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Crime & punishment

Putting eminent men behind bars for long time deprives them of societal obligations, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: May 12, 2006 10:11 IST

The chief benefit of prosecuting celebrities like the Nawab of Pataudi and actor Salman Khan for hunting deer was the wide publicity given to the crime: it made people aware that the murder of animals protected by the law is no longer regarded as innocent fun but will land one in jail as well as a heavy fine. I endorse the action taken by the police and the law courts. At the same time I have some reservations about penalties imposed by the trial courts. They should be given more latitude in the forms of punishment they can inflict.

Putting eminent men behind bars for long periods deprives them of fulfilling their obligations to society as well as earning a living: heavier fines, confiscation of weapons they own and imposing life-bans on hunting would be more appropriate. I can understand the trial judge’s revulsion against Salman Khan for killing black buck; he happens to be a Jain. But instead of sentencing the actor to seven years in jail and a fine of Rs 50,000, he might have given the culprit a Rs 70 lakh fine, confiscated his jeep, guns, ammunition and five days imprisonment: it would have served the purpose better.

God fails lab test

Daniel Dennett is professor of philosophy at Tufts University in the US. He looks every inch a philosopher: bald as an egg shell, with a long silver white beard and wistful twinkling eyes. He uses his laboratory to test his theses. He does not examine frogs, mice or insects under a microscope but elusive subjects like God, soul, faith, love, anger, hate and other non-material subjects. His latest book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a National Phenomenon has created a storm of controversy in the US. He was interviewed by a lady journalist. She put it to him: “Your book is about religious belief, which cannot be dissected in a lab as if it were a disease.”

He replied: “That is a scientific claim, and I think it is false. Belief can be explained in much the same way that cancer can. I think time has come to shed our taboo. People think they know a lot about religion. But they don’t know.”

“What can you tell us about God?” she asked.

He replied: “Certainly the idea of a God that can answer prayers, and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world — that’s a hopeless idea. There is no such thing.”

The lady persisted, “Faith by definition is something whose existence cannot be proved scientifically. If we know for sure that God existed, it would not require a leap of faith to believe in Him.”

The professor hit back: “Why do you want to take that leap? Why does our craving to God persist? It may be we need it for something. It may be that we don’t need it, and it is left over from something we used to be. There are lots of biological possibilities.”

The lady journalist suggested that violent changes in the weather may be one; high rate of infant mortality in the past made people to believe in a second after-life. The professor agreed: “When a person dies, we can’t just turn that off our people — seer and our people hearer naturally turn into hallucination of ghost, our sense that they are still living with us.”

“You do not subscribe to the idea of everlasting soul, which is a part of almost every religion,” she said.

“I certainly don’t believe in the soul as an enduring entity. Our brains are made of neurons and nothing else. Nerve cells are very complicated mechanical systems. You take enough of those, and you put them together, and you get a soul,” he replied.

Finally, she asked him if he ever went to church. He replied, (And I concur with him about going to temples, mosques and gurdwaras): “Sometimes I do to hear the music. Churches have given us great treasures. Whether that pays for the harm they have done is another matter.”

Ah, LK Advani

Hats off to you, Mr Advani
You are adept in creating sensation
When you found your status in danger
You shouted, “There is a threat to our nation.”
You set out on a bullet-proof rath
To protect our ancient holy land
Don’t you know a fort can’t be built
With broken bricks and slippery sand?
You accuse your rivals of minorityism
Didn’t you praise Jinnah to garner Muslim vote?
How can you reach your destination
When you are sailing in a leaky boat?
People know your hidden design
What you say they don’t believe
The very wheels of your carriage cry
What you aspire, you cannot achieve!

(Courtesy GC Bhandari, Meerut)

Thumb mark

Ramesh: Why do you call your friend’s family ‘The Angutha’ (thumb) family? Their surname is Mehta.

Dinesh: Because my friend is angutha-chhap (thumb impressionist), an illiterate who signs documents with his thumb impression, his teenage son is always trying to thumb a lift to go somewhere, his baby daughter continuously sucks her thumb, and his wife keeps the entire family under her thumb.

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)

Khushwant Singh is away. His column will not appear for the next two weeks