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Leave the law to the law

Monday’s attack on Rathore may seem an anguished response to a lethargic justice system that can’t do without regular proddings.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2010 23:40 IST

Justice, essentially, is a system by which the law is kept according to a consensual set of norms. In plainspeak that means some things are considered

illegal and with an agreed-upon system in place law-breakers are doled out punishment according to the nature of their crimes. When the law fails in the eyes of the beholder, the vigilante is born. The law is taken into the hands of disaffected individuals when either — or both of — two things start happening: one, those entrusted with delivering justice are seen as not doing their job; and two, individuals with their own notions of justice don’t agree with the rules of jurisprudence. The attack on former Haryana Director-General of Police S.P.S. Rathore, who has been

convicted of the molestation of the late Ruchika Girhotra, on Monday is a case where both factors seem to have kicked in to erupt into vigilante action.

Let’s take the second factor of disaffected members of the citizenry first. In the Rathore case, the court had found him guilty and justice, after almost two decades, finally caught up with the criminal. What upset and angered a large number of people was the quantum of punishment doled out to Rathore: six months in prison. After a public outcry that led to the official investigation of Rathore and other yet-to-be-charged police officers for allegedly torturing members of the Girhotra family that may have led to Ruchika’s subsequent suicide, the courts were made to re-open the case so as to dole out a harsher punishment to the accused in line with the ‘new’ charges racked up against him.

It’s not our case to suggest that citizens’ outrage is misplaced. But mob fury when packaged as mob justice is an uncontrollable thing. Monday’s attack on Rathore may seem an anguished response to a lethargic justice system that can’t do without regular proddings. But one man’s justice can be another man’s act of grave injustice. Whether it’s the abhorrent nature of the crime — the Nithari murders are one extreme case — or a verdict that goes against one’s belief — the long-pending cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the 1992 Babri Masjid destruction and the subsequent waves of violence, the 2002 Gujarat massacres of Muslims come to mind — the law has to be consensual and the verdicts respected. For that to take firm root, of course, justice must be — and must be seen to be — unbiased and untampered with. Something that this country must ensure not through acts of vigilantism but by adding strength to the law.