Saturday, November 10, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


Meting out humiliation as punishment
Khushwant Singh

A year ago some women caught pick-pocketing were branded by the Punjab Police with the word jeb katree tattooed on their foreheads. It was a criminal act and policemen responsible for it were punished. But the idea was a good one. I believe that the most appropriate punishment for some crimes is public humiliation. Only care should be taken that persons penalised are first pronounced guilty by a judicial authority: the police can only charge persons with offences not judge them. And the penalty imposed should not maim the offender for life. If those women were convicted of pick-pocketing by a magistrate, instead of sending them to jail, he should have been empowered to sentence them to carry placards reading " I am a pick-pocket" and be paraded at places where they committed thefts and around the localities where they lived. Thus humiliated, they would not repeat their crimes.

Such powers are available to judges in many states in America. Shop-lifters are often made to stand outside department stores from which they stole goods wearing them on their persons with placards reading " I stole this cardigan, muffler, bra, etc, from this store". Statistics show that people thus subjected to public humiliation are less likely to repeat their crimes than those fined or sentenced to imprisonment.

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There is one other misdemeanour for which public humiliation will prove a more salutary deterrent than imprisonment or fine. This is molestation of women in streets, buses and trains — or what is known as eve-teasing in Indian journalism. In this case the public has to be more spirited than it is. Instead of leaving it to the victim to report the matter to the police and then face interrogation in courts of law, people who witness misbehaviour should get together, catch hold of the culprit, give the fellow a few tight slaps and then, if necessary, hand him over to the police. The magistrates trying such cases should be empowered to sentence the guilty to stand at the bus stands, outside railway stations or public thoroughfares for a few hours bearing placards reading: "I molested a woman, I am sorry."

I have written many times about changing the penalty for rape from long-term imprisonment (or death) to a mandatory sentence of surgical castration. A rapist should be deprived of his ability to repeat his crime. It will prove a far stronger deterrent then any other form of punishment. Men dread losing their manliness.

A more pressing need is to change punishments for people who take part in communal riots. Those who indulge in violence against another community may be arrested and sentenced to fine and imprisonment. Unfortunately they emerge as heroes in the eyes of members of their own community. It is imperative that communal violence should be quelled swiftly and guilty be punished on the spot. For this the administration should depute magistrates to set up courts at the site, hear witnesses and the police without the presence of lawyers and pronounce judgements at once. They should be empowered to order flogging of culprits — not the savage leather thongs used during British Raj but just a cane — but it should be carried out in full view of the public with the culprits bottoms exposed. Nothing deprives a man of the image of macho heroism than to have his buttocks exposed to public gaze. He becomes the laughing stock of the locality in which he lives.

Self-love

Sherry is in love with herself. But that does not prevent her from loving men and women provided they are good-looking, rich, well-mannered and lusty. Religion, caste, language, province no bar. Only a slight prejudice in favour of Muslims because she is Muslim, and in favour of Biharis because she is a Biharan. Sherry has good reason to be in love with herself because every time she looks at her reflection in the mirror on her wall, it assures her she is the fairest of them all. Her confidence in her looks is further boosted by compliments paid to her by beautiful women and by men. However, such generosity towards herself and everyone who likes her creates problems when Sherry decides to tell her life-story and covers it behind a veil of fiction. Names are changed, locations are changed but the reader can discern that the author of The Torrid Zone (Virgo) is none other than Shireen Imam Kumar, born to the well-known Imam family of Patna. She has written for Anand Bazar Patrika and National Mail, specialising in fashion, beauty and glamour. She broke with her family to marry a Hindu fighter-pilot in the Indian Air Force. They have two sons.

Not anyone can praise one’s own looks with as much rapture as does Shireen, alias Sherry. "I stood transfixed before the ornate mirror in all my nakedness, admiring myself generously. My fair creamy body was near perfect with a dark brown beauty spot much below my navel. Well proportioned thighs, a generous bustline, and not at all a wide waistline but beautifully curved. My well-rounded body was endowed with a slightly fleshy tummy. I soon discovered I possessed a deep groovy cleavage too; I found nothing wrong in admiring my body. I just felt comfortable that way. There was nothing crude about it you know!

"My cheekbones accented the depth of those ‘come-hither’ eyes and my lips were like cupid’s bow. My slightly up-tilted straight nose like Marilyn Monroe gave me that snooty air and my tweezed shapely eyebrows were like the crescent moon upside down!

"I possessed the power to drive men crazy. Manipulating celebrities, playing with the emotions of the rich and famous, then suddenly leaving them in the lurch became my prized hobby. Seeing stout, rotund, balding politicians clamour for my attention gave me immense pleasure as I ignored them deliberately. They were left gaping and I moved on to fresher ‘conquests’."

When Sherry speaks it is a torrent of words, relevant and irrelevant. She writes about her background: "I am an English product born of Muslim parents, a ‘hybrid’ so to speak (my father was a Bihari, my mother a doe-eyed Bengali: Totally raised on delicacies like wafer-thin chicken sandwiches, muttonboullion with lemon sauce grilled fish, Maxician spaghetti with Mangel Wurzel toppings, potato-broccoli mayonnaise, Muligatawny soup in gleming tureens, Baked Alaska and Marchpanes, ah! Those exotic flavours tickled my tastebuds galore."

With the title, The Torrid Zone, I expected to read about a lot of torrid encounters. She makes a promising start at the age of fourteen with a lesbian affair with a woman a good couple of years older than her. But there is not too much of it in the novel. She would have been more readable and loveable if she had been a little less in love with herself.

Hijack drama

On an international flight the passengers suddenly discovered a man sitting amongst them who looked like Osama bin Laden. At first there was a wave of panic, but later he identified himself as a sadhu, an ascetic preaching yoga, and soon enough all the passengers in the plane become friendly with him, exchanging repartees and jokes. After a while, the man went into the cockpit and emerged minutes later with the pilot of the plane, arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder. The pilot removed his cap and bowed before the audience of passengers in the craft. He was a middle-aged man with a Hitler-like mustache.

"Ladies and gentleman," he announced, "I am Saddam Hussain!"

At this there was uproarious laughter in the plane. The pilot then announced" "Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce the co-pilot of the plane to you — General Musharraf!" The co-pilot who was a stockily built man with thin mustaches and spectacles, emerged from the cockpit and bowed before the audience with an enigmatic smile on his lips, and said, "Hamne chooriyan naheen paihan rakhee hain!" (We are not wearing bangles:)

The audience applauded with delight. It was the best soapbox opera they had ever witnessed on a flight.

The plane finally landed at Sudan for re-fuelling. The pilot and co-pilot asked the passengers to remain seated while they, along with the sadhu, gradually made their way to the exit, shaking hands with the passengers and laughing and joking all the way. They got off the plane promising to return in a few minutes.

On the aerodrome there was a sea of humanity holding banners that said: Welcome Osama-Saddam-Musharraf: "As the trio walked towards the crowd they were soon engulfed by people, and within minutes were seen being carried off on their shoulders to the accompaniment of shrill cries of welcome.

A CIA agent, who was on the plane, gawked at the scene from the windows of the aircraft along with other passengers, and said with an assent heavily loaded with chewing gum: "O, boy! Those guys sure have got everyone fooled!"

(Courtesy: Priya Nath Mehta, Gurgaon)

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