Circumstances: Should they not be considered while punishing the guilty?

March 13th, 20106:45 pm @    

While attending one of the very enlightening lectures by our Senior Prof. V.K Dixit (NLIU, Bhopal) few days ago I developed a whole new perspective on atrocities committed in the garb of law. So taking inspiration from him I am set to right another post on my newly acquired point of view. I won’t go about citing any actual Case laws or already decided cases in India as I usually do. But guess what?  My point can be conveyed even through the help of a Classic Novel by a Legendary French writer. The novel being ‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo.


I categorize readers of MightyLaws into three categories – Those who have read the novel/those who have not read the novel but they have heard about it/And those who are not aware existence of any such piece of literature. The people in the first category must be well aware of how law interferes in the life of the central character Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean, had a tragic life. He belonged to a very poor peasant family. He started working since his childhood for the sake of subsistence. But he lost his parents when he was still very young. The only living relative he had was a widowed sister who had seven children. So he took up the responsibility of being the bread earner for her sister and her kids. They were a sad little group, engulfed in poverty and always on the verge of destitution. And then came a particularly hard winter. Jean Valjean was out work and there was no food in the house. Literally no bread – and seven children! So what did Jean Valjean do? He broke the windowpane of a bakery shop and stole a loaf bread but was eventually caught by the police. The penal code was explicit and ruthless. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison at the age of 24.

This story could be of any poor man who is committing petty crime due to circumstances. But in the eyes of law a crime is a crime regardless of the circumstances under which it was committed. The Penal system in India is equally regardless of the backdrop of the crime committed. Innocent (the ones who have committed petty crimes) are convicted for years altogether. Here, I do not advocate that criminals should be ignored (and the thief who stole your cell phone while you were shopping unawares should not be penalized) but the circumstances under which the crime took place should be considered by the court and lenient punishment should be awarded accordingly.

I am aware that I have treaded into a dangerous territory. Criminologists out there might attack me this instant with torrid arguments saying that implementing what I am hinting at will mean revolutionizing the whole penal system. But they will agree with me on a very valid point. The point being- youngsters who have spent a considerable amount of time in jail due petty crime are transformed into ardent criminals. Why? Because of the atmosphere and kind of people they are exposed to contribute to their further deterioration instead of making them realize their guilt.

The debate is endless.  Some of you might support me and some might put forth contradicting arguments as comments beneath this post. Both are welcome. Discussion on such issues makes the study and understanding of law far more fascinating.  So please come forward and express yourself on this platform.

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Nikita is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of She is a lawyer/author residing in Delhi. She believes that increasing legal awareness is the key to ensure social justice and simplification of law is the means to achieve it. She writes articles on social and political issues for various platforms in English and Hindi.

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