Sunday, March 31, 2013


“We want justice’ say the relatives of victims of a terror attack or murder. “The perpetrators must be arrested and hanged. “

Those lines appear regularly in media reports and stories.

When Kasab was hanged, there were celebrations. Only after Afzal Guru was hanged did the kin of the victims of the attack on Parliament accept the bravery medals that were awarded to the security personnel who had died. Justice had been done, at last.

Do people seek ‘justice’ or ‘revenge”? While they will claim they are seeking justice, they are actually screaming for revenge. Does putting Kasab to death bring back the lives of the victims? Can the past be undone? Can the gruesomeness of the event be removed? What satisfaction can the families of the victims derive? Aren’t they displaying a tribal instinct for revenge and  therefore being uncivilised?

In an essay titled “The case for revenge”, Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist and professor of law at Fordham University, explains that ‘justice’ and ‘revenge’ are indistinguishable and a call for the former is always a cry for the latter.

But the distinction between justice and vengeance is false. A call for justice is always a cry for revenge. By placing their faith in the law, those who justifiably wish to see wrongdoers punished are not disavowing vengeance. If anything, they are seeking to be avenged by the law. No matter what they say, victims aren't choosing justice over vengeance; they are merely capitulating to a cultural taboo, knowing that the protocol in polite society is to repudiate revenge. But make no mistake: When it comes to the visceral experience of being a victim, revenge and justice are one and the same.

And everyone should feel similarly. After all, there is no justice unless victims feel avenged, when they believe that a wrong has been righted and honor restored. And revenge is never just if it is disproportionately delivered—if the retaliation exceeds what is justly deserved, measure for measure. Indeed, vengeance is not irrational (the common knock on revenge)—it's healthy and entirely human. Insisting that justice will suffice when revenge is what victims really want is both intellectually dishonest and factually untrue. Besides, in modern societies where vigilantism is disallowed, we all on some level reasonably believe that it is only by leveraging the law—and having the legal system serve as our proxy—that vengeance can be actually achieved.
The crux and tone of his argument is that we need not view the quest for revenge as irrational or uncivilised. It is a natural, even primal human response. So long as they don’t inflict the revenge on their own, Bollywood movie style, but let the law take its course, then it’s fine.

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