Against street justice

It is very difficult to try and be a rational voice in the cacophony of cries for revenge and retribution on the alleged perpetrators of the ghastly crime that was committed on the night of December 16. I am equally ashamed, outraged and shocked that an incident like this could take place in the heart of India, which gave birth to a Mahatma Gandhi, a Gautam Buddha, a Swami Vivekananda and many others like them. I would also like to say that in no way am I holding a brief for the alleged perpetrators of this dastardly act. However, I cannot, as a responsible citizen of a supposedly civilised country, subscribe to the calls for retribution and the hysterical outbursts of many, especially of those who engage in such rhetoric just to please their own constituencies.

We must question whether we really want to regress into a country where the rule of law is substituted by street justice. As Amartya Sen said in a recent newspaper article, "street protest is one thing, and street justice is quite another. The punitive system has to work through our judicial system." It is very important to protest and have candle-light marches, to create awareness, pressure state and society to stand up for justice. But it is not ideal to have a mob mentality take over. If one person's rights have been violated, it does not give society the licence to violate other rights by taking the law in its own hands. I would like to put a few things in perspective so that we do not allow this one incident to colour all our actions and destroy hard-won human rights laws, enacted to protect the most marginalised and weak sections of our society — women, children, the disabled, the old and transgenders, among others.

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