The unbearable heaviness of right and wrong

4 Mar

Clouds

Becoming a parent changes you in funny ways. You become more prone to tears – Christmas adverts always get me – and more susceptible to the cuteness of bunnies, kittens and videos of babies doing funny things. But there is also the other extreme. You can become hardened and more conservative with a lower case C. Wrongdoing and the ills of society become amplified and the overwhelming instinct to protect your offspring kicks in.

I’ve never been a supporter of the death penalty. There can be too much room for error and an eye for an eye isn’t a concept of justice that I feel comfortable with. It is with shock then that I sometimes find myself thinking – totally against my principles but entirely aligned with my instincts as a parent – “If you hurt my children then I will want to kill you”.

Watching the excerpt from film-maker Leslee Udwin’s documentary on the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012, my heart literally felt like it was being squeezed. I could hardly breathe. I wanted to cry. This wasn’t just anger and revulsion at what had happened but also despair at the evil humans are capable of. Then there was the lack of remorse from one of perpetrators of the attack. Can the human brain malfunction so fundamentally so as to not be able to recognise basic right from wrong? In the cold chill you’re left with, it makes you wonder what kind of world you have brought your children into.

Who should be blamed? Should it be the perpetrators’ parents? (Perish the thought I could bring up a child who could commit such an act.) Do the skewed views on women in a particular society make such behaviour acceptable or understandable? No. By shifting the blame we gift them a lack of responsibility. When it comes down to it, humans should know right from wrong. Regardless of what beliefs your society has bestowed on you, surely there must be something in every human mind – however small, however buried – that flickers to tell you that you are about to do something vile, something inhumane. To make someone cry for help, to rape, to murder is wrong. There is no way of justifying it and, ultimately, no one to blame other than the perpetrator.

I’ve always thought that the death penalty could potentially do society a huge disservice. What if the condemned person had gone on to do good? What if someone we executed had instead spent their life in prison searching for a cure for cancer and found it? That’s not an eye for an eye – that’s an eye for millions of eyes. Perhaps a far-fetched and unlikely scenario but it’s a valid point worth contemplating. Who are we to take that potential away?

Yet for this scenario to occur, someone needs to make a judgment call on whether a person should and could be rehabilitated. To judge how someone will feel or how much they can give back to society 5, 10, 50 years down the line can only be a guessing game. Sadly, Leslee Udwin’s documentary suggests that Jyoti Singh’s rapists weren’t going to sit in a prison for the rest of their lives feeling repentant, dwelling on how wrong their behaviour was. There is no punishment in that. Why then shouldn’t the death penalty be the most appropriate justice? There is nothing they can contribute to the world other than to fuel anger.

Of course, the death penalty is murder too – there is absolutely no getting around that. In an ideal world it simply wouldn’t exist as there is so much more wrong with it than there is right. But somewhere inside I still want to protect my children. I want to eradicate the world of people who can commit such acts as that in Delhi and who probably wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. It’s a frightening way to be made to feel and it creates an uneasy conflict in my own beliefs in what is right and wrong. I am unsettled by it and I am certainly not proud.

4 Responses to “The unbearable heaviness of right and wrong”

  1. Mark March 4, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

    I’m glad you added those scenarios because I’m wholly against the death penalty, but I read stories such as the Delhi rape, try putting myself in their families position and every argument I have feels pitifully insignificant.

    I really should watch the documentary. Shamefully, I’ll probably find every excuse not to.

    • Crumbs & Pegs March 5, 2015 at 9:50 am #

      I don’t think I can watch it. Just too upsetting. I feel I ought to but I’m not sure it can add any more to the level of disgust I already feel. As for it being banned in India – the truth shouldn’t be censored no matter how unpalatable it is.

  2. Muddling Along March 9, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    Part of me wants to watch the documentary – I know I can’t properly form a view on this unless I do but a larger part of me wants to protect myself from having to watch that and the inability to unwatch it once I have done so

    I wish I knew what actions we could take to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, that we could change these attitudes that it is somehow the victim’s fault

    • Crumbs & Pegs March 9, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

      It’s those who need to watch it who won’t be watching it I suspect. People who believe something that is so wrong aren’t going to have their minds changed easily. Very very frustrating.

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