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04 Apr 2020, Edition - 1726, Saturday

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India News

Forgive and forget, but at what cost?

Elsa Lycias Joel

A day to forgive and to be forgiven is a desideratum because this world run by erring humans is a mess with unresolved conflicts and people tend to make an effort on special days. Celebrating global forgiveness day will not end conflicts or wipe out the grudges in a jiffy but rather help people advance the message of forgiveness to restore relationships and heal one another. As

I write this piece, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” flash before my eyes and in my mind, one of a kind impossible in the human realm.

Sonia Gandhi, addressed as Antonio Maino by ‘Andh- Bhakts’ and accused as a disloyal unpatriotic ‘foreigner’ displayed her strength and left a whole lot annoyed by forgiving those who blew apart Rajiv Gandhi into pieces. The mental agony Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka go through over the tragic loss of Rajiv Gandhi couldn’t make them vengeful but stronger in a state of grace. As a result they pardoned the killers ignoring vile remarks that spewed from all sides.

Another act of forgiving that made the world stop and gasp was how Gladys Staines did it. “How could she?” was my immediate response. As a parent it’s impossible for me to ignore someone hurting my children, be it through a subtle comment or a look or deed. Setting a man and his sons on fire for the service he did unto mankind is a crime of the utmost savagery and it triggered storms of condemnation across the world while the government dilly dallied as always with unwarranted blames, comments and remarks. The killer’s proximity to a big enchilada of a political outfit ensured he remained scot-free or earned him a secure hideout for almost a year. That there wasn’t any appropriate reaction from India to Mrs. Staines’ noble act is still a shame to our country to which no more global obloquy could reasonable attach. Even today I’m unable to come to terms with this nobility of her’s that I come up with my own reasons as to why it was good on her part to forgive and move on and away from this country. Don’t we all know how bad our criminal justice system ails?

Even as we hail heroes of forgiveness, we ought to remember no two individuals are alike and blessed with the same emotional and spiritual ability.

Insinuating a person to forgive a wrong doer is unethical. Not forgiving someone doesn’t rob a person of his/her moral virtue. So, who is to judge and what is the guideline? We are but mere mortals with broken yardsticks, a vision not beyond touch screen and TV screens and may be thoughts of the upcoming TV debates or elections. When the unexpected happens to others for good, bad or worst, for many of us it’s easy to take refuge in the moral plane and advocate virtues written in the holy texts. For a moment, forget super souls who forgive killers. Questions of perceptions on forgiveness are open: to who and by who, necessary or unnecessary, for the larger good or bad, whether this great act builds or ruins a society, pragmatic or ideal, when and why…the list of this or that, not to mention the grey shades is endless.

There can be a million debates on forgiveness but often only one decision and one course, resting solely on the conscience of the one forgiving unconditionally. I hope with every other crime with a Mens rea, questions on the ethics of forgiveness keep getting sharper. If every criminal is forgiven and crimes forgotten, why will we need laws of the land and institutions that enforce them? A felon, one of the most brutal among all the ‘Nirbhaya’ accused who had the brazenness to insert an iron rod into the victim’s vagina and pull out her internal organs, was rehabilitated and released with Rs. 10,000 and a sewing kit, only because he was a few months away from becoming an adult. Who should be forgiven, the rapist or
the government! The then juvenile rapist has turned over a new leaf, but what good does it do the dead and her grief-stricken family?

We are an emotional dramatic lot with a poor public memory. We speak and think differently at different times of the year. And peacemakers who have mushroomed overnight, if you had urged Mrs. Asha Devi to forgive criminals who raped, assaulted and killed her daughter because you assume ‘Time Heals’, I urge you to know it’s just another saying. In reality, time does nothing but grows a scar. Instead, swift and sure justice offers some hope as a great deterrent. Forgiving is not letting criminals go free or help them escape their criminal past. This is never the right time to suggest the victim’s mother that she forgives the rapists and even if she does, advocating the abolition of punishment is unworthy.

Personal perceptions can pass off as public opinion. At the same time public opinion can’t be trusted or considered a criterion to ensure that forgiveness becomes a virtue of one and all. Forgiveness is a conscious decision which happens in its time, if need be and no human is holy enough to suggest a person to take a clue or cue and forgive. Forgiveness, rehabilitation and reparation to create a utopia may sound good, but at what cost?

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