Do not seek Revenge and Call it Justice Cassandra Clare


Before we delve into the question of what constitutes a loss in character of justice, it is necessary to understand the character of Justice. Justice, like morality or like the very nature of revenge stems from the urge of an equal society.  Justice is the great rescuer, liberator and tool for equity. It maintains the morality of the society and keeps the order intact. What happens when there comes an expectation-reality gap that seeps in the application of Justice. There is a threat to our rescuer. Justice is volatile and that too so intensely that many a times the line between justice and revenge becomes a blur. Now why is revenge wrong?

The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi defines Retributive Justice as equal and direct retaliation, specifically expressed in Exodus 21:24 as an eye for an eye. But we cannot assert it enough, that too in a civilized society. The scope of revenge in the application of Justice is detrimental. As Samuel Johnson rightly pointed out, Revenge is an act of passion, vengeance of Justice. In simple terms, Injuries are revenged but Crimes need to be avenged, that is, to ensure that the injury inflicted as a punishment for a crime committed is as per the norms laid out in criminal justice system. Revenge is more personal in nature, whereas a crime is a wrong against society at large and hence needs some relief broader than revenge.

In Spanish Tragedy Thomas Kyd has aptly dealt with the conflict of justice and revenge. Justice has been described as the highest law of the land as without justice the whole country can suffer. It is only the justice that compel the authority holder to stick to the concept of the lawful co-existence. On the contrary, revenge can be perceived as a negative element that even broke the delicate balance of unity in the Spanish society. Revenge can be seen as one of the parts of justice but justice can never be perceived to be a subordinated part to the revenge.

Whenever there is any instance of illegitimate or unfair treatment with any individual or any section of the society, there is demand for either justice or revenge is sought. Many times, both these societal terms are used interchangeably in common usage but they are quite different in application. Justice is fair and revenge is not.

Justice is always rational whereas revenge is usually an outcome of emotional outrage. Revenge works on the feeling of pleasure that an individual gets by harming the criminal at least to the same extent as he was himself injured. Justice, on the other hand is based on the pillars of logic, legality and ethics. It is not concerned about the spiteful pleasure that one can get by retaliation. Revenge usually acts on the wheel of majoritarian opinion and enlarge the spectrum of right to that extent that even what is legally wrong gets encompassed into it. 

If we compare both of these social elements on basis of their nature, Revenge is out of personal animosity and retaliation whereas justice is based on the tenets of impartiality and fairness. Revenge may lead to attainment of private justice by carrying out desired private vendetta. No matter whether the end result is just or not, the avenger perceives it to be justified. This quest of revenge blurs their viewpoint of correctness by adding biasness toward the criminal or wrongdoer. On contrary, Justice is impersonal, impartial in nature and both a legal and social phenomenon. It serves the need as well as interests of the individual as well as society by withholding the accepted moral, ethical and legal rules.

Revenge instills the feeling of vindictiveness. The feeling of putting all the possible efforts to retaliate or avenge can lead to attainment of the status of perpetrator. If a wrong has been committed then a retaliatory wrong from the side of the victim can never be justified on any grounds. Committing a wrong can never be a defense to make the whole act right. Revenge leads the victim in the endless cycle of degradation. Even if a kind of personal satisfactory justice is served through revenge, still it can never be appreciated as an example as it would be done by committing another like wrong. Justice revolves around the concept of logic, honor, fairness and virtue. It never runs on the lines of vindictiveness. There exists no room for bloodthirstiness rather it is based on the aspiration of proper proceeding in order to deliver what an individual exactly deserves, nothing more or less.

Revenge is the game of cycles as there is no way end to the need of retaliation whereas Justice is more about appropriate disposal of whole matter after the completion of proper proceeding. Revenge attracts more revenge and thus has a possibility of repeating it. It is like a tit for tat game without any usual end. The losing side will have to suffer from the feeling of inferiority whereas the so-called winning side gets blinded by the feeling of authority and dominance. The side being in dominant position now gets satisfaction whereas the other side is never satisfied, aspires to get this satisfaction and this cycle is ad infinitum. In this cycle of revenge, there can be no room of mutual understanding or compromise as vengeance is always a one-way road. Every party involved has its own rigid set of right or wrong and there remains no scope of mutual resolution.

Justice is formulated in the form of legislative rules and adjudicating parties who all the neutral to the dispute, because of which there exists a scope of having an unbiased resolution or judgement that can satisfy both the sides. Also, legally evaluating, Vigilant Justice is not at all a justice in true sense because there is no neutral third party involved to adjudicate neither it has been rendered according to any rules formulated by any party not belonging to that matter. So, Revenge can never be a type of social or community justice as it never takes into account the laws formulated in consensus by the society. Revenge is usually instant act of mere punishing to satisfy own roots of vengeance whereas justice is said to be rendered when the dictum is based on rational reasoning following the laws of the community.

Revenge is driven by the urge of retaliation whereas justice is mainly governed by the aspiration of maintaining order and balance. The main modus operandi of revenge mechanism is to harm and this urge is a result of ill-will and hatred. In most of the cases, feeling of hatred is so impassioned that it is disproportionate to the original loss or harm caused. Justice, on the contrary, adopts a societal approach to maintain balance and harmony via a procedure that renders equality and equity. It runs on the need of rendering an equitable punishment to the wrongdoer according to a set standard of laws governing punishments. It never treats any side better than other until and unless the guilt has been proved by the end of fair and proper proceeding. Justice implies that magnitude of punishment is proportional to the of gravity of crime. The idea of victim empowerment through instant justice by agents of law enforcement is often hailed in the society; however, this is merely a notion or a myth. It is just a process of exploiting the loopholes in the system to serve what one considers is fair. Is it really fair? Or maybe, fairness is no more a criterion for justice. The two words which could once be used interchangeably, are no more the same and have become contaminated. Evidently, justice has lost its meaning, essence and character.

Police encounters are essentially extra-judicial killing which can or cannot be justified depending upon the facts and circumstances which led to the encounter, as determined by the Magisterial Inquiry. However, this measure if used as a regular tool for doing justice, will defeat the essence of Criminal Justice System. Justice delayed is justice denied, but when an illiterate man is killed, merely on the suspicion that he is in possession of something illegal which violates the community standards, or booked by the police for expressing an alternative view than that of ruling dispensation, or persons illegally detained by police with ulterior motives and attribution of charges justice needs to be done to the wronged and the wrong-doer. If the law enforcers turn to be judges, conducting own investigation, running their own kangaroo courts, passing sentences and executing the guilty, that will be a dark day in Indian democracy. Such a procedure will be violative of fundamental principles of natural justice, right to fair trial as well as that of Constitution of India. At the same time, the judiciary and legislature must introspect upon the case for expediting the proceedings and their conclusion within a given time frame. Notwithstanding the legislations and judgments, these directions have been often flouted. In conclusion, let us not forget that, Justice hurried is Justice buried; once it is buried, justice definitely loses its character, the character of being served.