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Arc of Justice

June 25, 2013

…In Nagaland’s customary law justice deliverance has had a different route. The offender would have been brought face to face with the family he harmed. Both parties the offender and the offended would be brought to parley for a re-conciliation process. The offender could apologize and make amends. He could together with the family of the offended make peace over the loss which was not only theirs but he believes as much his. His feelings would have been addressed to and he could have explained the situation to the ones harmed directly. As crime is considered an offence against the community, the community takes active part in maintaining the balance of the society. This form of justice is thought to be more restorative.

Another inmate of the same jail is called Mujhato Riba. He is 21 years old.  A deliverance of customary law by the Gaonbura, sentenced his mother out of their village. He believes the decision was right. Soon his father was thrown out too, but for no fair reasons. He grew up with a frustration and vengeance daily for he thought he had been wronged. At the age of 15, he became a corporal in NSCN (K). In 2011, in a faceoff with cadres of another group he shot a person with a .32 gun. He mentions that if he did not shoot, his death was sure. He has been in jail for two years. “I know I have made many mistakes in life, and I realize that now. But, I know God has a purpose for me otherwise I wouldn’t escape death thrice”.

According to the Prison Department, customary laws are still practiced in Nagaland; therefore there are fewer prisoners than many other states of the country. In Nagaland, on one side is an old practice that addresses justice in a restorative method. Braithwaite explains, “Restorative justice is about the idea that because crime hurts, justice should heal”. On the other side is retributive justice where crime is punished by legal methods such as imprisonment. 

The point that cannot escape our attention is that justice delivered by customary law may not always be fair as it can be influenced by power dynamics. In the case of Mujhato, it fueled frustration and led him to commit bigger wrongs.

And, nor is the legal method of justice wholly fair. Micheal Mech, 26, is another inmate in the same jail. “I have been falsely framed for two murder cases. One of a man and the other of a woman”, he claims. The truth of the matter has not been decided and he has been in jail for 1 year, 9 months running. Like him, many inmates do not have the finances to hire a lawyer and prove their innocence. In this case too power dynamics largely influences the justice delivered. Recently, a good step has been taken in the Central Jail. A Legal Aid Clinic has been setup to help address the issue of prisoner rights and justice.

In Nagaland’s case, old practices of Restorative Justice must not be lost in time. In the present scenario many indigenous communities that have practiced customary laws for generations are marrying both forms of justice deliverance. The Native American indigenous communities are planning to build tribal justice centers. Canada’s indigenous community is tentatively using circle sentencing successfully. Sentencing Circles use traditional circle ritual to involve all interested parties. The offender, the victim and the community as all have equal parts in repairing the relationship destroyed by crime. In Nagaland’s case, sentencing circle would work as it relates to its traditional customary laws.

Researches on these methods have found positive results. There is greater feeling of trust in others and reduced anxiety. There is reduced anger towards the offender and even greater sympathy towards the offender. The adoption of these reforms can be a good answer to a tribal community in a phase of transition. It keeps at power a modern legal justice system with infusions of past practices. 

Read the full article.


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