subhash Chandra of Express News Service (18/2/19) from Bellary, the four youngsters who had vandalised pillars at the Vishnu temple complex in Hampi learnt the hard way what their act would bring upon them. Not only did the JMFC court in Hosapete fine them `70,000 each, the four were also asked to re-erect the fallen pillars. Only after this were they let off by Judge Poornima Yadav.
Additional Public Prosecutor Geetha Mirajkar said: “The maximum punishment for the act is two years imprisonment or fine up to `1 lakh. Offenders will have to serve the jail term if they are unable to pay the fine. The judge ordered them to pay the fine and they were released after they re-erected the pillar.”
In the second instance, the Supreme Court on February 21, 2019 commuted the death sentence of a man who murdered his wife and five children after rapping the Madhya Pradesh government for its ‘unexplained’ delay of four years in forwarding his mercy petition to the Centre, leading to almost five years in deciding it. Jagdish was convicted and sentenced to death by the trial court and the capital punishment was confirmed by the state High Court and upheld by the Supreme Court on September 18, 2009.
Commuting the death sentence while noting the brutal nature of the crime in which “6 innocent lives were lost”, the SC bench said: “We direct that life imprisonment in this case shall mean the entire remaining life of the petitioner and he shall not be released till his death.” (Whether death by hanging now or waiting out one’s life in jail is better is a moot point – but not relevant here).
These two judgments represent creative ways in which judges hand down punishment. It is common in America to award varying periods of community service or to undergo a course anger management. In India, there are cases of judges prescribing tree plantation in public spaces. Now that the national swatccha movement is on, judges can prescribe cleaning an area a city/town for a given period or building a number of toilets for public use or for the deserving poor. Beyond the government stream of justice, some gurdwaras prescribe cleaning of the footwear of visiting devotees for a number of days.