« Split en banc Eleventh Circuit concludes Florida felony battery is "crime of violence" under FSG | Main | "The Use and Abuse of Mutual-Support Programs in Drug Courts" »

August 27, 2017

Will deadly protests impact high-profile sentencing in India? Should they?

A classic hypothetical question for hard-core fans of a strictly utilitarian approach to punishment is whether they should and would be inclined to go easy or even release a guilty criminal in order to avoid possible harms being threatened by an angry mob.  (The even harder variation is whether they would punish an innocent person to mollify a mob.)  I bring this up because, as reported in this Reuters article, concerns about mob violence are now not hypothetical in the northern part of India.  The article is headlined "After deadly protests, Indian states in lockdown for 'godman's' rape sentencing," and here are excerpts:

India is deploying thousands of riot police and shutting down internet services in two northern states, as it prepares for the sentencing on Monday of a self-styled ’godman’ whose followers went on the rampage after he was convicted of rape on Friday.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s cult Dera Sacha Sauda has a vast rural following in Punjab and Haryana states, where frenzied mobs burned down gas stations and train stations and torched vehicles after a local court found him guilty of raping two women in a 2002 case.  At least 38 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the violence in Haryana, officials said, drawing sharp criticism for the state government run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The case has also highlighted the Indian heartland’s fascination with spiritual gurus, who enjoy immense political clout for their ability to mobilize millions of followers frustrated by the shortcomings of the state.  Security forces have cordoned off a jail in Rohtak city, 70 km (44 miles) from New Delhi, where Singh - also known as the guru of bling for the clothes he wears in the movies he has starred in - is being held.

The judge who convicted Singh will hold a special hearing inside the prison in Rohtak around 2.30 pm local time (0900 GMT) on Monday to decide the punishment, in a move that officials hope will prevent his followers from gathering in the streets like they did on Friday. Singh faces a minimum of seven years in prison.

The town of Sirsa, home to Dera’s headquarters, is already under lockdown, BS Sandhu, Haryana’s police chief, told Reuters. School and colleges have been ordered shut, the government said....

In godman Singh’s two films, “Messenger of God” and its sequel, there are sequences in which he fights off villains and tosses burning motorbikes into the air. In his spiritual avatar, Singh dresses in plain white traditional clothes, giving sermons or planting trees. In the movies he dons bejeweled costumes, rides motorbikes and sends bad guys flying.

The Haryana government has faced severe criticism from opposition Congress and a state court for failing to stop the rioting and vandalism. Singh, whose verified Twitter profile calls him a saint, philanthropist, sportsman, actor, singer, movie director, writer, lyricists, and autobiographer, has been photographed with senior BJP leaders including Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar....

Singh's conviction in a rape case is the latest in a series of cases involving spiritual leaders who have been accused of sexually abusing followers, amassing untaxed money and finding favor with politicians. Besides the rape charges, he is also under investigation over allegations that he convinced 400 of his male followers to undergo castration, allegations he denies.

August 27, 2017 at 11:59 AM | Permalink


It is a power question. Who has more power, the legitimate, elected government or a mob of followers? The government should establish its primacy.

Before we get too smug, consider the Civil War, that killed 850,000 people to answer the above question.

Should a mob of a million thugs, freaks, and parasites, gathered in Washington, be allowed to cancel the result of the Presidential Election in the United States?

Heck, no. We all made a 17% jump in the value of our assets, November 9, 2016. No problem answering the question. Kill them all before we give that up. That is the utilitarian analysis. What is the value of the human life of a mob of cult followers? $0 or a negative value. They are pro-criminal, pro-rape, pro-tax evasion. If they are all killed, everyone is better off.

One remedy is to have the families of rape and other crime victims show up, and reply in kind. Burn down their temples or whatever they use to meet.

The best is to have an effective government do Job One, and Job Last, maintain order, peace, and assert the primacy of the rule of law.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 27, 2017 12:48:35 PM

That article above is an excellent argument to replace all sentencing judges with sentencing algorithms written by the legislature.

Human judges can be influenced by threats. They will do their own immediate, self interest analysis, and will forget all other long term, wider considerations.

These will be even better than mandatory sentencing guidelines. In exercises on the calculations of these guideline sentences, I have never gotten a correct answer (0 out of 10). I passed my Calculus AP Exam. Sentencing calculations are harder. I would like to ask Prof. Berman, as an expert in sentencing, his scores on exercises of sentencing, according to guidelines.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 27, 2017 1:00:39 PM

Rape charges in India are almost inevitably done with an ulterior motive, hence the rioting. So in order to conduct a utilitarian analysis one would need to know the genuine reasons why he was charged with rape to begin with. Who did he fail to pay off and for what? My guess is that maintaining the system of corruption in India is worth more than several hundred lives so it is unlikely they would let him go. In India some people are too big for the law but no one is too big to escape the payoff.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 27, 2017 1:11:43 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB