“My mother gave birth to twins – myself and fear… All actions that men do in Commonwealth is out of fear,” wrote 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan. Written during the English Civil War and widely considered the foundation of social contract theory, it argues that any form of violence by people (including the War) can be avoided by a strong, sovereign government.
According to Hobbes, human beings are born and live in fear, which can lead to innate barbarism. Explaining the theory, Kerala-based scholar Suresh Jnaneswaran says, “All civilizations in history and their modern counterparts discipline their people through the threat of 'greater violence' as the symbolical personification of 'State power.' This fear (of State) restricts barbarism, thereby catalysing man’s progress in civilisation and embedding a culture of tolerance. Violence, in contravention of the rule of law, pulls back human progress; more so when the state arbitrarily exercises it.”
This theory holds great significance in the context of the encounter killings that took place in Hyderabad a few days ago. The celebrations over the encounter killing of the four accused in the gangrape and murder of a young woman show that a majority of civilians have lost faith in the judiciary and due process, seeking ‘instant justice’ instead. Even Members of the Parliament, including actor and Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan, had asked for the accused to be lynched.
MAKERSIndia looks into the anthropological reasons and sociological impact of the development.
Rule of law is the law
The basic fact is that no democracy can survive without the law having the final say in any issue, and this should not be any different while punishing criminals.
However, to say that the misuse of law is an alien concept would be untrue. For instance, police have often led questionable investigations if they were unable to prevent a crime, in order to save face. For example, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged in 2004 after being convicted in the infamous Kolkata rape-and-murder case. A comprehensive study by Debasish Sengupta and Probal Chaudhuri, two professors from the Indian Statistical Institute, raises questions about the investigation and judgement of this case.
In the recent Hyderabad case, the four convicts were not established as the rapists in a court of law.
In contrast to the Unnao rape case, the four convicts in the Hyderabad rape case are from the lower strata of society, whereas in the former, the accused is an MLA who had the means and resources to give a statement to the media.
Since the four men were killed before the case reached the court, the encounter is classified as an extrajudicial killing. However, the Indian Supreme Court had issued a detailed 16-point requirement in 2014 to judge an extrajudicial killing. The crux of these 16 points is that the Right to Life is fundamental, and that a life can be taken by agencies of the State only in accordance to the law.
But more worrying is the response by the masses to these killings. The cops have been hailed as heroes, women are tying rakhi on their wrists, reaffirming gender hierarchy and hegemonic masculinity among men in uniform. After all, “true masculinity” is always reflected in the face of a woman. (The term ‘hegemonic masculinity’ refers to a construct of the “ideal” masculine, which is in contrast to not just the feminine but to the lesser, subordinate masculine as well.)
G K Karanth, sociologist and former Director of Karnataka State Labour Institute, opines that such misplaced worship comes from a lack of understanding of long term impacts. “We are losing sight of what is right and what is wrong. The encounter killing happened because the policemen were challenged. A crime being committed openly and cops suspended for not taking action on time would hurt the cops’ ego.”
As a nation, Karanth says, we hail winners compulsively and boo them down even for small mistakes. “In the Hyderabad case, the anger (and booing) directed at that mistake has led to the encounter killing. We are speaking emotionally as a nation,” he says. In truth, the authorities are at fault for not filing an FIR and taking the complaint from the victim’s family seriously.
Additionally, slow judiciary processes contribute to losing faith in the system. After all, the four convicted in the 2012 Delhi gangrape are still in line for the death penalty declared in 2013 – and justice delayed is justice denied.
Jnaneswaran points out that such factors make culprits walk free. “Culprits (hope to) escape when the rule of law is ineffective. You kill people in the name of religion with absolute impunity – it’s almost as if rule of law doesn’t exist,” he says, adding that the current political climate may have contributed to the criminal psyche too.
What should be done
Until recently, victims of vehicular accidents were refused help from bystanders as no one wanted to deal with the red tapes in these cases. Hence the Motor Vehicles Act was amended to ensure that anyone injured in an accident will get help immediately.
Likewise, Karanth says, “Incidents of this nature [Hyderabad and Unnao] make us realise the procedural and systematic drawbacks that need to be rectified and tightened.”
(Telangana was allocated Rs 10,351.88 lakh, out of which only Rs 419 lakh has been used so far. Maharashtra, Sikkim, and Meghalaya have not used any of the allocated funds. Some states have used a minimal amount to set up Women Helplines.)
The slow movement of cases in courts has delayed justice for the victims. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law and Justice of India, stated that there were more than 4.3 million pending cases in the court out of which over 8,00,000 cases were over a decade old. To ensure swift justice, law enforcement agencies and the Parliament need to find ways to clear these cases quickly.
Karanth recommends judicial reforms, and points to the need to stop deferring court hearings too. “Academic professionals are never transferred during an academic year so that their responsibility is kept. But judges and public prosecutors are transferred a lot so they can’t get deep into a case. Law has to ensure that the officers do not go away in the middle of a case – not even for long leave or promotion.”
In order to find effective methods to prevent rape, the government should work with social scientists and psychologists. A problem doesn’t end by killing a few. Changing the upbringing of men and cultivating a gender-equal mindset will be more effective.
Karanth adds, “Justice is not revenge; it is punishment for a proven crime. This encounter killing is influenced by media response too; police feels emasculated. But authorities should be taught how to handle media and mob pressure.”
(With inputs from Aishik Purkait)