[Reader-list] Crime and Punishment

Aparajita De aparajita_de at rediffmail.com
Tue Jun 29 11:20:22 IST 2004

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Dear Shuddha,

This is an immediate reaction to your response to Nisha regarding the reporting of the impending execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee and the subsequent romanticizing of it.

The key questions that your response to Nisha raises (or at least as I interpret it) are the concepts of ‘Crime’ and ‘Punishment’; ‘Violence’ vis a vis Non-violence’; ‘Civilized society’ vis a vis barbaric uncivilized society. And ultimately, the moral codes (moral or otherwise) that we live by. 

Crime as commonly perceived is an act of violation of the norms that one adheres to and believes in. Thus committing a crime is an act of abnormality, a defiance of the norms that one believes. So in order to restore normalcy one seeks intervention which takes the form of punishment.  You have proclaimed that you are “not an absolutist believer in what is called non-violence” and you “believe that armed resistance by individuals, or by groups, in self defense is justified, when no other options are left, and when survival is at stake”. Punishment is an act of self-defense against the norms one believes in and one’s survival is at stake as an act of crime questions the existence and legitimacy of these beliefs and norms. So no matter what the nature of the punishment may be it will always have an aspect of violence. 

Let me ask you Shuddha, how do you differentiate between violence and non-violence? Are they truly separate categories? Is physical injury (only) in this case a death penalty an act of violence? Can’t an act of non-violence be deeply violent as well?

And last but not the least is violence symbolic of barbarism and uncivilized society? If so, then all of us are or have been barbaric and uncivilized.    


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