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Thursday, January 20, 2022

‘Revenge’ is the highest form of Justice

In the early hours of Thursday, 6th December, the Commissioner of Police, Cyberabad and a team of police officers shot and killed all four accused in the bestial abduction, rape and murder of the young veterinary doctor Disha on the evening of 27th November when she was returning home after work. The rapists also burnt her body to destroy all evidence of their bestiality. The Cyberabad police officially termed the operation ‘shot and killed’ an encounter. 

The country erupted in joy and the team of police officers led by the Cyberabad Commissioner of Police was showered by an outpouring of gratitude and high praise from ordinary citizens of Hyderabad and from across the country.

The country’s human rights activists though are a species apart from ordinary mortals and from atop a self-assumed moral high ground, questions were tossed at the Commissioner of Police and celebrating citizens about why take the accused to the crime spot in the wee hours, why were the accused not handcuffed, how did the accused get hold of police revolvers and many other such hows and whys which were intended to raise questions about the genuineness of the encounter; not that ordinary mortals cared. It was enough that the beasts were killed. 

The Cyberabad Police Commissioner answered all questions with the simple and effective one-liner – “The police did its duty; that’s all I can say.” 

On the 7th December, the day after the encounter, the Chief Justice of Bharat at a function in Jodhpur in the presence of His Excellency, Hon’ble the Rashtrapati of Bharat and the Union Law Minister chose to make a veiled reference to the Cyberabad encounter and remarked justice cannot be instant and loses character when it becomes revenge. His exact words, “But I don’t think justice can ever be or ought to be instant. Justice must never ever take the form of revenge. It will lose its character as justice if it becomes revenge.” (The Hindu, December 8, 2019, ‘Justice can never be instant: CJI’)

The Chief Justice’s observation in the presence of Hon’ble the President of Bharat may be construed as his reaction to the President’s own statement, made earlier with unprecedented and refreshing sternness, at another public event that the daughters of Bharat are in extreme pain and anguish and Parliament must make or amend a law which will henceforth deny rapists the right to apply for mercy to the Office of the President. It may be argued that Hon’ble President of Bharat too was expressing veiled disapproval of the country’s judicial process, which, seven full and long years after the rape and bestial murder of Nirbhaya in a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012, was keeping as of December 2019 four of the accused alive in jail while the fifth had committed suicide and the sixth beast, who was a minor in 2012 had walked free after three years’ confinement in a reformatory and was living, a free adult man, “somewhere in the South”.

It was not just the President of Bharat who was justifiably exercised over the delay in meting justice to rape victims but His Excellency, Hon’ble the Vice-President of Bharat, as Chairman of the Rajya Sabha too expressed unambiguous disapproval on the floor of the House about the quality of justice meted to Bharat’s daughters. Hon’ble, the Vice President of Bharat bemoaned the fact that juveniles and minors found guilty of rape and murder were protected by both international and national laws. He was on his feet when he told members of the Rajya Sabha that the country must relook these laws because, he said, if a so-called minor can perpetrate a heinous crime like rape and murder, he is not a child and cannot be protected as such. 

The Vice President of Bharat was referring to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Bharat signed in 1992 and was therefore obliged in year 2000 to pass a law raising the age of a “juvenile” from 16 years to 18 years; and if a person has not completed 18 years of age when committing the crime, he cannot be prosecuted as an adult. Bharat’s Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000 was passed to fall in line with international law on who is a juvenile.       

The Chief Justice of Bharat before sounding his warning about revenge and instant justice, should have factored Nirbhaya’s rapist/killers who were still alive, and Unnao victim’s bestial rapists and murderers who probably were emboldened by the country’s generosity towards Nirbhaya’s killers, and who like the beasts that they were, abducted, raped, killed and then burnt the young veterinary doctor’s body. The Chief Justice’s observation, unfortunately only added fuel to the raucous noises of human rights activists. Not surprisingly, the human rights industry has filed one petition in the Hyderabad High Court and another in the Supreme Court against the encounter.

The Chief Justice should also have recollected that the Supreme Court, on 17th July, 2013, in just seven months after a “juvenile” was found guilty of having been the most bestial of the lot in Nirbhaya’s rape and murder, nevertheless dismissed pleas to reduce the age for juveniles from 18 to 16. Finally, the government had to amend the Juvenile Justice Act to allow for  juveniles in conflict with law in the age group of 16–18, involved in heinous offences, to be tried as adults.

The Cyberabad police rendered justice unto Disha; did the judiciary render justice to Nirbhaya? 

In Hindu Itihasa, Revenge too is Justice and high Dharma

‘Revenge’ is an English word and English, as immortalized by a great man, “is a phunny language”. 

We will look at justice meted to those who violated the dignity and physical sanctity of two women in Hindu history – Sita and Draupadi. 

Aanjaneya and all vanaras were instructed by Vanarraj Sugriva to fan out across the earth to find Sita. Hanuman leaped across the ocean and flew down into Lanka. Hanuman began to look for Sita in every nook and corner of Ravana’s royal palace and around the houses and streets of Lanka. He finally found Sita, with her eyes cast down, sitting in the grove of trees, the Ashoka Vatika, in the inner courtyard of Ravana’s palace where the women of the royal household strolled and walked. 

Sita was devastated, in intense sorrow and had lost the will and desire to live. In her gut-wrenching conversation with Aanjaneya, Sita describes her everyday life which was weighed down by despondence and hopelessness. Sita tells Hanuman to convey to Srirama that she will hold on to life in her body for one month and if Srirama fails to rescue her from the horror and ignominy of being held captive by another king in an alien land, then she would be forced to abandon all hope and end her life.

In the Chief Justice’s ideal world of his conception, Sita should have agreed to let Hanuman rescue her forthwith from Ravana’s custody and take her back to Srirama. But for Sita, Srirama’s honour and the honour of Ayodhya was more important than her freedom and so Sita gently but firmly refused Hanuman’s prayer to take her back. Again, in the Chief Justice’s ideal world, Hanuman, after finding Sita, should have returned to Srirama and conveyed the joyous news. Instead, Srirambhakta Hanuman was so desolate to hear from Sita herself about her sorrow, grief and despair, about her fear of the fierce and fearsome rakshasis who guarded her, and so intense was Hanuman’s anger, that he went on the rampage. Assuming mammoth proportions, the mighty Aanjaneya uprooted trees, flung huge rocks and boulders at Ravana’s army and killed every rakshasa who tried to stop him. Aanjaneya roared in rage and thumped the earth with his mighty tail repeatedly until the earth and mountains shook in fear.

Finally when Indrajit, thinking he has pacified and captured Hanuman with Brahmastra, drags Aanjaneya to Ravana’s court, Hanuman meekly accompanies him because Hanuman was on a mission to know and record in his memory every inch of Lanka, so that he could inform Srirama about what awaited him when he would come to Lanka to wage war against Ravana and rescue Sita. 

While the general opinion of all rakshasas assembled in the court was to kill him, burn him or eat him, Ravana’s brother Vibhishana (desperate to protect Srirambhakt Hanuman by any device from the enraged Ravana and all rakshasas) counsels Ravana not to kill Hanuman but to inflict humiliating physical injury on any part of Hanuman’s body so that he will return to Srirama with his disfigured body, humiliated and injured.

Ravana ordered Hanuman’s tail to be set on fire and what follows is Hanuman’s fiery revenge against Ravana and all his men, against Lanka and against Ravana’s army. Hanuman flies across Lanka with his tail on fire, seeks and finds Ravana’s powerful loyalists and relatives, and sets their homes on fire. This was Hanuman accepting responsibility for his identity as Vayuputra Srirambhakt. This was Hanuman doing his duty. If duty is revenge, then revenge it is. Hanuman did not care and neither do Hanuman bhaktas even today.

Srirama’s war against Ravana too, when Ravana was killed for his unforgivable sin of abducting the daughter of a king, the daughter-in law of another king and the wife of the future king of Ayodhya, may also be termed revenge. Revenge in the Ramayana is well-deserved justice and the highest dharma; as it is in the Mahabharata. 

The Mahabharata provides another gripping account of war as dharmic revenge and punishing offenders of dharma with death as dharmic justice. Draupadi, who like Sita, was the daughter of a king, daughter-in law of a royal family and the wife of a king, was in her menstrual cycle when she was dragged by her hair by a Kaurava beast into the royal Kaurava court. Having won the game of dice against the Pandavas, who lost their kingdom to Shakuni’s wily ways with the dice, Duryodhana slapped his thighs in hubris and invited Draupadi to forsake her powerless husbands, accept his adoration and sit in his lap.

Draupadi was fire incarnate and with angry words that scorched not only her husbands who abandoned her, but also Drithrashtra the blind king, Bhishma the Pitamaha of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Kripacharya, Dronacharya and other elders in the court, she scorned them for sitting silently and for failing to protect her body and her dignity. Dushasana laughed at her rage and drunk with the power of being a man and a victorious Kaurava, taunted Draupadi’s five Pandava husbands to save her if they could and began to disrobe her. 

That Srikrishna, Draupadi’s sakha rescued Draupadi from certain death by humiliation is besides the point in this narrative. What is relevant is how the men in the Kaurava court physically assaulted a woman without protest, without challenge and with impunity, and not only issued the threat to disrobe her but began to pull Draupadi’s saree from her chest. What is just as relevant and more important is that the world sat and watched a woman’s ultimate humiliation and terror. What was done to Draupadi was done to Nirbhaya, Disha and the young girl from Unnao. The country should revisit the Mahabharata before redefining revenge and justice.

War between the Pandavas and Kauravas was looming large and total destruction was a certainty. Under these circumstances, Srikrishna took upon himself the grave responsibility of a messenger of peace and went to the Kaurava court to persuade Duryodhana to avert what was going to be a Mahayudh with Mahavinash. Srikrishna asks Duryodhana to give the Pandavas five small villages or that much land which could be placed on the tip of five needles. 

And here is the question which the country in its entirety, no woman or man, scholar or Pandit, no grihasta or sanyasi has raised so far. What if Duryodhana had agreed to Srikrishna’s proposal to avert war and gave the Pandavas five villages in some remote corner of his kingdom? What next? Would the Pandavas have accepted the land given to them and would they all have lived happily thereafter, ever after? Is the Mahabharata’s Mahayudh only about the Pandavas’ lost kingdom? Or is it also about Draupadi’s shame, humiliation and about the loss of her dignity and self-identity?

Why did Srikrishna undertake the mission to avert war? Was this war only about the five Pandavas and not about Draupadi? It would seem so because had Duryodhana said yes, Draupadi would have been denied justice. It was not just Duryodhana and Dushasana who had to be punished for the sin of molesting Draupadi; Drithrashtra, Bhishma, Kripacharya, Dronacharya, and all the men who sat silent in the Kaurava colurt on that day, they all had to die for their sin. If the Kaurava clan had to be uprooted and killed to the last man, war was the only way to do it. Individuals could be killed in one to one combat but an entire clan could be killed and a kingdom defeated only in war. So what really was Srikrishna’s intent when he went to the Kaurava Court as messenger? What if Duryodhana had agreed?  

And they did die; all of them. Bhishma and Dronacharya, and all the one hundred sons of blind Drithrashtra. Bhima struck Duryodhana’s thighs with his mace during a one on one mortal combat, the very thighs which Duryodhana had slapped invitingly and insultingly at Draupadi; and Bhima tore apart Dushasana’s chest and drank his blood like Bhagwan Narsimha tore apart Hiranyakashipu’s chest. Bhima also took Dushasana’s blood to Draupadi who had vowed to leave her hair unkempt and untied until she had washed her hair with Dushasana’s blood.

Draupadi wanted revenge, Bhima and Arjuna wanted revenge, Srikrishna wanted justice; but Srikrishna’s justice would not have been rendered and upheld or complete without Draupadi’s revenge.

In Hindu itihasa, revenge IS justice because English is a phunny language. And also because the infinitely wise Police Commissioner of Cyberabad and his team of dedicated police officers, like Hanuman and Bhima and Arjuna, were only doing their duty. Nirbhaya, Disha, Unnaoputri and all those girl children, and women young and old who are raped and brutalized, are today’s Sita and Draupadi and every beast is Ravana and Dushasana.                 

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