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Ram Rahim got away cheap - Deccan Herald
Ram Rahim got away cheap
V Raghunathan,
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Rapist Ram Rahim's indictment is dated news now. But that still does not take away from the bravery of the two women survivors, the CBI team and particularly the young and upright CBI court judge for bringing the crook to book.

Bringing crooks as powerful as Ram Rahim is not easy in our country and we all know it. Every conceivable dirty trick was deployed against the survivors as well as all those involved in pursuing justice for them, to derail justice. The victims not only had to survive the criminal, but also the entire process of trial, enduring numerous threats and intimidation from the army of Ram Rahim's supporters.

Even the criminal's lawyers tried intimidating them by asking them humiliating questions during the trial, like, "Do you know...that the rupture of hymen can be due to many reasons apart from having sexual intercourse?" - a question disallowed by the judge. Or sample this, "Did you tell your husband about the various reasons for rupture of your hymen when he doubted your virginity as alleged by you?"

They even filed more than half a dozen revision petitions in 2015 seeking changes in previous rulings, in an effort to prolong the case indefinitely - the cost of which Ram Rahim could have easily borne. That, notwithstanding it all, justice caught up with the rapist in "mere" 15 years speaks volumes of the dogged hard work that went on behind the scenes by the CBI team.

For once, the CBI has acquitted itself creditably. Perhaps this experience should inspire them not ever to play handmaiden to any ruling government, which they have done for as long as one can remember, even deliberately botching up investigations for the convenience of the mighty.

Strong and incontrovertible evidence is the highest power; not this or that godman, politician, super cop, or government. It is time the CBI showed the spine to shed its well-merited perception of being a pet poodle of the government of the day and grew into a feared and respected watchdog of the nation.

That said, while one wholeheartedly lauds the judgement and the jail sentence handed out to Ram Rahim, it is difficult not to have a slight beef with the penalty of Rs 15 lakh awarded in each case of rape, of which Rs 14 lakh each is to go to the two women survivors. Why Rs 14 lakh?

Contrast the above with a judgement of Mumbai Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal delivered earlier this year, in which a drunk motor-biker, with two others riding pillion, died on the day of Holi in a road accident with a municipal truck in 2008. The tribunal awarded a penalty of Rs 38 lakh on Bombay Metropolitan Transport Corporation (apportioning 75% blame on the truck driver and 25% on the victim.

Although these are different courts with different jurisdictions, both function under Indian penal codes, right? That raises a few other questions.

Is compensation for a crime a function of the nature of crime, or its 'heinous-ness' index, or the economic status of the victim, or the paying ability of the guilty, or the length for which the victim may have suffered the trial process, or other factors, or a combination of these?

Further, given that Ram Rahim presided over a wealth of thousands of crores perhaps, should his survivors have been awarded a humongous compensation, say Rs 100 crore each? What if the rapist criminal was a beggar on the street? Should survivors expect no compensation in such a case?

Should the State itself fix the award of compensation for different categories of victims, based on various relevant considerations, with greater equity to all? And yet, no matter what compensation the State decides, it cannot be recovered from the criminal if he is penniless. That's why it makes sense to link at least some penalties to the criminal's ability to pay.

Compensations and penalties

This is hardly inconceivable. In Finland, for example, in a well-documented case of 2002, Reima Kuisla, a businessman, who was caught driving at 65 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone, was charged a penalty of € 54,000 after his wealth level was found to be extremely high.

Given that our cases typically run for years, it shouldn't be very difficult to ascertain the wealth or paying capacity of a criminal. If a speeding ticket can touch nearly Rs 40 lakh, could Ram Rahim and his ilk not be charged, say, Rs 100 crore for heinous crimes?

In short, therefore, there is good reason for the State to collect into a corpus as much compensation as possible from those who can afford to pay, and cross subsidise the compensation to victims in cases where the offender's ability to pay is low.

There is another matter to be weighed in here. Compensations and penalties in India for most offences are absurdly low. This is because many of our laws are decades old, some even going back to late 19th century.

In many cases, the penalties we see today come from an era when Macaulay believed that penalties for law-breakers should be financially debilitating, because while incarceration of a criminal was a cost to the exchequer, a financially incapacitating penalty not only enriched the exchequer but it left the criminals to rue their actions for the rest of their lives.

So, a fine of Rs 1,000 in the 1930s may have been a significant deterrent for a crime. But left untouched for decades, the same amount of penalty would be an incentive to commit that same crime today. Even if we merely indexed those old penalties for inflation over time, the penalties would assume more bite and serve the purpose they were meant to.

Whatever our beef with Macaulay, one is inclined to agree with him that, on the penalty front, Ram Rahim got away cheap. But when do our parliamentarians have the time to bring in such nuanced legal niceties?

(Raghunathan is an academic and author)Rapist Ram Rahim's indictment is dated news now. But that still does not take away from the bravery of the two women survivors, the CBI team and particularly the young and upright CBI court judge for bringing the crook to book.

Bringing crooks as powerful as Ram Rahim is not easy in our country and we all know it. Every conceivable dirty trick was deployed against the survivors as well as all those involved in pursuing justice for them, to derail justice. The victims not only had to survive the criminal, but also the entire process of trial, enduring numerous threats and intimidation from the army of Ram Rahim's supporters.

Even the criminal's lawyers tried intimidating them by asking them humiliating questions during the trial, like, "Do you know...that the rupture of hymen can be due to many reasons apart from having sexual intercourse?" - a question disallowed by the judge. Or sample this, "Did you tell your husband about the various reasons for rupture of your hymen when he doubted your virginity as alleged by you?"

They even filed more than half a dozen revision petitions in 2015 seeking changes in previous rulings, in an effort to prolong the case indefinitely - the cost of which Ram Rahim could have easily borne. That, notwithstanding it all, justice caught up with the rapist in "mere" 15 years speaks volumes of the dogged hard work that went on behind the scenes by the CBI team.

For once, the CBI has acquitted itself creditably. Perhaps this experience should inspire them not ever to play handmaiden to any ruling government, which they have done for as long as one can remember, even deliberately botching up investigations for the convenience of the mighty.

Strong and incontrovertible evidence is the highest power; not this or that godman, politician, super cop, or government. It is time the CBI showed the spine to shed its well-merited perception of being a pet poodle of the government of the day and grew into a feared and respected watchdog of the nation.

That said, while one wholeheartedly lauds the judgement and the jail sentence handed out to Ram Rahim, it is difficult not to have a slight beef with the penalty of Rs 15 lakh awarded in each case of rape, of which Rs 14 lakh each is to go to the two women survivors. Why Rs 14 lakh?

Contrast the above with a judgement of Mumbai Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal delivered earlier this year, in which a drunk motor-biker, with two others riding pillion, died on the day of Holi in a road accident with a municipal truck in 2008. The tribunal awarded a penalty of Rs 38 lakh on Bombay Metropolitan Transport Corporation (apportioning 75% blame on the truck driver and 25% on the victim.

Although these are different courts with different jurisdictions, both function under Indian penal codes, right? That raises a few other questions.

Is compensation for a crime a function of the nature of crime, or its 'heinous-ness' index, or the economic status of the victim, or the paying ability of the guilty, or the length for which the victim may have suffered the trial process, or other factors, or a combination of these?

Further, given that Ram Rahim presided over a wealth of thousands of crores perhaps, should his survivors have been awarded a humongous compensation, say Rs 100 crore each? What if the rapist criminal was a beggar on the street? Should survivors expect no compensation in such a case?

Should the State itself fix the award of compensation for different categories of victims, based on various relevant considerations, with greater equity to all? And yet, no matter what compensation the State decides, it cannot be recovered from the criminal if he is penniless. That's why it makes sense to link at least some penalties to the criminal's ability to pay.

Compensations and penalties

This is hardly inconceivable. In Finland, for example, in a well-documented case of 2002, Reima Kuisla, a businessman, who was caught driving at 65 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone, was charged a penalty of € 54,000 after his wealth level was found to be extremely high.

Given that our cases typically run for years, it shouldn't be very difficult to ascertain the wealth or paying capacity of a criminal. If a speeding ticket can touch nearly Rs 40 lakh, could Ram Rahim and his ilk not be charged, say, Rs 100 crore for heinous crimes?

In short, therefore, there is good reason for the State to collect into a corpus as much compensation as possible from those who can afford to pay, and cross subsidise the compensation to victims in cases where the offender's ability to pay is low.

There is another matter to be weighed in here. Compensations and penalties in India for most offences are absurdly low. This is because many of our laws are decades old, some even going back to late 19th century.

In many cases, the penalties we see today come from an era when Macaulay believed that penalties for law-breakers should be financially debilitating, because while incarceration of a criminal was a cost to the exchequer, a financially incapacitating penalty not only enriched the exchequer but it left the criminals to rue their actions for the rest of their lives.

So, a fine of Rs 1,000 in the 1930s may have been a significant deterrent for a crime. But left untouched for decades, the same amount of penalty would be an incentive to commit that same crime today. Even if we merely indexed those old penalties for inflation over time, the penalties would assume more bite and serve the purpose they were meant to.

Whatever our beef with Macaulay, one is inclined to agree with him that, on the penalty front, Ram Rahim got away cheap. But when do our parliamentarians have the time to bring in such nuanced legal niceties?

(Raghunathan is an academic and author)

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