Monday, March 22, 2010

The punishment of living.

The comments on my earlier post have led me to think more on this line and am presenting a rather queer thought. I am probably contradicting myself as compared to the earlier post. (Which is OK. I often contradict myself!) Further, I might be raising a storm with this thought.
The issue is about what is the purpose of law, justice and punishment. And specifically with reference to a terrorist, whether ANY punishment really achieves a purpose at all.
Just last night, our usual gang (which means Swati, Vallarie, Prasad and Mamata) met up at my place and late in the night the discussion veered towards Ashvatthama. The curious character from Mahabharat. Krishna 'cursed' him with immortality for his evil deeds (which were too many to recount here. Suffice to say that he committed heinous crimes, equivalent to a terror attack in today's times.) In Hindu mythology, there are eight characters who are considered to be 'chiranjeev', that is immortal. These include Parshuram, Vibheeshan, Hanuman and others. Out of these eight, seven were granted the boon of immortality owing to their good deeds. Only one, Ashvatthama, was CURSED with immortality. How does one explain this seeming contradiction?

Nobody wants to die. I am assuming of course, but I think its a safe assumption. Scores of people have spent their lifetimes trying to find the way to avoid, feign or hoodwink death. And an equal number of people have considered the search to be futile. As Albus Dumbledore tells Harry Potter a truth of life - "After all, to a well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." I am no expert on world's religions, but I know enough Hinduism to know that it teaches us to consider death as a comma and not a fullstop. And in being a comma, it releases one from the trials and tribulation of life and living. Suffering, I mean.
So back to Mahabharat. Even Bhishma the great warrior was granted a boon that he could choose the time of his death. So hypothetically, he could have lived forever if he wanted to. He didn't. He chose the time when he was ready for the 'next great adventure', so to say. But Ashvatthama was cursed by Krishna - he was told that he won't die and thus be able to face the judgement for his sins. He would continue to live and roam the earth forever, burning in the shame and guilt of his deeds. The most horrible curse if you see it from the Hindu point of view. Imagine being told that you will never ever get a release.
What am I saying, then? Is keeping a terrorist alive a worse punishment than hanging? The Islamic fundamentalist view also compels a terrorist to seek heaven through death, so he/she is not afraid of going and committing the act of terror. On the contrary, he is quite sure of what he is doing, to reserve a berth in heaven. So is it a better idea to deny him that berth?
I have no answers, just presenting my confusion in its most raw form.
On a tangential note, this is my 100th blog post!!! I am glad that it is a thoughtful topic. The other topic I had in mind was Mayawati's garland. Ugh. She can wait for some time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

David Headley - Justice denied, mocked at, or negotiated?

I hear on the news that David Headley has pleaded guilty on all the 12 charges against him. He did so after being assured that he would not be given the death penalty, nor would he be extradited to India. So what happens next? I suppose he will get a sentence for 186 years or some such thing. The US attorney general has said - "not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities. As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad."
OK, I see the point. But I cant ignore the irony that such confessions have to be bargained and negotiated for, against a promise of deferring the death sentence. I am not debating on whether death penalty should exist or not. That's a separate debate altogether. I am distressed by the thought - doesn't this give the convict an escape route?
It is yet another debatable issue that if Headley had actually been extradited to India, would he have been convicted (and convicted quickly enough) to be punished. Going by the way Kasab's trial is progressing, Headley would have probably spent several years shuttling between court and custody. So - does this trial solve anything? As far as healing the wounds of 26/11 victims, no punishment to either Kasab or Headley will ever be enough. The scars are permanent. Which brings me to a question that has bothered me for years.
What is the purpose of a punishment? I am thinking of different options and just checking if the Headley case has achieved any.
To undo the wrongdoing that the convict had done upon the victim? - No. I doubt if that can be achieved in this case, going by the enormity of his crimes.
To reform a criminal and get him back to become a good citizen? VERY unlikely in this case. Don't forget that Headley has already spent two years in US prison in 1998 when he was arrested for drug-trafficking. So the punishment appears to have done nothing to reform him. If at all, it just made him an even more dangerous person.
To serve as a warning for others who might be plotting a similar heinous act? I would hardly imagine that to happen. If potential assasins were going to worry about being hanged, no assasination would have taken place in India after Nathuram Godse was hanged.
I am still searching for the answer. what is the purpose of a punishment?