Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Does Passing the IAS forgive rape?

The Supreme Court of India has taken a stand. And it is the right one! That’s a rarity in the current atmosphere of weird judgments, and large scale corruption allegations against the judiciary. This time though, the lower courts were dead wrong, and the Supreme Court has upheld not just justice, but common sense!

Imagine this. A man is convicted of rape, and abetting in a rape, and sentenced to fifteen years of rigorous imprisonment. He goes to jail, as he deserves to do, and while there, puts his energies into studying for the Indian Administrative Services. Whether he has the brains, or can cram really well, whatever the reason, he manages to pass the IAS entrance exam. Well, good. But then comes the funny thing. The Delhi high court suddenly decides that he has atoned for his sins by passing the IAS, and reduces his sentence from fifteen years to a mere five and a half years!

There are a number of problems with the high court decision. First and foremost, according to the Supreme Court, the high court does not have the discretionary powers to take it upon itself to reduce a sentence. There are proper procedures that have to be followed, which were bypassed in this case. Also, extreme and special circumstances have to be cited as the rationale behind a decision for clemency for a convicted inmate. The passing of the IAS exam, while certainly a bit of an achievement, does not qualify as special circumstances.

The other issue here is that the sentence cannot be reduced to below the minimum prescribed sentence for the crime, as put down in the Indian Penal Code. In this case, the minimum sentence for someone convicted of rape is seven years. So the High Court is overstepping its bounds in reducing it to five and a half years, which is considerably below the minimum prescribed punishment.

One also needs to think about the social and ethical implications of such a decision by one of the highest courts in the country. Letting a rapist loose, into the community that is supposed to be protected from him, so much earlier than the end of his sentence is problematic in itself, but when you consider the reasons being cited for such a move, the issue becomes even more problematic. What is the high court saying here? That such a heinous crime becomes nothing when compared to the great achievement of passing the IAS exam, something thousands of responsible citizens do every year? How are the two things even brought into comparison at all? What is the connection of passing an exam, which is a matter of cramming, and memorizing, seen as a mitigating factor for a crime that is among the most horrible ever thought up by a human being?

If you manage to learn a lot of facts and numbers, and answer an exam paper correctly, does that mean that somehow, magically, you have become a better human being and a more ethical person? That’s woolly thinking in the best of cases, by the most ordinary of people. When such woolly thinking is indulged in by one of the highest branches of the judiciary, in conjunction to such a heinous crime, it is cause for major concern for all the citizens of India! What is next? Serial killers being let off for passing the GRE? Thank god the Supreme Court stepped in when it did to uphold the law, and to protect ordinary citizens from the dregs of society!

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