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Crimes & Punishments!

Is it a crime to steal a loaf of bread for a hungry child?
Jean Valjean, the character created by French novelist Victor Hugo in his 1862 novel ‘Les Misérables’, teaches us to consider a crime and a criminal from a different angle! It is quite flagrant now that modern India badly needs to learn a lesson from Hugo’s novel.
Twenty-three-year-old Shilpa and 26-year-old Sandhya recently escaped from a jail in Southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram! Some people have described the incident as deterioration of the law and order situation, while others have praised the two girls for their ‘achievement’! Perhaps, an author, like Hugo, can narrate Shilpa and Sandhya’s story in a better manner…

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Shilpa had stolen a ring worth INR 5,000, while Sandhya had made an attempt to collect money against a ring by telling a jeweller that it was made of gold (although it was not a golden ring)… both the girls had committed crime for the first time, and they did so to feed their starving children! The police had arrested Shilpa and Sandhya, but forgot to tell them that they could appeal for legal aid free of cost. The police did not even inform the court that the two girls were unable to pay the amount for receiving bail. The court, then, could have sent them to jail for three months… but, they spent more than four months in jail as ‘Prisoners Under Trial’!’ There is nothing new in it, as two in every three prisoners in India are Prisoners Under Trial. At least 15,000 prisoners are waiting for more than three years to get justice. They do not have any idea when their trial will be taking place… Shilpa and Sandhya were two of such Prisoners Under Trial… but, they lost their patience and managed to escape from the jail! The Law, of course, considers them as criminals; however, the Society should consider their case from a humanitarian angle!

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Who is to blame for this? Perhaps, the Government and the Judiciary
Shilpa and Sandhya are no exception to the system. That is why the Parliament received a proposal to amend the law last year. The Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development had urged the Parliament to amend some criminal laws, on an urgent basis. Had the Parliament accepted the proposal, it would not have been possible for the Police to arrest Shilpa and Sandhya, without taking alternative measures to take care of their minor children. The Ministry had clearly stated in its draft proposal that the concerned authorities should take care of the minor children, before taking legal actions against their parents! Even if Shilpa and Sandhya would have to be punished for committing crimes, they would have to serve one-month jail terms, as the Ministry had proposed that mothers of minor children should be released on bail after serving one-third of their jail terms… these were vital proposals, indeed! In India, more than 1,400 women are behind bars with their children! We need to think seriously as to whether the State has the right to punish a child of a criminal mother!

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The Right to Equality is given under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, and it is one of the Fundamental Rights that ensures the guarantees to each and every person the right to equality before law… this means that every person, living within the territory of India, enjoys the same Rights, before the Law, or in other words, everyone is equal in the eyes of the Law! However, the State has failed to ensure the Equal Protection of the Laws, as mentioned in the same Article! Imprisonment of helpless people without any proper reason should be considered as a Social Crime!

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We, at times, are forced to remember that the Police Officer, who tried to bring Jean Valjean to justice, committed suicide, in Hugo’s novel!

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