With the hanging of four convicts of the Nirbhaya case on March 20, a nation's voyeuristic pastime, fanned and fueled by the ubiquitous media for last 3-4 months, has finally come to an end. Death, even of a hardcore criminal, is not a piece of pleasant news to all those who've not yet lost their capacity to think because to quote the English metaphysical poet John Donne, 'Any man's death diminishes me, because, I'm involved in mankind...And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..... '
Here, the issue is not the oft-repeated debate whether the death rap is just or unjust. That's an interminable subject. The issue lies somewhere else and is deep-rooted. It's the voyeuristic brutalisation of a whole society. The way most of us looked forward to the impending hanging of four convicts at Tihar Gaol, Delhi, underlined the brutish and hardened psyche that we all have subconsciously developed over the years. This is the death of conscience and degeneration of fundamental human instincts.
The question is: What makes us so vicariously voyeuristic? Why the thought of someone's imminent end (execution, in this case and context) gladdens our hearts and minds? Are we genuinely sympathetic towards the victim/s and righteously unsympathetic towards the perpetrator/s? In the Nirbhaya case, the helpless victim became a fringe element, a footnote to be precise, and her brute perpetrators slid into the frames of the most disgusting characters. No doubt, they were. But, they too, were humans. The building up of a vindictive consciousness in last 3-4 months is what worries all sane and sensible people.
Public memory is short. People almost forgot the Nirbhaya case. It was the Hyderabad rape case that took place towards the fag-end of 2019 and the subsequent alleged encounter of the rapists by the police, that triggered the dormant ghoulish mentality of people and they began to bay for the blood of Nirbhaya's killers. This is what the French existentialist Albert Camus wrote in his celebrated essay, Reflections on the guillotine: 'Humans unknowingly awaken their pathological desires and feed their killing instincts when they see that criminals are getting lynched or guillotined.' Violence always has a snowballing or ripple effect. Bloodshed in a society is often a catalyst for voyeuristic violence. Seeing an episode of violence, human brain (not mind, that doesn't exist) craves more and more. This happened in the case of the executions of four convicts in the Nirbhaya case. Instigated by the print and visual media and 24X7 news channels, we all began to gloat over the equally gory end of the convicts. This is a dangerously morbid and worrisome trend.
We've allowed our conscience and consciousness to devolve into the pit of implacable vindictiveness. That's why, most of us deified the executioner Pawan Jalladmevinced uncomfortable interest in how he'd hang those convicts and how he buttered the Manila rope with ripe bananas. Isn't it nauseating? And all these sick pieces of information are easily available on print and visual media. This is alarming!
How can the details of an execution fascinate people? There must be something wrong with us as humans. We criticise the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for announcing in advance the decapitation of a convict in Arabic dailies and on TV. People throng to witness the somersault of a human head on the sands after their evening prayers! Are we any way better than those unsophisticated buffoons? By the way, two legendary French newspapers, Le Monde and Le Figaro, never carried a single line on the executions even when capital punishment was prevalent in France. Neither did both the broadsheets ever encourage capital punishment. This shows the collective maturity, sensitivity and also sensibility of a whole country, not just of its print media.
Here in India, many murderous-minded people demanded that the convicts be hanged in public! When a society starts rejoicing in this type of revengeful justice and justifying in the executions, rest assured, there's something seriously wrong with it. The whole society needs psychological counselling.
It's time to introspect why such incidents and sanguinary imagery are appealing to us. Are we turning into a blood-thirsty society sans any finer feelings and emotions like compassion, forgiveness, empathy and love for our fellow humans? The answers lie deep-buried in our conscience, provided it's still alive and hasn't become deadwood.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.