Is Justice forgiveness? – Rohini Sud (Student Editor) B.A LLB (2012)

Life is neither devoid of violence nor emotions. Resentment is one of those few emotions, playing alongside human passions. Resentment is encumbered into one’s being when another wrongs a person. Eminent psychoanalysts have rightly put forth the notions of resentment as being embedded in the superstructures of human emotions. The victim of the wrong internalizes an impulse to harm the one who has harmed them. Violence is sought as an answer to violence. Our criminal Justice system in the pursuit of decreeing Justice resorts to means of “justifiable” violence, however such methods have not circumstantially been able to reform the wrong doer.

Legal doctrines are rooted in specific passions, they surface the ideas of reformation and forgiveness. What the Criminal Justice systems on the contrary seemed to have achieved is giving fabricated beliefs of gaining justice through resentment to such victims. The Criminal Law seems to have institutionalized the feelings of anger, resentment, or even hatred, typically directed at the wrong doer, especially if one were the victim. The legal doctrines and intellectual rationales have allowed the victims to get legitimate revenge, in consonance with the Legal systems. As per Stephanos Bibas these systems and the State – centered models of Punishment have overlooked the human needs to ask for forgiveness and also the desire to earn it.

For too long have resentment and human passions overridden the doctrines persuading the adoption of forgiveness as a prerogative in the Justice systems as well as the human psyche. Forgiveness, Mercy and Excuse are vehemently argued as softer responses towards the wrongdoer, which, should have been a relatively harder response, fit to be called a punishment for the wrong. The realms of forgiveness are demonstrated as being necessary for the damaged individual as well as for the community in order for the real healing to take place. Forgiveness is deemed to be advantageous to not just the victim but also the wrong doer.

Clara Mucci has to offer to us three stages in the treatment of the victim, if they were to forgive the offender at all. If one were to take the victim of Genocide and then revel in these three stages one could come to an imperative understanding of where Mucci leads us. For forgiveness to be conceptualized the victim has to first retrieve all the events of the past which have caused the victim to resent the offender. Mucci says that it is crucial to not only revive the past but also the emotions that are attached to the past. As also has been well articulated by Freud, “in the absence of emotions, no abreation of the trauma is possible and no overcoming of the trauma is accomplished”.

The second stage has to ideally do with triple acknowledgment that as per Michéle Bertrand is asked for by the victim. Social recognition of the harm that has come upon the victim, recognition on behalf of the offender himself and the acknowledgment of the truth of the victim’s own testimonies or words.  Where social acceptance only re- establishes the disconnections in relationships and total loneliness of the victim. The mourning begins when these new relationships and connections are established, and this stage could be the most devastating place to be in, termed as the depressive phase by Melanie Klein. The victim has to move past the feelings of resentment and of revenge and accept the impossibility of getting even with the offender. It is then when the victim will feel a true sense of forgiveness. All this while bound by the grips of vindictive feelings; the victim is liberated from the grips of the perpetrator along with those feelings. Mucci also characterizes it as a feeling of real gratitude that would set in the victim for being alive or having been saved.

Butler’s arguments point to how resentment can provoke bad consequences, especially anti- social actions such as revenge. Forgiveness, argues Jeffrie, coming easily is stigmatized as being not a virtue but a lack of self-respect in a person. Forgiveness he claims is a privilege for the victim, as it frees the victim from the bounds of feelings of resentment. Resentment does prove to be useful in reinstating the social morality, because if swayed by human weaknesses and vanity, forgiveness might come too easy proving counterproductive to the social fabric. Murphy however says that resentment works not primarily in defence of the moral values or norms, but certain values of the self.

Jeffrie argues on the lines as to whether resentment condescends from how the victim feels about the offender. Forgiveness only comes to what is initially right to be resented to. When a person has not done anything wrong, or is not to blame for the act then there would be nothing to resent. Thus forgiveness is directed towards the wrongdoing. Wherever such resentment is overcome is it to be attributed to the virtue of forgiveness? Where then forgiveness leads to forgetting the act. That is where Jeffrie argues that Forgiveness is to be given to the person and not the act. One need not forget the act to forgive; forgiveness to a remorseful person is not forgetfulness of the hurt, which came with his act. Jeffrie says the act of forgiveness is but a selfish one, to purely regain the peace of which may have been lost after the act was committed upon the victim.

Resentment is the consequence to one’s self respect being maligned in Society. Self- respect is part of a human condition bellowing the human weaknesses and vulnerabilities, thus being treated with contempt but naturally gathers in us the feelings of resentment. Condemning the other person might bring virtual satisfaction that humans revel in through the justice system; it does not bring with it the peace of mind, and confines the victim once again into the shafts of grief and sorrow.


About cwlsc

The Centre for Women, Law and Social Change has been established to advance inter-disciplinary approaches to feminism in teaching, research and policy advocacy. Along with academic commitment to high-quality research in the field of gender and the Centre aims to actively contribute to wider legal thinking on issues related to social justice. The Centre aims to support the initiatives of all the Centres of the JGU and actively collaborate with international, national and grassroots organisations. It encourages various student initiatives in the field of gender and social justice, and seeks to encourage critical thinking on how gender operates in a dynamic with other structures of power in both historical and contemporary contexts. The Centre members teach courses on Feminist Jurisprudence; Gender Law and Governance and Family Law.
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