And Justice For All

The news of Ajmal Kasab’s death sentence being carried out was a bittersweet moment. A man who participated in an operation that took away hundreds of innocent lives in Mumbai and almost evaded capture if not for the fearlessness of Constable Tukaram Omble, had been paid in kind.

If we paid him, there’s nothing he, or for that matter even we, can do with that payment anymore. Second, there was nothing kind about it. As a parent, it was an uncomfortable situation. Uncomfortable, because it’s my responsibility to educate my child about the concept of justice and fairness. We tell them that all men are created equal. Then we tell them all actions beget equal reactions. Then we subvert that principle and apply it to justice; an eye for an eye. Should inhuman behavior merit an inhuman response?

I mentally prepare for the moment when tyke will ask – dad, why did we have to kill him?

“Because he killed someone”

So he must lose his life too.

Life.

I’ve held life. I’ve seen it writhe and struggle into being in front of me. Angry red skin, angry cries and an even angrier countenance placed into my arms as I stood shell-shocked at the beginning of a new, terrifying phase in my life. As the cries suddenly muted themselves and transformed into a quiet gurgle I wanted to cry with joy. It was an exhilarating thrill as I was privy to life, vigorous and determined to be something, do something. There was a fierce urge to protect this life against all harm, but to what extent?

A friend pointed out that the only reasonable cause for taking another life is in self-defense. We captured Kasab alive, accorded him the humanity of a trial, dignified incarceration and then took his life anyway. I can’t justify this to my child because I refuse to gloss over irony.

As parents we spend each minute obsessing over the health of our child until it becomes second nature and embeds itself in our subconscious. A part of our day gets dedicated to thinking about sustenance, nourishment, development, growth and wellbeing. There’s an enormous amount of emotional and physical energy invested in a child and yes, like all other humans they’re still flawed. Some of them grow up and do terrible things, perhaps a consequence of their environment, their circumstances or even their upbringing. Laws deal with such transgressions. However, laws mirror society and as a commenter on a pro-death penalty post I wrote once pointed out to me, it’s okay to accept them as a byproduct of who we are. The question is, who do we want to be?

I’ve seen life ebbing away, and the shell that contained it consigned to flames in front of me. There is a solemnity in that moment unmatched by anything else we’ll ever experience in our lives except, perhaps the end of it. I’ve never seen happy faces at funerals. Even movies depicting executions never show smiling faces behind the screens as they watch the prisoner breathe his last. I’ve watched movies packed with gore, that propose vigilante justice like “Saw” and I’ve never seen anyone in the movie theater grin with satisfaction as a sword decapitates, or when an arm is sawn off. I’ve seen them cringe. We cringe because it goes against our grain to see life being snuffed out. It makes us uncomfortable to be in the presence of death, especially one of our own doing, reminding us of our own mortality. Reminding us of the futility of a life someone cherished, nurtured and protected.

Tyke’s pre-school told them about the US presidential elections, which I thought was a great thing to do. They told them about the candidates, what their favorite things were and humanized them. They created awareness around an event that was being discussed in their homes. The school even educated them about the electoral process by having a mock-vote. The ballots had the names of both candidates and the children were free to choose. I would’ve expected the kids to make choices based on the information given to them. For example, Romney likes skiing, or Obama likes his dog Bo.

I asked Tyke whom he voted for.

“Romney”

I was intrigued and asked him why.

“Because Obama won the last time”

“So?”

“Everyone should share”

This was incredible. Kids have an innate sense of fairness built into them that is reinforced by their teachers through the imparting of basic moral values. It didn’t matter to tyke that Romney is actually a two-faced liar, a duplicitous man. He didn’t know. Given the information provided to them, it seemed fair that Romney should get a chance at the presidency. Take turns so no one is upset.

My son’s teachers have drilled into their heads that physical violence is not correct. They instruct them to call out the perpetrator if he or she resorts to physical violence. If the child still doesn’t stop, point it out to a grown-up. At no point does the teacher say “hit him back as hard as you can so he will learn his lesson”. Violence is useless if you’re merely trying to prove a point, because a point can be proven both ways. Violence becomes a necessary evil when you’re trying to protect yourself with no hope of any other means of defense. (It is ironic that invading armies are called Defense Forces by their countries. Such contradictions must be confusing to kids.)

It’s unfortunate how we beat this innate sense of balance out of our children as we raise them. Poking holes with ugly spikes of biases, prejudices and morals derived from works of fiction known as holy books. Somewhere along the way, the central tenets of any religion, namely be good, be fair, work hard, help your fellow man, are corrupted in battles of one-upmanship and our children get pulled into taking sides and conforming to hazardous moral absolutes. Heresy is punishable by death because a different opinion endangers your life?

I think it’s critical to maintain a sense of perspective for the sake of our children. We may have grown up in a world where death is an acceptable response to death, but it need not be what our children have to live with.

We have to understand that if we believe life is an inalienable right, we must stay true to that belief even for those who take it away.

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7 responses to “And Justice For All”

  1. Yogesh says :

    Kamala V. Mukunda in her book ” What did you ask at School today?” narrates a beautiful experiment conducted by child pyschologists : A group of children were given a task to complete and were rewarded with money on successful completion. Though only few children were responsible for the success, the children divided the money equally citing that all of them worked equally hard and hence deserve equal share. Children indeed have a fairer notion of fairness than us !

  2. dhanasekara prabu (@driftwooddoc) says :

    sir,that was the most sensible piece i have read in the last 2 weeks.death penalty has always been a strict no for me.but my faith is shaken whenever there is a clamor like the one that is happening now.what do u say to the people who just cant be argued with?whatever be the nature of the crime however heinous it might be,who gave us the right to take away life?

  3. Meera says :

    I agree in principle with what you say, although I am a little conflicted. For the most part, I have taught my now 8 year old that violence is not the answer, that if somebody hits you you bring it to the attention of an adult etc. In the last couple of years, though I have had to change what i have been saying to her. She has been put in a choke hold by kids her age, deliberately beaten up. The perpetrators are kids, again. Complaining to the parents hasn’t brought about a change in their behavior. So I have changed the party line to “Hit back, defend yourself”. Which brings me to the question – is violence justified in self-defense? if yes, why is it such a stretch to support the death penalty? Conversations and peace talks with Pakistan haven’t yielded any results. Not hanging him may have given the impression that we are soft on terrorism. Maybe the death penalty will serve as a deterrent to others who contemplate a similar course of action.

  4. fairness says :

    How I want to be the grown up kid to whom these posts are addressed. :]

  5. Shivangi says :

    “I can’t justify this to my child because I refuse to gloss over irony.”

    That sentence sums it all.

    And of course the fact that the death penalty is a human rights violation in every sense, and once executed is irrevocable… so if the state were to make a mistake then how do we reverse it? And even if it is reserved for ‘rarest of rare’- who defines that?

    In today’s times what is rarest of rare?

  6. blackoccult says :

    I was in Bombay when the attack happened. I looked hopelessly in CRT screens the destruction of the city i’d grown to love. I had always been pro-life. But the call for death penalty for Ajmal Kasab placed a germ of doubt in my mind. Surely, the families of victims who died, indeed the victims themselves deserve justice. Surely, a rampaging murderer liir him needs to be hanged. But i was pro-life! I have still not been able to reconcille these two opposite sentiments that i feel. But your post at least has shown me the way.

  7. mohammadyusufadvanig1d1g says :

    This with reference to Mr.Owen Godfrey’s comment. Our police is empowere by the state to enforce law, protect property and limit civil disorders..Delhi has become a den for rapists.Would not feel ashamed on the day of funeral of gang rape victim,another one henious rape crime had happened in the same city of Delhi. The recurring of such violent crimes be prevented by police alone.Elected representative enjoy all their priviledges without being accountable for their duties, and dereliction of which goes unchecked..Police wihout effective policing & ineffective intelligence system and representatives have become so lethargic, that India has become fourt most dangerous place in the world for women. Every five minutes on eve teasing,every 43 minutes woman kidnapping, and every 140 minutes a dowry death incedences are regularly occuring in India. We witnessed a avalanch of nation wide protests for Gang rape. All protests will lie down,Life continues as usual. There will be more rapes and crodile tears, more dented statemes.

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