14 September 2013

Remembering Angulimala, Buddha and Ignorance

Today, I recall the story of Angulimala, a dreaded bandit who killed people and cut their fingers (anguli) and formed a garland (mala) that he wore around his neck. In the past, the society had been unkind to him by disowning him for no fault of his and as a vengeance he showed no mercy. When Buddha heard about Angulimala, he went to meet him. Angulimala, as was his wont, intended to kill the Buddha and cut his fingers, but ended up being his disciple. As a monk, Angulimala went to villages for alms, but on one occasion he was beaten up and left for dead. By this time, Angulimala had already overcome his remorse over his past misdeeds and also did not show any anger and retaliation. When asked, he said that "the people did not know what they were doing in the same way that he did not know what he did." These are acts of ignorance. I was reminded of the story because of a happening during the day (Friday, 13 September 2013). 

A special court gave the verdict of death sentence to four perpetrators of a heinous gang rape that took place on 16 December 2012 at the national capital region of Delhi in India. I must confess, with whatever little knowledge of criminology I have, that the brutality and ease with which the perpetrator committed the crime suggests that at least some of them would be repeat offenders. The prosecution has failed to unravel this and the popular discourse has also missed this.

While there would be no two opinion on the crime being rarest-of-rare, but then does this mean that as a society we bring in typologies of rape and as an extension end up being immune to or legitimise certain kinds of rape. In particular, those that do not appeal to our public consciousness.

The special court and prosecution need to be appreciated for taking only nine months from the date of crime to arrive at a verdict. However, we should not loose sight that there are umpteen cases that have been languishing for years. This certainly is an area of reform that the courts should undertake.

It is also quite well-known that a large number of rapes (that are largely not reported) take place by known individuals - family members, neighbours, and colleagues among others. There are instances where a compromise is arrived at a social level when the rapist ends up marrying the survivor - what a travesty of justice.  And then there is the case of marital rape, which is not acknowledged under the Indian system. We need to come up with social and legal measures to address these.

One really does not understand why an equal (rather, more than equal) perpetrator in crime can be reformed in three-years time because he was of 17 years while committing the crime while those who are 19 and 20 years cannot be reformed. Assuming that the former can be reformed, what are the steps taken to ensure that such a thing happens by the time the individual is freed.

In the euphoria, we are forgetting that as per the principles of jurisprudence, the convicts have a right to appeal in the higher courts. A right that the surviving perpetrator of terrorist attack (of Mumbai in November 2008) also had.

One should also know that in the comity of nations, India is among the few, that is against banning capital punishment. I want to desist from getting into a discussion on this because the real issues in the current context, as indicated above, are something else.

Well, I do agree that we do not have the Buddha in our midst to change the multitude of Angulimalas roaming around freely. However, as a society, it is a challenge for us to come up with systems that change these Angulimalas while not giving any preferential treatment to some of them over the others.

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