The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 19, 2000
Your Option

Be fair and just
By Taru Bahl

IN our daily life, we are faced with innumerable situations where we find ourselves at crossroads and are uncertain about the path to take. What is good? What is the correct thing to do? Are we being fair and just? Are our actions discriminatory and biased? Do we have preconceived notions which are likely to impair our sense of justice? Are we resorting to unfair means in order to strengthen our stand? The answers to these questions are not always provided by the law or by the various committees set up to deal with issues like criminal justice, social justice, restorative justice, religious and economic justice. There is a law over and above these man-made courts. This is the law which exerts pressure on us to weigh all the pros and cons, balance the rights and the wrongs before taking decisions which would adhere to all the principles of justice — benevolence, compassion, equitableness, fair play and propriety.

Plato once said: "The universal voice of mankind is always declaring that justice and virtue are honourable but also grievous and toilsome. The pleasures of vice and injustice are easy of attainment and are only censured by law and option. They also say that honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty and they are quite ready to call wicked men happy and to honour them both in public and private. While they are rich or in any other way influential, they despise and overlook those who may be weak and poor, even though acknowledging them to be better than the others." So, true justice has always been difficult to attain as people give more credence to the means than to the end.

  Unless offenders are made accountable and brought to book, people will lose faith in not only their governments but also in humanity and the basic goodness which resides in the heart of every human being. They will view each other with suspicion, hostility and doubt, marring all possibility of harmonious co-existence. If we do not insist on holding people accountable for the crimes they have committed —whether advertently or inadvertently — we are participating in the slide towards anarchy. Offenders can be held responsible in many ways, and it is in our interest that we find those ways which heal wounds and not cause new ones.

We mete out restorative justice when the community response to a crime creates conditions through which victims are healed, offenders turn cooperative and the community feels healthier and safer. Ancient laws of justice focused on the victim and what he had lost. The offender had to compensate the victim’s kin by paying back what was lost, often multiplied by two, three or four times the amount, or if irreplaceable then with something of comparable value. Crime was not only against the victim and his family, but the offender and his family and the community, too. However, the focus in modern times has shifted to state-centered justice. Crimes are now committed against ‘the people’. The offender now pays his debt to ‘society’. Wounds often don’t heal and relationships are rarely restored. Often the offender becomes another victim.

If we can absorb the concept of justice and allow it to guide our responses and behaviour and shape our actions, we would contribute greatly in making the world a better place. This will be a world where love, brotherhood, trust and faith would form the foundation of all our endeavours. Justice and fairness are supportive pillars of this basic human character.

Justice means doing the right thing. It means sticking to one’s guns, standing up for people and causes one thinks are honourable, even if it means being in a minority of one. This could mean getting the flak or being isolated and ostracised. But doing what one’s conscience says is the right and done thing.

Justice is a habit which makes a man capable of doing what is just in action and intent. According to the Bible: "Rendering to each one his right a man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others." In order for an act to be virtuous it needs to done knowingly, by choice and immovably. The definition of justice, therefore, mentions first the will in order to show that the act of justice must be voluntary and mention is made afterwards of its constancy and perpetuity in order to indicate the firmness of the act.

Justice is the essence of religion. The human incapacity to practice justice is what makes religion necessary. The Gospels record the trial of Jesus. He was tried several times, both under religious and secular authorities. In spite of being found innocent he was crucified, showing the human capacity for justice in a poor light. In the course of trying Jesus, Pontius Pilate raised the fundamental question: What is truth? Truth here was the foundation for justice. The word ‘verdict’ meant speaking the truth. When a judge gives a verdict, he’s ‘speaking the truth’ on the matter that he has considered dispassionately. Court then is the secular temple of truth. No person or society can uphold justice, unless committed to the claims of truth.

Justice in the Bible is a positive concept. It is not limited to the redressal of grievances. Liberation, in a positive sense, is the goal of justice. True freedom involves not only freedom from oppression and injustice but also the right to realise one’s potential to the fullest possible extent.

This is a two-fold task. Justice involves first the removal of all that hinders human development and fulfilment such as illiteracy, disease, unemployment and other social evils. Secondly, it implies the recognition of the right of every human being to attain fullness of life. Jesus said that you should treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself. Since no one would opt for unfair treatment, no one should be unfair to others. This may be Utopian but is certainly worth emulating and practising.