Imagine you are a rapist. Yes, tough even to imagine yourself as one, right? Just stay with the thought, please. Instead, let's ask what happened on your journey- what made you feel compelled to violate the dignity of another human, invade his/her bodily integrity?
Somewhere, somebody failed you: your parents, teachers or the other structures of society. Or maybe, each played a little part. Somehow, the natural emotion of empathy, the human ability to feel another's pain, was slowly killed in you.
It did not happen overnight. The process was most likely gradual. Regardless, as an adult, you are going to be held responsible for your actions.
Let's assume the law catches up with you. You have broken the law and the rules of society. At the end of the long drawn due process you are sentenced to incarceration. This incarceration could be for many reasons. It could be punishments for your actions. Or it could be to protect the public from you. It could be meant as a deterrent for the future or it could give you an opportunity at rehabilitation. It could even be a combination of these.
In any case your incarceration is a segregation from society
prison is punishment, a systematic deprivation of the liberty of the individual, which is otherwise guaranteed to every citizen of the nation state.
However, it is the deprivation of liberty that should be the punishment, not the nature of the regime.
In India talk about treatment of convicted rapists has invariably been around "deterrence", "revenge" and "exemplary punishment". This has gained much more currency after the 16th December 2012 rape case. There is almost no mention of rehabilitation.
So is it our contention that a man who commits a crime is to be condemned for life? Is there to be no redemption for such a convict?
Let's assume you committed a rape and now you are in prison. Given that the more-connected in India get away with crime, you are probably uneducated, or barely literate, and have seen the worst of society. And now you are sent to the place which is a crawling with the dregs of society. People who really do not have much to look forward to in life.
It is my argument that a just and humane society should expect to redeem men like you. It might sound idealistic. Especially with our mindsets today. If our institutions are supposed to be a reflection of us, as a people, then surely our prison system is a shameful proof of our sub human instincts?
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" may be a credo we don't want to follow anymore. But we come pretty close to it with our prison conditions, don't we?
Dehumanising conditions in our prisons are a violation of basic human rights of the convict. Yes, he had done something appalling, but he is human and he does have rights.
Upon his release, we expect a prisoner to show compassion for others and abide by the law. Yet, if neither society, nor the law, show him any compassion ourselves, how do we expect him to reciprocate?
Unless we think that a person once convicted is to remain behind bars for the rest of his life- and that is what a life term may mean to many_ we must look for ways to enable every convict a chance at redemption. To a life after prison. He must be afforded every chance to redeem himself, not just to others, but in his own self and return as a constructive, productive member of society.
Only if we invest in sympathy for the lowliest, most craven members of our community, can we hope for it to be reciprocated.
Do we have it in ourselves to display compassion for every member of our community? Are we ready for it?
( P.S. The whole exercise of getting you to imagine yourself as a rapist was to induce empathy, the feeling of walking in another's shoes. A basic human quality, fast receding from our common psyche.)