Monday, March 25, 2013

Forgive and forget

Isn’t it a mockery of the legal process that there should even be a debate on granting amnesty to actor Sanjay Dutt? He has been convicted by the highest court of the country after a due process during which he had every opportunity to defend himself and present his side of the story. The charges on which he has been convicted are quite serious and there was enough evidence to show that he had committed the crime, not in an impulsive moment of foolishness, but with a conscious knowledge of what he was doing.

Yet, there is such an outpouring of sympathy. Why?

Santosh Desai has a possible explanation in an article titled “ The disinterest in punishment” in his book, “ Mother Pious Lady. Making sense of Everyday India”.

At a certain level, there is an intriguing indifference to the idea of punishment that underpins the Indian reaction. ..We are not really driven to seek retribution beyond a point. That’s why Charles Sobhraj became a minor celebrity before his re-arrest. Following the cricket scandal, Azharuddin has received full rehabilitation and Jadeja is a respected commentator. Phoolan Devi became a Member of Parliament. ...And Sanjay Dutt bears no stigma for his involvement in the Mumbai riots.
Why this disinterest in carrying out the full force of the punishment?

It is possible that the Indian response comes in part from the absence of a pronounced heaven/hell narrative in Hinduism. We do not really have a Day of Judgement to reckon with; we do not think of justice in binary terms. We do not arrogate to ourselves the right to determine absolute right and wrong and hence live in a world of moral ambivalence. Even Ravana had his reasons; so who is to say what is finally good or bad? ....We are therefore good at forgiving and even better at forgetting
As always, when it comes to explaining any facet of Indian behaviour, religion provides the answer. 

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