Should criminals be reformed? Just the fact that someone thought it necessary to raise this question is important – that the person has no criminal record himself or an axe to grind should be sufficient.
Unfortunately, while people are quick to brand celebrities activists, the moment a person in the public eye says something that appears to be politically incorrect at a particular time is enough for us to rubbish the message. Rahul Bose – actor, occasional director, rugby player, citizens’ forum wallah – said that rapists ought to be given a second chance and hope for reform.
"... We have to ask ourselves of the five or six of the rapists of the December 16 is there anyone who wants to change, who wants to reform ... Nobody is saying about commuting any sentence, the sentence stands as it is but while it stands can we create a gender warrior among them?"
The gender warrior bit is ridiculous and women do not need such gestures. I also wish he had not used this example; there are many other crimes too. Therefore, I’d like to examine reforms for crimes in general.
But first, a quick look at the comments. They show how utterly superfluous the arguments against him are:
- What if it were his sister?
(Those speaking in this manner do not realise how sexist this is.)
- Why does he not reform himself?
(From what and into what?)
- He wants attention?
(If so, then they must ask themselves why they do not bother in cases less prominent than the Delhi gangrape.)
- Does he think he is an authority to speak on everything?
(No. But, are they not applauding civil society for speaking out without any knowledge of the subject?)
If many are agreed that capital punishment is out, then whatever prison term the criminal gets is meant for reform. This is what the government strives for. This is what civilised society needs. And it needs to implement it with as much, if not greater, force than it does in filing cases and ‘letting the law take its course’, for complete justice is not only about arrests, but what happens after.
While we need to understand the trauma of the victim, the mind of the criminal has got to be understood and given an opportunity to correct itself. There may be those with extreme mentally-unstable conditions, but many are ‘normal’ human beings who have gone over the edge due to circumstances, peer pressure, or a bestial streak either executed at a moment in time or across a pattern.
Assume we are putting a person in solitary confinement. What exactly does this achieve? That he (I am aware there are women criminals too, but for the purpose here I’ll stick to one gender) will feel the pain? No. It numbs him. He does not care. He probably is poor, so eating basic meals may not make much of a difference. We hear of instances where they take to reading holy books, and assume this is penance. By this logic, most the world must have criminal tendencies given the amount of scriptural reading that society thrives on.
It is the lack of reformative spirit that should be addressed. Do we recall the time when dacoits surrendered under some scheme where they would not be arrested? Some, like Phoolan Devi, took to politics. Others were ignored and probably returned to the villages. The police had been helpless in capturing them, but quite obviously the old form of dacoity did not work that is why they laid down arms.
A prison term does not always work as a deterrent. It is known that the big criminals manage to conduct their business from inside the cells. The jail authorities too need to reform.
As for rape and the cries for castration, even if that job is done will it prevent acid attacks, battering, disfiguring of women, and the increasing incidences of cyber abuse? On the one hand there is talk of change in mindset, and when somebody talks about it there is opposition. The mindset is not just about how criminals or those who justify crimes think, but how they need not think. That locked mind needs the key of reformation.
I had once suggested that a rapist should be made to financially pay for the girl/woman’s upkeep. This is not a payout, like blood money. It is a more proactive means to ensure that the person is not dependent. How would a criminal manage? Not all are rich, and the rich ones get away. This is where the prison term should ensure that he does real work during normal hours, instead of being made to march in line, that keeps him occupied and his earnings are diverted to the victim. This is especially important in the horrific instances of paedophilia.
The fact that we have “repeat cases” tells us that merely putting a person behind bars won’t work. His life behind bars should be an eye-opener. It also does not amount to being let off on good behaviour. This is a moral dimension, best avoided. There is not much bad that can happen inside jails, except perhaps brawls among prisoners.
We have to be pragmatic and accept that crime cannot be wished away. More importantly, what about crimes committed by the keepers of justice? What about undertrial prisoners who are proved to be innocent years later? Who needs to reform here? Do we imagine those who did not get a fair trial will come out reformed for something they did not do? They might well turn out to be avengers for injustice. Our definition of justice cannot be static. These young men are tortured and forced to confess. If we decide to give the benefit of doubt to the legal system (and I do believe it is our best bet), then suppose they see these ‘suspects’ in a humane manner and use reform as punishment it is possible that upon release they will be an asset in helping to prevent crimes. They will see themselves not as victims of the system, but its allies in a purely mutually-beneficial sense.
If people have an issue with this, then we will have to live with the flurry of kangaroo courts, khap panchayat, fatwas, fast-track courts pushed by the media to keep their TRPs ticking. Perhaps, we have got accustomed to these demonic shows so we can forget about demons we can ignore in real life.
© Farzana Versey