A quantum of emotional misery
Is a passenger facing a hijack threat more distressed than an eight-year-old girl being repeatedly raped by six men?
Birju Kishore Salla thought it was kinda funny to pin a terrorist threat in Google-translated Urdu in the toilet of Jet Airways flight 9W 339 on October 30, 2017. Salla is one of those rich brats who never grow up and are not interested in the family business, in this case jewellery. A year earlier, he had allegedly smuggled a cockroach into a Jet Airways flight and then complained that he'd found it in his business class meal.
But Salla was sentenced to life imprisonment a few days ago, under a tough anti-hijacking law passed in 2016. He was also fined 50 million rupees, which a special court ruled would be paid out as compensation to the crew and passengers who had been put through the ordeal.
Each pilot would get a lakh rupees, cabin crew 50,000 rupees each, and each passenger 25,000 rupees for the "misery" inflicted.
The 2016 law expands the definition of 'hijacking' to include threats. If the threat is accompanied by an actual attempt to hijack a plane, the law guarantees the death penalty.
I have in my life threatened to kill people. I once told a dear friend, "If you crack that silly joke again, I'll kill you!" Though light-hearted, this would stand up to scrutiny in a court as a clearly worded threat to end someone's life, albeit one that was not carried out. A good lawyer could also have argued that I might have caused emotional 'misery' to my friend by belittling his sense of humour and should be made to give him 25,000 rupees. The reason I'm not behind bars might very well be that I didn't make the threat in a plane and I didn't make it in Urdu.
From all of this two things are clear.
1. The Indian government takes terrorism seriously, even the unexecuted threat of terrorism. A person who merely makes threats in a plane is considered dangerous enough to be removed from society for the rest of his life.
2. The government is concerned about the emotional 'misery' passengers are put through by a mere threat. Everyone thinks their life is over, everyone is sweating, some may be peeing in their pants and some praying. The government compensates them with money, even if only '25,000.
Let's talk about emotional misery, compensation, life imprisonment and the death penalty a little bit. Six men kidnapped an eight-year-old girl of the nomadic Bakarwal Muslim community in Kashmir as she herded horses. The gang, headed by priest Sanji Ram, kept her prisoner in a temple and raped her repeatedly over a period of several days
before killing her.
How much emotional 'misery' would you say she had felt during that week?
If they had done all this in a plane and in Urdu, the rapists might be facing death sentences now — but possibly because of the emotional misery they caused to the passengers who had to watch.
The eight-year-old girl is dead, and her father is a Muslim, so his 'misery' probably doesn't count. Only three of the accused, including the priest, were sentenced only to life imprisonment. No one was sentenced to death.
The Indian government showed its seriousness about rape in August last year by prescribing death penalty to rapists — but only if the victim was under 12.
The calculation looks like this to me — A man who threatens passengers in a plane should be jailed for life.
A man who tries to hijack a plane should die, even if his hijack attempt fails.
Passengers should be compensated for the distress caused to them by the very thought of a hijack attempt, even a failed or fake one.
Victims of rape feel less emotional distress than victims of hijack threats.
A man who causes emotional 'misery' to a 12-year-old girl by raping her should die.
Girls of 13 and over feel less emotional 'misery' when raped than girls of 12.
For this reason, the rapist of a girl over 13 need not be punished quite as much.
It also means that UP BJP member Kuldip Sengar might get off lightly for his alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl in 2017.
Most men seem more concerned about the emotional 'misery' caused to the rapist by the punishment. In Jharkhand's Rajakendua village in May last year, a 16-year-old girl was abducted by four men, taken to a deserted spot and repeatedly raped.
The village panchayat thought that 100 sit-ups and '50,000 fine would be appropriate. The rapists, though, were furious. Full of emotional 'misery', they went to the teenager's house, beat up the family and burned the teenager to death.
Lesson: never cause emotional 'misery' to a rapist. God knows what he'll do.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org Send your feedback to email@example.com
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