In the wee hours of the morning, the four accused in the Telangana rape and murder case were shot dead in a police encounter. Reportedly, they were taken to the site where the doctor was raped, murdered and charred to death for interrogation, and as they tried to escape, the police shot them dead. The development left most people relieved and with a sense of justice being served. For others, it was despicable vigilantism that broke the law in order to serve justice.
For the most part, in most nations, the process of justice delivery itself often denies justice being served. Theoretically, the process of the law is meant to serve justice to the aggrieved, or closure to the ones who are left behind. But when a crime that shakes the very conscience of the nation by the sheer brutality that was heaped on the victim, the nation’s reaction is often less circumspect and far more frenzied. While some question God, others question the ones whose hands are meant to heal tortured souls.
In the Hyderabad rape and murder case, the frenzied reaction was not only to the rape of the victim, which has sadly become common to a point where even rage seems useless but the sheer Godlessness of the pictures that emerged later. A contorted, charred black body, dumped as if human life was traded in a bargain basement. That frenzied rage where many demanded immediate death to the accused could have only given way to jubilation when perceived justice was finally met with the accused dead. And why not? It has been seven years since the gruesome Delhi gang-rape case where the accused had done unspeakable things to the innocent victim. The brutality was such, that even her intestines were pulled out of her body and she was violated with an iron rod. Seven long years and the convicted monsters are still languishing in the jail, with their death sentence in the last stages of appeal. For the better part of a decade, the family of the victim has got no closure in the knowledge that justice has been served. If the Nirbhaya case was not an example enough, recently, in Unnao, an out-on-bail rapist victimised his survivor again but burning her to death. Where was justice? Where was the rule of law? What does one do when the process of the law ends up victimising the victim and her family?
For those are questioning the encounter, four dead accused without the process of a trial is a democracy’s descent into mobocracy and anarchy. For any civilised nation to work, or at least work to a point of not falling apart, the rule of the law must be followed. When a crime is committed, regardless of the nature of the crime itself, the accused have the right to prove their innocence. And that rule has enough merit to it. Take the Kathua case for example. The Jammu court had ordered to lodge an FIR against six SIT members, who had probed the case, for indulging in custodial torture of witnesses, criminal intimidation and manufacturing of false evidence. It is alleged that the SIT members wanted to implicate Vishal Jangotra in the case by forcing the witnesses to give false statements against him. Vishal is the son of the main accused Sanjhi Ram, who was convicted by the trial court in the case, while Vishal was acquitted.
Both arguments have merit and both are bourne out of the glaring loopholes in the Justice delivery system that has failed to serve the people it is meant to protect. The jubilation at the encounter of the Hyderabad rape and murder accused comes from cases like Unnao or Nirbhaya, one where an out-on-bail rapist murdered his survivor, the other where the ones who dished out inhuman brutality are still stuck in the justice system for the past 7 years. The scepticism from comes cases like Kathua, where an innocent was tortured, intimidated and evidence was manufactured against him, just so the police doesn’t have to go against the popular sentiment of the masses after a brutal crime.
Isaac Asimov said, “people who don’t expect justice don’t have to suffer disappointment”. Both parties are expecting justice to be served, both in different ways, and both suffer disappointment in the justice system at some point of time or the other.
To find the answer to this eternal conundrum, the society must decide what ‘Justice’ means to it in essence. Is Justice the ‘rule of law’ or does ‘justice’ have a more poetic disposition? Is ‘justice’ a long process where the written rule is followed to the letter, or is it the process to assign responsibility.
Domitus Ulpian said ‘Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due’. By that definition, and it is one that is closer to my sense of right and wrong, justice is retribution. When a heinous crime is perpetuated, a society seeks retribution and that sentiment has been seen time and again. Whether it was the cries for vengeance when the Pulwama terror attack happened, or when people split on the roads demanding the victim be done right by in the Hyderabad case.
The Justice delivery system has often failed not only the victim of a crime but often, even those who have been wrongly accused of a crime and with such a broken system, one can only expect the society to be divided when an encounter like this takes place.
However, the societal reaction is to be judged at that given point of time with reference to the case in question. Samuel Johnson once said, “Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance, of justice. Injuries are revenged, crimes are avenged”. When the nation thirsts for vengeance that the Justice delivery system will deny more often than not, it is only natural for the society to seek their vengeance elsewhere and once it is delivered, to celebrate that after decades of injustice, what is right has been done. Does this make them monsters? Perhaps not. Does this make a society jaded and hopeless primarily due to a splintered system? Yes.
A system that focusses overtly on the reformation of monsters is bound to fail a people tired and repulsed by the lack of swift justice. While we can intellectualise and theorise until the pigs are marched to the gallows, one has to accept the fact that Justice is far more than reformation. Justice is often about retribution and vengeance. That the criminal must pay in equal measure and intensity. And unless the criminal justice system delivers retribution to the society, unfortunately, the citizenry will continue to seek it elsewhere.
It is hard to not feel for someone who refuses to take it anymore. It is hard to not cheer when perceived justice has been met outside of the formal system that often denies justice in the process of delivering it. While the fears of a civilised nation descending into anarchy are real, present and relevant, it is the duty of the state to deliver what the society seeks and if it fails, such incidents, however grotesque to the intelligentsia, will continue to inspire cheers.