Grief and Sentencing in India

griefWhen the news was announced yesterday that four men in India would be hanged for the brutal rape of a young woman there were intense responses from all over the world. But far too many of them – because even one would be too many – were cheering for the capital sentence these young men received.

I am not writing against a death penalty for these men. Indeed, I am highly conflicted on the matter and don’t feel like I have an answer to that question. Can these men be taught, coaxed, into to being gentle, caring members of society? If that’s too high a bar, can they be even brought to a place where they don’t harm others? I couldn’t say. Rehabilitation is not my area of psychology. But it clearly isn’t the prison system’s area of expertise either, at least here in the US. I don’t have much faith that the Indian prison system would be much better, so I just don’t have an answer on the question of what to do with them. It seems unlikely that they will actually be executed in any event.

I am writing because the degree of pain involved in this case – and in so many cases that go unpublicised, untried – is so extreme that there is not a “right” answer. Given the graphic and physical and invasive nature of the pain she suffered, there is nothing that can be done to right these wrongs. There is nothing that can be done to these men that will alleviate the pain of this woman. The grief that I feel for her is overwhelming.

At the same time, I also hold an overwhelming grief for the men. What level of disconnection, what level of pain, must a human being be in so that they are able to inflict such damage on another? They clearly suffer too, although they lash out in their suffering and harm others – because surely she was not the only one. We cannot right their wrong by killing them, but maybe that’s the only response available to us in our limited human capacities.

Our world does not naturally breed connection, compassion, and relationships among its inhabitants. This case is a clear example of that dramatic and painful lacking. So regardless of the outcome, there is nothing worth cheering for here.  And I grieve for all of the victims of violence, for all of the perpetrators of violence, for the entire world.

I am reminded of the deep sense of grief and sadness in this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh (thank you for the recent reminder of it, Ruth).

In My Two Hands

I hold my face
in my two hands
No I am not crying
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep my loneliness warm
to cradle my hunger
shelter my heart
from the rain and the thunder
Two hands protecting
Two hands nourishing
Two hands preventing
my soul from flying
in anger.

I hold my face
in my two hands
My hands cupped
to catch what might fall
from within me
Deeper than crying
no, I am not crying
I am in my two hands.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.