Crime and Punishment, and Nirbhaya’s rapists-murderers

Whenever there is a major death sentence in the country (or it can be anywhere in the world) there is a big debate on the pros and cons of giving death sentence to someone.

People who oppose death sentence say that the death sentence isn’t a deterrence and giving people capital punishment isn’t a guarantee that crimes will be reduced. They are right.

We don’t have any statistics that prove that increasing the severity of the punishment is going to reduce a certain crime rate.

No criminal commits a crime thinking that he or she will get caught. Only when people begin to think that they’re going to get caught 100% that they’re going to think twice before committing a crime and until that happens, death sentence is not going to reduce the number of murders or heinous crimes like the Nirbhaya rape case for which the perpetrators are going to be hanged soon.

The travesty is that the person who committed the most heinous acts during the rape was declared minor and is now happily living his life somewhere in South India. Anyway, that’s a different issue, no matter how ghastly it is.

Vis-à-vis crime and punishment, every society has some form of justice system whether it is at a very basic level, like a village panchayat or the jurisprudence of the country.

Does the criminal system exist to stop crimes?

Theoretically, yes. But, whereas the criminal system quite successfully stops petty crimes from happening, it has failed to stop serious crimes like murder, torture and rape.

Take for example someone breaking traffic rules. There is a great chance that a person breaking traffic rules, at least on a road where there are CCTV cameras and PCR vans standing randomly, is going to be caught.

Therefore, you will find fewer traffic rule violations on the ring road or the main road.

On smaller roads on the other hand, for example roads in towns and villages and even smaller cities or even the inner colonies in bigger cities, people don’t follow rules. They neither expect to be caught by the police nor do they think that it is a big deal to break these rules. The thought of breaking rules, while breaking rules, doesn’t even cross their minds, such is the regularity of breaking rules.

So, the possibility of getting caught is a bigger deterrent than the punishment because, again, when a person is committing a crime, he or she doesn’t commit the crime thinking that he or she is going to be caught.

Make the possibility of getting caught 100% and the crimes are going to stop unless they are crimes of passion.

We all know this is not going to happen. At least not in the foreseeable future.

There are going to be crimes. They are going to be criminals. There are going to be victims.

Why does a typical society punish a criminal?

One reason is, once you have caught a criminal, what to do with him or her? If he or she is simply let go, he or she will commit the same crime, or even worse, and more people may fall victim. Hence, to stop future crimes from the same person, the person is punished. Some people are locked up for good for the very same reason.

Also, when a person is punished, the next time he or she will remember the punishment and he or she will also know that no matter how hard he or she tries, there is a possibility of getting caught and then getting punished. It acts as a deterrence, at least for non-habitual offenders. At least this is the logic.

The second reason is, an average society seeks equality for all human beings. Person A is physically strong and person B is not very strong. If person A beats up person B for no valid reason and just because person A is stronger and in a position to beat up person B, what does person B do?

In a civil society, ideally, person B can approach the law and the law will act against person A. If it is proven in the court that person A beat up person B needlessly, a judge pronounces a punishment. Person B gets a closure that person A is having to pay for his misconduct.

This also sets an example for other prospective malefactors, at least for the crimes that can be caught. Hence, unless we are talking about goons, mafia and hooligans, an average person won’t beat up another person because he knows that he can get in trouble.

Hence, in non-serious crimes, for example crimes of indiscretion, picking up stuff from shops, breaking traffic rules, since the possibility of getting caught is greater (mostly because the violators are not professional criminals and the crimes are not committed at isolated places). This again proves that if the possibility of getting caught is greater, the instances of crime decrease.

But, if there is no possibility of being caught, at least in the mind of the criminal, no matter how severe the punishment is, people are going to commit crimes, if nothing, then just for the perversity of it.

Hence, I agree with people who oppose death sentence on the ground that it is not going to deter future murderers and rapists.

Here I’m not going to make a point against death sentence or for death sentence. When I started writing this, my main focus was on the victim and the family of the victim. The more I think of punishment, the more I think from the perspective of the victim or the family of the victim. It is absolutely necessary that they must get a sense of justice.

No one has a higher stake on the hanging of the rapists of Nirbhaya than her and her parents. Nobody else should be in the picture. It is nobody’s business what Nirbhaya’s parents think about death sentence. If they think that these culprits should be hanged and if there is a provision in our law for hanging such abominable individuals, then they must be hanged no matter what sort of impact their hanging is going to have on future crimes.

You may say how can I ask for someone’s hanging? How can I ask for someone to be killed? I’m not asking for it. What I’m saying is, if Nirbhaya’s parents want her rapists/murderers to be hanged and if there is a provision in our law for such a hanging, then it is nobody else’s business.

When a crime is perpetrated upon a singular victim, the entire justice system must act for that victim. By default the justice system must be an advocate of the victim and his or her family without getting embroiled into whether the current punishment is going to have any effect on future criminals.

Crimes are not going to stop unless the criminal knows for sure that he or she is going to be caught. The degree of punishment comes into picture only when someone is caught. Technology can make this possible, but right now, such technology is not available.

Hence, what type of punishment a criminal gets must solely depend on what harm has been meted out to the victim and his or her family, and then what sort of justice the family wants. That’s the only thing that should matter.