Crime and punishment

by April 18, 2020 0 comments

‘Covidiots’ are breaking the law and putting the lives of other people at risk. They must be held accountable and booked under the criminal justice system

Does it make sense to be politically correct when faced with an existentialist crisis? If a person is fighting for his/her life and finds that survival depends not just on his/her own actions but also on the actions of the neighbours/community, how should one respond?

The choices are pretty stark and binary, there is no time or place for grey areas and that is how it should be. Simply put, good deeds must be rewarded while bad deeds must be punished. And political correctness be damned.

During the present pandemic, as the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases and casualties continue to spiral not just globally but also in the country, there are millions of anonymous doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, media personnel, soldiers, policemen, grocers and shopkeepers, delivery staff, sanitation workers and many others, who keep our essential services functional. They are on the frontline, battling the COVID-19 monster, keeping us safe without a care for their personal safety and for the future of their families.

Many healthcare workers have even been infected and died due to the pandemic. These “Corona warriors” must be thanked and applauded for their dedication and resilience, wherever in the world they may be. In fact, more than just gestures, we must reciprocate and do our best to keep them safe, albeit by ensuring that we remain disciplined and follow rules regarding social and physical distancing; contribute what we can to make their lives easier and, most importantly, treat them with the respect they deserve.

The other side of the coin pertains to how we deal with those who violate social and physical distancing norms, knowingly or unknowingly, “Covidiots” as they have commonly come to be known. Ignorance after over two months of facing this pandemic is no longer a viable excuse and those who violate norms must be treated as deliberate defaulters, regardless of how illiterate or ignorant they may actually be. The motivation for their actions obviously stems from the belief that either it is not in their hands or that they are unlikely to be effected by the virus, even if they catch it.

The problem of disciplining or getting these people to adhere to the law is that our legal system is such that summary punishments do not exist. So, actually punishing a wrongdoer takes months, if not years. Moreover, given the poor quality of recruits to our police forces, leaving the disciplining of wrongdoers in their hands will lead to sadistic and uncalled for abuse. None of this is likely to deter individuals from indulging in activities that may not amount to being seen as criminal in nature but are certainly not socially acceptable behaviour either.

For those indulging in such behaviour do not see that their actions could be responsible for putting others in harm’s way and even if they do, for some it is of no concern.

In fact, some who feel that they have been treated unfairly by society at large, or even by the country, see this as an ideal opportunity to get even. Among the latter there are also those working at the behest of forces that are inimical towards the country and wish it harm. They should obviously be categorised separately and their actions must be treated as deliberate acts of bio-terrorism and treated as such with no quarter being given. There is no differentiation here between Over Ground Workers (OGW) and terrorists and all of them are no different from those wielding guns or explosives.

Even among the scores of others who disobey societal norms, there are some who do so deliberately because they believe they are above the law. These are those who belong to religious groups or political parties or are seen as influencers who consider that their wealth, social status or position protects them.

The examples that best illustrate this kind of horrendous behaviour are from Karnataka, where the unwillingness of the State administration to act is condoned by the Central Government, just because it happens to be a BJP one.

In one case, a chariot-pulling ritual that was a part of the Siddalingeshwara Fair, held in Chittapur village, in Kalaburagi District of Karnataka, saw the participation of thousands of devotees, who violated the nationwide lockdown and social distancing norms with impunity.

The police and District Administration remained mere spectators even though they were aware of the planned event well in advance. They were finally forced to act and lodge an First Information Report (FIR) against the temple trust a day later, after a maelstrom erupted on social media. The likelihood of any substantive action being taken against those responsible seems unlikely.

Incidentally, Kalaburagi has been deemed a COVID-19 hotspot and is under complete lockdown. It also has the dubious distinction of having reported India’s first death from the Coronavirus. Clearly, the Central Government’s writ seems to run only within the National Capital Region (NCR), even if there!

The second incident is even more appalling because those involved are the very ones who are expected to set examples for the rest of us to follow. It pertains to the marriage of Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the grandson of former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, to Revathi, the grand-niece of former Congress Minister M Krishnappa. Hence, a VIP wedding.

 While only family members were invited and the event was moved out of Bengaluru to a farmhouse some distance away, the adherence to social distancing norms or the wearing of masks, as is mandated, were completely disregarded by those attending. Photographs available in the public domain show this utter disregard for the nation”s fight against the virus. But this was only to be expected as the Karnataka Chief Minister, BS Yediyurappa, had earlier set a precedent of sorts, when he along with some of his Cabinet colleagues attended a wedding in Belgavi, at which there were over 5,000 guests present. This, just days after he had himself passed directions that not more than 100 guests could be invited to weddings.

Finally, there are also those who either unwittingly or carelessly break these norms just because they lack self-discipline or believe they can get away with it, much like those who jump traffic lights when there are no policemen about.

The fact of the matter is that all “Covidiots” belonging to any of these groups are breaking the law and putting the lives of other people at risk, for which they must be held accountable.

This clearly suggests that given the infirmities in our criminal justice system, there is an urgent and pressing necessity to introduce summary punishments. These must be handed out without fear or favour and be applied on all who break the rules. Obviously, the scale of punishment meted out should be based on the severity of the misdemeanour.

This will be similar to the legal process of summary disposal that exists within the military justice system, where punishments are awarded and carried out on the spot.

If the offence is seen to be of a serious nature, or the individual is a repeat offender, s/he could then have an FIR registered against him/her as per our criminal justice procedure. However, for such behaviour, the charges preferred against the individual must be non-bailable and instead of being kept in a prison s/he must be kept locked in specially earmarked “internment camps” where s/he will be ineligible to receive anything other than prophylactic medical care for COVID-19 till his/her case is brought to trial. There is little doubt that extraordinary situations demand extraordinary measures. Those who follow the law cannot be held hostage by the few who do not follow rules, using our democratic process as their excuse. The notification of such a measure will act as a strong deterrent against willful misbehaviour and should be put in place for the duration of this pandemic.

(Writer: Deepak Sinha; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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