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The heart of darkness, the light of law

india Updated: Nov 11, 2006 01:03 IST

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The actions of an individual can sometimes be painfully difficult to explain. While social scientists can try and ascertain the actions and behaviour of a collective — whether in terms of class, caste, religion, region, nation or any other identity-markers — to understand why individuals defy ‘normal’ human behaviour can throw off the keenest psychoanalyst. One falls into this darkness of understanding while trying to fathom why nine men, aged between 18 and 28, had gone about killing people. The macabre routine involved the gang  picking up a stranger in their taxi in Gurgaon, Haryana, robbing him of his cash and killing him. The money was minuscule; but the risk of being caught was also slim. According to the arrested, the booty was distributed and spent on food and alcohol. The police claim that they had committed 28 murders. A member of the gang stated that they killed at least 35 people. But the real nature of the killing spree can be summed up in the words of another killer: “What is the point of counting?”

The criminal acts of nine individuals do not make a trend — and by extension, they cannot provide fodder for any serious sociological study. But that is exactly what is worrying about such cases. It was not the act of one psychopath that can be put under the scanner. It was that of a collective of nine. Neither was it acts of a ‘group’ pushed to the brink because of depravation. The murder spree seems like a cross between the 19th century phenomenon of the thugees — who joined travellers as friends only to strangle them for their money — and a heinous parody of a hobby like stamp-collecting. Whatever be the springwell of such horrors, the fact is that, till the police made the arrest this week, the killers had gone about their gory business without any worry. Even if this was an anomaly, the possibility that it is not an isolated case fails to put the rest of us — individuals and society — at ease. Thus, the need for measures to stop such aberrations.

Every once in a while, we get ourselves busy by debating the issue of the death penalty. More often than not, this takes on the aura of an abstract, theological discussion: whether life is precious enough to be taken away by the State as punishment for an individual taking away life. The Gurgaon Rippers return us to the nitty-gritty real world, where the loss of a moral compass can result in extreme crime. The criminals killed not out of any dire need, but because they believed that they could get away with scores of murders. Murder is the strongest human taboo and the law is supposed to mirror the concern of it being broken. But if the law, in the form of punishments it doles out against murder, becomes lax and diluted, warped minds will get the signal that they can effortlessly break the taboo and the law and get away with it.

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