“Why put the rapists on trial? They should be burned in full public view!”
When I was in class 10, I won a scholarship to study classes 11 and 12 in Singapore. Some of the subjects that I had to study were History and Philosophy. History and Philosophy?! Who cares about those? In India, History was often considered to be the domain of the “not smart enough”, and involved memorizing dates and sequences of events. Philosophy, on the other hand, was completely absent. I thought that I should focus on science and math, and not worry about these apparent trivialities. However, I ended up learning more from these two than anything else.
In Philosophy, one of the things that we studied was the philosophy of law, which was supposed to be an analysis of how we arrived upon the current legal system (that we inherited from our colonial masters). Why do we jail criminals for long periods of time? Why not just punish/hang them as soon as we catch them? We studied cases in which the innocent were caught and prosecuted, only to later be found innocent. Often, criminal prosecution was also the result of political vendetta.
One innocent person being punished is worse than a hundred criminals being let off. That is the basic notion on which our current system of law rests. If fair trials ensue, the guilty will ultimately be punished, and the innocent will be let off. Why provide lawyers to suspects? Because how else can a fair trial ensue?! We are often concerned with the amount of money being spent on housing criminals. However, if a government cannot ensure adequate housing and food to its citizens under its (criminal) custody, it is failing in one of its most fundamental responsibilities. We do not elect a government to round up people it suspects to be criminals and assassinate them one by one.
When I read posts about “why wait to put the rapists on trial? We should burn them right away” on facebook, I only wish that we had (world) history and philosophy as part of our school syllabus. The witch hunt in Salem also involved putting up suspected witches on trial before burning them at the stake. If we become a nation without a robust trial system, we will be no different than the Soviet government of the 50’s, which rounded up its own citizens on pure suspicion and killed them. We will be worse off than the Salem community, that burned its own women on suspicion of being witches, as at least they were put to trial first. Going by some of the posts I can see on Facebook, we may well be on the way.