(This article was published in TheQuint on 09.04.18. Can be accessed here.)
It was in 1982 that James Q Wilson and George Kelling proposed a social theory according to which disorder in a society causes crime, and crime leads to further disorder and more crime. Later, it was famously called the ‘Broken Window Syndrome’. This theory in its very essence points to the fact that in any civilised society, the strict implementation of even the simplest of laws is of utmost importance. Recently Salman Khan got convicted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in a 20-year-old poaching case.
The whole country has expressed differing opinions on the convictions, with a plethora of people supporting the actor, who simply refuse to believe that the conviction is a step in the right direction.
No One Should be Above the Law
It is indeed surprising to observe that certain sections of the society, including some well known public figures, have condemned the judgment, calling it disproportionate to the crime. Some have even suggested collecting compensation from the superstar and setting him free, even when there is no scope of compensation under the Wildlife Protection Act. Law, by its very nature, must be equal for all and must be implemented as such. Different judgments for different sections of society is ultra vires to the basic fabric of the Constitution and larger human rationale. The judicial pronouncements must not provide scope to the rich, who can commit crime, pay money and walk free. It must be equal for everybody irrespective of their social standing, and that is the very essence of the fabric that a civilised society is made up of.
It is in this regard that we can learn a lesson from the African countries. There are reports which show that African countries like Malawi – where the concept of ‘blood money’ had been a societal norm for decades, and the concept had also found its way into wildlife crimes – have lost half of their elephant populations because poachers were let off with minor penalties. Recent data on the already destroyed elephant population in the African nations is a clear indicator that the idea of ‘blood money’, integral to their society, has only led to the complete destruction of wildlife. However, in recent times, the punishment for hunting in such countries have been revised, and now has a penalty of up to 30 years in jail.
This is definitely not going to bring lost wildlife back, but the folly has been realised and rectified. The writing on the wall is clear; deterrence must be strong.
Justice Delayed is Justice Denied?
Another statement doing the rounds is that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, which is rather true – however, it needs a contextual understanding. Such statements are oft-quoted by the prosecution side in cases where the defence delays and drags the case on technical grounds, while constantly appealing to the judiciary to provide their clients the benefit of doubt because, that is where their interest lies. Also, the so-called ‘delayed justice’ isn’t interpreted as ‘justice denied’ by the Bishnoi community. The Bishnoi witnesses, including forest officials, were grilled in court by a battery of lawyers over the past two decades.
The adage of ‘delayed justice’ being ‘denied justice’ should be propounded by those who are heartily celebrating the verdict. This judgment is also a testament to the bravery of the Bishnois and forest officials who fought day and night to ensure justice was delivered.
Another argument doing rounds is that Salman Khan was a young man at the time, who had no idea about the laws. But this argument does not hold water in a court of law. Ignorance cannot be an excuse to either commit a crime or be excused for it.
Need for Awareness & Stricter Wildlife Conservation Laws
It goes without saying that survival of all species is crucial not only to the human race but to the entire ecosystem. Our actions have caused the extinction of several species of wildlife, with the sixth mass extinction event currently underway. Researchers have said that the resulting biological annihilation will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences and humans will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.
Wildlife protection in these times becomes very crucial, and so does the strict implementation of the law that protects these helpless, voiceless creatures who are unable to speak out against the atrocities perpetrated on them regularly.
This case also highlights the importance of laws related to wildlife conservation and their utility in today’s world, especially when globally wildlife crimes rank fourth after trafficking in drugs, arms and humans.
Widespread discussions have started taking place across various sections of society. Mass awareness campaigns must follow across various social platforms. The traction generated by this conviction can and must be used positively to the benefit of wildlife.