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.
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.
I was intrigued and asked him why.
“Because Obama won the last time”
“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.