Why Punishment?

The Sanjay Dutt trial inspired me to write something about punishment.

Why do we punish?

(Legal) Punishment is a legitimate threat system practiced by society with an intention to keep a social order intact.

The primary reasons for punishments are:

(a) rehabilitation and reform – this is a therapeutic approach to bring the offender into a moral state of mind. In other words, reform the criminal mind with therapy/education and make him a better person so that he/she is no longer harmful to the society,
(b) deterrence – stop someone from future wrong-doing, by giving severe punishment for the activity that is considered harmful to the society. It is commonly believed that when you punish one person for an offense, others in the society also learns from this and avoid doing similar offense/mistake that the offender did,
(c) retribution – this is like taking a revenge in “an eye for an eye” fashion. The focal point in this method of punishment is satisfying the hatred/resentment towards that criminal. The suffering caused on the punishee is considered “good”, even if it doesn’t have any positive results or effect on the society or punishee ,
(d) incarceration or incapacitation – in order to keep society safe, the criminal is jailed to make sure he/she makes no further direct contact (for a specific time period) with the society. This is practiced by life imprisonments or death sentences in cases of extreme offences.

Laws or ideas of punishment are integral parts of mostly all religions. Biblical religions, for example, have the concept of Lex talionis (retributive justice) with some variations between Judaism, Christian and Islam; while Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists philosophies subscribe to the laws of karma (cause and effect) which states that every action has a natural consequence – to put it simply, bad things will happen to bad people.

One thing we should keep in mind, when exercising any mode of punishment, is that the hallmark of a liberal society is to reform and grow, not to punish and take revenge.


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