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Justice Blinded



An eye for an eye, Gandhiji famously pronounced, can turn the whole world blind. When the same principle is brought to bear on a judicial verdict, it is comment enough on the blindness of that criminal justice system. A shariat court in Saudi Arabia has just pronounced that Puthan Veettil Naushad, an Indian worker based in that country, should lose an eye to meet the ends of justice because he had allegedly hit a local resident and deprived him of sight in one eye. This judgment is nothing but a gross perversion of justice. What world are we living in if judicial pronouncements are allowed to verge on the barbaric?

Not only is this punishment grossly disproportionate to the offence—Naushad certainly did not mean to cause blindness in the man he had accosted—it is based on the principle of revenge. Retributive justice of this kind is not just anachronistic, it is out of sync with the universal trend of restorative justice, which strives to reform criminals, or those who exhibit criminal behaviour, so that they can become useful members of society once again at some point. One of the shortcomings of the criminal justice system in Saudi Arabia is its lack of a written penal code, or codes of criminal and judicial procedure. Consequently, the authorities who dispense justice have wide discretion to decide what constitutes criminal activity and what punishment it should attract. Needless to say, they can, and have, gone terribly wrong. Of course, the process by which criminals are brought to justice varies widely from country to country. But as societies evolve, and the world gets increasingly globalised, it behooves governments to initiate reform in keeping with universal principles. Saudi Arabia, by refusing to do so, remains firmly in the quagmire of medievalism.

It must now seriously and urgently reconsider the punishment meted out to Naushad. He should be punished for his violent behaviour, certainly, but that punishment must be proportionate to his offence. Robbing him of his eye would be tantamount to displaying an egregious lack of judicial and governmental vision.