Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Will the last person in India to get the death penalty remember to switch off the lights?

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

If you were to describe the love-hate relationship between India and China to a teenager with a short attention span (are there any other kind?) (No, I have nothing against teenagers! In fact, some of my best friends still act like one), you’d probably use the phrase ‘it’s complicated.’ We hate them for their belligerence, their efficiency and the amount of control the government has over the people. And we love them for their belligerence, their efficiency and the amount of control the government has over the people.

That’s right. We subconsciously admire them for the things we’re supposed to hate them for.

We might not like it whenever some of their troops defy the ‘sanctity’ of the border and cross over to our side making us resort to sly tactics like feeding them Chicken Manchurian or getting Aamir Khan and a bunch of rag-tag farmers to challenge them to a cricket match to get them to leave; but that is exactly what we’d like to do to our less powerful neighbours. If Pakistan didn’t have crazy leaders salivating to explode a nuclear weapon or Nepal didn’t have so many people watching the border or Bangladesh didn’t promise to send a million undocumented immigrants for every soldier that crosses over or Bhutan wasn’t so darn cute with its pointy roofs and that silly ‘happiness index,’ we’d be ‘peacefully invading’ them every now & then to ‘protect our interests.’

We get irritated when the Chinese flood our markets with their cheap products, but we really want to import their work ethic. Not that working conditions in this country are anything to boast about. Even in the worker’s paradise of Paschim Banga – where each child is legally obligated to be baptized in a cauldron full of communist dogma – the plight of the little guy is not something that many people lose sleep over. Hey, in China, even toddlers have a sixty hour work week. Do you really want us to be left behind?

And of course, there is the monitoring of all communication platforms and thought control which they do really well. Our ruling elite would like to order more portions of that, please. All they’re asking is that you give them a chance by not saying anything too critical about them in a public forum, no matter how truthful it is. Just stopping people from being a tattle tale, nothing else to see here! No one likes a snitch!

Recently, a ‘court’ in China sentenced their former railway minister to death. This was greeted with a lot of cheer in India. Most people must have been watching this episode of ‘Extreme Justice’ on a non-Onida device because they had a sudden relapse of neighbour’s envy. Why can’t we have laws like that? All we have to do is hold a session of a kangaroo court, find a scapegoat and give them a harsh sentence. Even if everyone else who was involved will be automatically exonerated, at least there will be some semblance of justice!

There seems to be a new found fondness for death penalty in this country. It has become a very popular solution for literally every problem. People are still wearing jeans made of corduroy? Kill them with the same cruelty that is usually reserved for a character in a George RR Martin novel.

This is a slippery slope. If we’re killing people who are corrupt, what about people who encourage them by acceding to their demands? If we start handing out the death penalty for every crime, then we’re all going to be dead soon. Will the last remaining person in India to be put on death row remember to switch off the lights? Look, there are other, much harsher forms of punishment that can be used to deter crime. For example: one way to punish the corrupt is to get them to spend as much time as it takes to get some sort of productive output from a government department without either threatening or bribing an employee.

We’ve even become okay with extra judicial killings by the police. Hey, that’s the world we live in! Those criminals don’t follow any laws, so why should we? The laws giving every accused their day in court are to make sure that the innocent are not punished for crimes they did not commit. Even though a lot of our serious criminals are able to manipulate the system and get away, we cannot solve our law and order problems by giving people the right to kill their fellow citizens as they deem fit. Shoot first and talk later is not how a country which values its laws is supposed to behave. We don’t live in a Bruce Willis movie. The laws that give even terrorists a set of rights are not there to protect them. They’re there to protect us, so that we don’t turn into them.

Remember that whole constitution ‘thingy’ that was made after a whole bunch of people spent over a hundred years fighting for our freedom so that things like arbitrarily killing people for perceived crimes against the state wouldn’t happen?

Yeah, we got rid of that. It was too tiresome!

Instead, we replaced it with a cheap imitation that was made in China.

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