are never free from violent acts of revenge arising out of anger and hatred.
Such deeds can be conducted by individuals, groups or communities. The degree
of violence and the propensity for revenge may differ from society to society.
Even within a nation, the frequency and pervasiveness of such acts vary over
time. Periods of relative peace can often be interrupted by long periods of
brutality. Modern societies, almost invariably, do not condone such acts. If
the rule of law prevails, such deeds are punishable because they cause human
suffering. Suffering, it may be noted, is irreversible in time. It is
impossible to provide present relief for past suffering. Last month’s headache
cannot be cured by having an aspirin today. It is possible, however, to analyse
why the headache occurred, and try and minimize the chances of it recurring. In
other words, one can, and ought to, try and prevent future acts of violence and
revenge. This realization is there in all religions, books of wisdom, and in
the words of many a wise man.
An act of
revenge can occur by returning violence for violence, insult for insult, abuse
for abuse, terrorism for counter-terrorism and war as well as by religious
aggression by pitting one community against another. It is always a tit-for-tat
reaction. The driving force underlying revenge is anger and hatred. Revenge is
always well-planned. However, an act of revenge is unreasonable. For instance,
if Y hits X unprovoked, it hurts X. X can become angry and plan revenge; X hits
back at Y to get even. X claims that Y should be taught a lesson for the bad
deed Y committed in causing hurt to X. X owes it to Y as is often claimed.
with, the initial action of Y — the unprovoked aggression — is considered as
something that is morally undesirable because of the suffering caused.
Therefore, the teaching of a lesson to Y does not make any sense, since X is
merely emulating a ‘bad lesson’ that is ‘well-learnt’ from Y. If the original
act is a good deed, of compassion and help, then this logic does not apply. One
often says that a good deed is something to be returned; giving a gift for
receiving a gift. Then why should a hurt not get squared up with a hurt
returned? The answer is obviously negative. A good deed adds something to the
receiver’s well-being and, hence, can be returned to the donor to square up. A
hurtful deed takes away something from the receiver and the original
perpetrator. Hence it cannot be returned to square up. Moreover, a tit-for-tat
response can easily escalate into a spiral loop of violence and
counter-violence. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Not only that,
there is tacit approval of the original act of injury. After all, imitation is
considered to be the best form of flattery.
If acts of
unprovoked violence or injury cannot be squared up by revenge, should one
forgive and forget such deeds? One could, but need not. One alternative to
revenge is not to forget the act, but work energetically towards ensuring that
similar acts are not repeated. That would be consistent with reducing the
chances of suffering in the future. Going beyond the sufferer’s reactions to
the unprovoked violence, there is also the possibility of the action being
judged by a neutral party, like a court of law, that can penalize if need be.
Justice, as punishment, ought to be rational, impersonal, and have social
legitimacy. It can help put a closure to a sequence of violent events.
some requirements for justice too. It has to be procedurally impartial and
equitable. For instance, justice must be meted out as quickly as possible since
justice delayed is justice denied. It creates space for vengeful acts to be the
only route open for retribution. The process of justice must be neutral and not
prejudiced in any sense. It should be based on evidence and its interpretation
logical. Punishment can be violent too in extreme cases, such as capital punishment.
However, these are usually the rarest of rare cases. Such forms of justice are
contested, and many societies reject these measures. Other kinds of violent
punishments are supposed to be inhuman, such as lashing with a cane, or cutting
off one’s hand. Punishment is supposed to shame and also serve as a deterrent
against future violent deeds. It demeans the perpetrator in the eyes of
society. Swift vengeance, on the other hand, puts the perpetrator of violence
on a high pedestal, since the avenger mimics the offensive act as something
desirable, even useful, in serving a purpose.
recent events in India serve to illustrate the arguments made against revenge.
The first is the case of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the
consequences that followed. It was an act of revenge against Babur for
supposedly having demolished a Hindu temple to build a mosque many centuries
ago. In mimicking that very act, Hindu fundamentalists have glorified the act
of demolition of religious structures not belonging to one’s faith. Not only
that, it has opened the way for retaliation and the spiralling of communal
violence. If one takes the final word of justice that was administered through
the legitimate legal process, the conclusions arrived at by the judges have
left many questions unanswered. According to the legal interpretation, the
demolition was unlawful. Yet the perpetrators of the unlawful act were granted
what they wanted from that action. An act of revenge, even with a hint of
social approval, can be a lethal social toxin. It can exacerbate festering
example is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act brought by the National Democratic
Alliance government. The act of seeking help by some specific refugees has been
interpreted as an act of aggression by the Indian State. Hence the law’s
attempt to seek legal counter-aggression to turn them out. However, if turning
out is impossible because no neighbouring country might accept the refugees (or
infiltrators as they are referred to) as citizens, they will be detained and
denied their citizenship rights. This is a clear case where it is not just
tit-for-tat so that an intruder is pushed out. Rather, it is an instance where
retribution goes one step further than the original violation. Since the action
is based on a law, it carries political legitimacy.
case is at the individual level; the gang rape and subsequent burning of the
young lady in Hyderabad. It was followed by the arm of the law rounding up four
persons who had allegedly committed the crime. They were purportedly trying to
escape from the police and hence shot and killed in an encounter. This incident
was followed by enormous celebration by ordinary people and by the relatives of
the girl for the swift execution of justice. The rule of law suggests that the
perpetrators of the heinous crime of rape and murder should have been tried in
court. If killing was indeed the best punishment to square up for the original
violence, then each criminal ought to have been shot and killed twice, since
they committed at least two crimes; rape and murder. In this instance, justice
was not brought about through legal procedures. It represents a surrogate act
of revenge, where the police acted on behalf of the relatives of the victim.
The original act of murder received social approval by celebrating an
equivalent killing without due process of law.
What is of
ultimate concern is the fact that higher the frequency of such acts of hatred
and vengeance, lesser the likelihood of suffering being reduced in the future.
In building a new India, the divisions along religion, gender, caste and
economic class will lay the foundation of a violent, vicious and vindictive
society with a strong propensity for revenge. It can easily erode the rule of
law and damage a citizen’s sense of belonging.
Sinha is former professor of Economics, IIM Calcutta
Headline: A nation scarred
Source: The Telegraph India