Crime and punishment

Crime and punishment : Overhaul the system M G Warrier The recent media debates about delayed delivery of justice made me sit back and think about various aspects of crime and punishment. My childhood experiences of getting punished for no fault from my side, only because I was shy in opening my mouth and arguing my case, and, being witness to others escaping punishment either because they could lie convincingly or run faster or in worse cases, had better addresses remain fresh in my memories. Once, when I was in Class VII, in a term examination, I received the highest marks in Mathematics. The question paper was tough and several students didn't get pass marks and second highest marks happened to be far below my 77 per cent. After distribution of answer papers, an unexpected drama unfolded. The teacher took back my answer paper and wondered how I alone got high marks. He wrote one tough problem from the question paper on the black board and asked me to solve it on the board. Stage fright and some fear made me to proceed wrongly and the answer I wrote on the board was wrong. Teacher's simple question was, how I could correctly solve the problem in the answer paper. I had no answer. I don't remember what allegations about copying in Exam Hall etc he made thereafter. Quickly I was sumptuously beaten up below my knees with a 0.5 cm thick stick. Additional punishment was bringing down my marks to what was scored by the student who got second highest marks. Even today I don't know the logic and rationale of what happened that day. Twelve years later, after completing my graduation in Mathematics and teaching the same subject for a short period in high school classes, I had occasion to meet the same teacher in his sixties. No, I didn't remind him about the caning. Later in life, I had several occasions to helplessly remain aware of innocent individuals being accused of offences in which they were not involved. Some of them lost jobs. All these had an impact on my attitude towards crime and punishment. I believe, punishment is not the only way to handle mistakes and crimes. Thus, I can easily identify with the position taken by American businessman Thomas John Watson Sr who served as the chairman and CEO of IBM who reportedly remarked : "Recently I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?" That takes us to the criminal approach to punishment which coexist in business and industry situations. A worker at a site digging an oil well dropped his spanner into the narrow well and blocked further operations. So the company spent a million retrieving the spanner and the boss handed it over to him and said : "Here is your spanner. You're fired!" The worker said, "In that case, I don't need it" and threw it into the well! About ten years of trade union activities in a central government office and a GOI-owned organization gave me enough opportunity to understand the games trade unions and managements play. Recalled the three episodes to illustrate that world over administration of justice, particularly in regard to crimes is arbitrary. Bench and the Bar give an impression that justice is on the side of those who can raise their voice or pay the highest price. Can we improve the system? Perhaps there's enough scope for improvement. As many agencies and institutions are involved coordinating the efforts can be a tough task. The work will include review of existing legislations, enacting new ones, fast-tracking judiciary and government machinery, ensuring better coordination among various investigation agencies and so on. With the help of present technology and information network it should be possible to overhaul the system fast. Undertrials in jails who didn't get an opportunity for being heard should get special attention. Depending on the nature of the case, time limits for investigation to final decision will have to be fixed and adhered to. **** **** ****

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