Before you point a finger

Hindustan Times | By
Jul 30, 2012 11:05 PM IST

Public outrage is self-righteous and ignores the other side to every story

If a girl (or for that matter, a boy) is caught adopting unfair means during an examination, what is the way to deal with her? This is something that cannot be slurred over. And if she commits suicide — as happened recently in Howrah in West Bengal — as a kind of revenge against the authorities, or due to hurt feelings because of the punishment light or harsh, how far is her punisher guilty? No legal expert can reply to these questions without resorting to sophistry, and hence it is convenient for the bright, non-legal humanity to get away with the comfortable conclusion: “Well, there are no easy answers.”

If one has been tracking news beyond politics, one is au fait with the sudden spurt of occurrences that have taken place just on the fringes of civilised society — a girl thrown off a train for resisting molestation attempts, a child being taken off the ventilator because her penurious parents cannot stump up Rs 200, and the incident described at the beginning. In the first case, the remedy is simple: Hang the offender. The second one, though inhuman, is less easy to fathom. The weight of evidence could well be on the side of the hospital authorities who, after all, deserve to be paid for the services they provide. Still something niggles, right? Then consider this: How many times have you paid for the treatment of your domestic help’s son, whose illness prevented her from coming to work the previous day, much to your indignation and irritation?

But does rebuke necessarily amount to unlawful violence? Certainly not in Indian society because censure has a benevolent aspect, whether at home or in school. Without that, a child’s personality development can become incomplete. More so, if a child is guilty of wrongdoing and let off without even a slap on the wrist, it is the teacher who may be deemed to have been at fault.

So is it fair on the part of our criminal justice system to even detain the Howrah invigilator who scolded the girl? If the offence is of such a serious nature that it required the invigilator’s detention, then he should at least have been questioned even if no suicide took place. The death in this case cannot compound the offence.

The parents of the girl have alleged abetment. Maybe it is too early to expect them to be reasonable in their time of torment. But retribution brings in its wake nothing but retribution. What happens if someone files a complaint against the parents, alleging that they failed to impart moral education to their child and teach her not to copy?

The story of a tragedy can be long.

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    Uddalok Bhattacharya was part of Hindustan Times’ nationwide network of correspondents that brings news, analysis and information to its readers. He no longer works with the Hindustan Times.

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