P. R. Sarkar was a firm believer in social justice and declared "the term “penal system” should be deleted from social terminology. If and when somebody, whether a judge or an ordinary person, takes any type of action against another, it should be corrective, not punitive." In the essay below he elaborates on his approach to the problems of crime, justice and correction.

by P.R. Sarkar


Many people say, “When human beings possess so little intelligence, how can they be qualified to sit in judgement over others? No one has the right to judge others.” I do not completely reject this argument, though I will raise the following question: “Is it not injustice if people do not use the intellect they have been endowed with in this relative world?” Judgements may not always be correct, the determination of judicial criteria may be flawed, or the mental faculties or the way of thinking of the judge may create doubts in the eyes of people about whether he or she can be considered an ideal person. Should we therefore abandon the judicial system altogether? No, certainly not. No particular standard for measuring intellectual progress has ever been or will ever be accepted as absolute. Nevertheless, in every sphere of life there must be an ongoing effort to progress from imperfection to perfection. This effort will, if only indirectly, make social progress and all-round welfare more accessible to the human race.


A judicial process ends once a verdict is reached about anything, so a judicial process is not something complete in itself. Only once the verdict is implemented is the full process complete. In other words, the utility of justice in social life is felt only when a penal measure, or better still, a corrective measure, for the concerned individual or group is implemented as per the verdict. But if at any stage the judicial yardstick is not identical with truth beyond a shadow of doubt, no one can deny that special care will have to be taken at the time of passing sentence on the accused in accordance with the verdict given.

I am personally of the opinion that since flaws will always unavoidably remain, no matter how good the judicial system, it is not the intent of nature for one human being to penalize another. Moreover, a detailed analysis reveals that whenever a punitive action is taken to penalize somebody, a feeling of vindictiveness arises in the minds of those administering the punishment, which in turn creates a malevolent mentality. I therefore think that the term “penal system” should be deleted from social terminology. If and when somebody, whether a judge or an ordinary person, takes any type of action against another, it should be corrective, not punitive.

If a system of corrective measures is introduced, criminals, whether they were deeply involved in the crime or not, will have no reason to complain against anyone. Although there may be flaws in the judgement, it will not harm them in any way. A person who is definitely guilty will benefit from a system of corrective measures, and even a person who is not guilty will benefit from such a system.

Thus my opinion is that no innocent person should have the opportunity to think or say, “Although I am innocent, I am being punished because I couldnt afford a good lawyer” due to flaws in the judicial system. No doubt society will be adversely affected if an offender evades the law and is not arrested by the police due to their incompetence, but far greater damage will be done if an innocent person is penalized because of a defective judicial system.



From the social or human viewpoint, everybody has the right to correct the behavior of everyone else. This is the birthright of every human being. No scholar can dispute the right of people to correct the shortcomings of those with whom they come in contact. The recognition of this right is indispensable for the health of society.

Thus it is clear that corrective measures are necessary to complement justice. Such an arrangement prevents a government from getting any scope to impose a violent, cruel penal system and an oppressive dictatorship on the masses.

Here lies the basic difference between the administrative system and the corrective system. The severe discipline that is needed in the administrative system to strengthen the framework of society or that of the state is not necessary in the judicial system; rather the judicial system is based on rational, tolerant, humanistic ideas and benevolent sentiments. Thus we see that in many cases there is a fundamental difference between the administrative and the judicial systems. Judges can and will frequently temper the merciless attitudes of the administration with humane reasoning; the verdicts of humane judges will therefore be more acceptable to the populace of a state than the pronouncements of an insensitive administration. If this does not happen it will immediately become clear that either an individual or party is abusing the power vested in them by the state.

The Role of Judges

Although the system of capital punishment is unacceptable from the moral viewpoint, people do sometimes resort to this custom under specific circumstances. It does not contain any corrective measures and has no purpose other than to instill fear into peoples minds. Therefore the practice of taking a life for a life out of anger cannot be accepted in a civilized social system. Even if somebody is a genuine criminal who has no public support (no matter how notorious a criminal he or she may be, he or she is still a human being), should not he or she have an opportunity to become an asset to society? It is possible that although the person fails to evoke our sympathy because of the seriousness of his or her crimes, he or she may sincerely repent and be prepared to dedicate the rest of his or her life to the genuine service of society. Furthermore, if those who commit crimes are afflicted with a mental disease, is it not our duty to cure them of their disease instead of sentencing them to death?

Most civilized countries follow the line of reasoning that criminals who commit a crime on the spur of the moment are to be treated with comparative leniency. Other types of criminals as well can hope, on the same line of reasoning, to receive comparatively good treatment. Should decapitation be prescribed as the cure for a headache?

Some people argue that if criminals who commit serious offences are not given capital punishment, they will have to be sentenced to life imprisonment, because few countries have the facilities to cure them of their mental disease. But such a decision may cause overcrowding in the prisons. Is it possible for the state to provide so many people with food and clothing? Rather I would ask, “Why should such criminals live off the state at all?” The state will have to see to it that it receives suitable work from them. And after the completion of their sentence, the state should sincerely make arrangements to find them employment so that they will be able to earn an honest living.

A prison should therefore be just like a reform school, and the superintendent should be a teacher who is trained in psychology and who has genuine love for society. Hence a jailer should possess no less ability than a judge. To appoint a person to this post on the basis of a degree he or she has earned from some university or according to his or her capacity to please a superior, would be most detrimental. If those charged with antisocial activities and sentenced to prison experience daily injustices, feel a lack of open-heartedness from others, or receive less food and poorer-quality food than that sanctioned by the government, their criminal tendencies and maliciousness will develop and manifest all the more.

In this context yet another thought comes to mind. If a criminal is imprisoned for a serious crime, what will happen to his or her dependents? They will still have to somehow go on living. The boys of the family may join a gang of pickpockets and the girls may take to prostitution. In other words, by trying to punish a single criminal, ten more criminals may be created. Thus when sentencing a criminal, one will have to take into consideration the financial condition of the members of his or her family, and the state will have to provide them with the means to earn an honest living.

If the judicial system is to be totally accessible to the public, ordinary people will have to be able to afford it. Therefore one of the most important things to do is to increase the number of judges.

It is true more or less everywhere in the world that judges, due to pressure of work, are often compelled to adjourn cases. I do not completely oppose the practice of adjournment, because at times an adjournment can be advantageous to innocent people. But it can be of equal value to criminals who get the opportunity to tamper with evidence, to influence witnesses and to find false witnesses. This cannot be denied. Experienced judges know if and when it is necessary to adjourn a case in the interests of the public, but if the public interest is not served by this measure, no judge in all conscience should adjourn a case simply due to pressure of work. It is therefore essential to increase the number of judges.

Increasing the number of judges is not, however, an easy matter. It requires a thorough examination and careful selection of candidates. Relatively simple and ordinary cases can even be entrusted to responsible citizens. To deal with such cases it is not a bad idea to employ honorary magistrates. However, these honorary magistrates will also have to exhibit a highly-developed sense of responsibility at the time of discharging their duties. In countries where they are selected from among business people who have made a quick fortune or from among known sycophants, they will be mere liabilities to the people. I once heard a story about an ever-so-learned judge who delivered judgements for and against defendants according to the nostril his clerk used to inhale snuff. Needless to say, whoever passed sufficient money to the clerk would win the case.  As members of a civilized society in the twentieth century, we would like to see such an occurrence as a story from the past, not as a feature of modern life.

The Need for a Spiritual Ideal

The proverb “Prevention is better than cure” may be applied to all aspects of life. It is undeniable that, when we see the variety and seriousness of crimes increasing with the so-called advancement of civilization, it becomes necessary for crime-prevention policies to be given greater importance than remedial action. Civilized people today should be more interested in preventing base criminal propensities from arising in human beings in the first place, than in taking corrective measures to cure criminals mental diseases.

“Good” or “bad”, “virtue” or “vice” from the worldly standpoint not withstanding, people act in order to attain happiness. We judge peoples actions as “good” and “bad”, “virtue” and “vice”, only after evaluating those actions in terms of a goal and steps to reach that goal.

It is true that the majority of people are not born dishonest. Although there are differences among people insofar as their goals and their efforts to reach their goals – differences caused by defects in their bodies various glands – I do not believe that this situation cannot be corrected through collective effort. If ones goal is a pure and pervasive one, then the defects in the process of attaining the goal can never transform a person into a sub-human creature. And if these efforts are in harmony with peoples psychology, this will be extremely beneficial. As a result many people will harmonize the rhythm of their diverse ideas and ideologies and progress together, thereby gradually transforming the inherent individualism and disparity of social life into one symphonic chord, one unified rhythm, which will become the genuine prototype of a healthy human society.

This idea of oneness is fundamentally a spiritual idea. Individually and collectively human beings will have to accept the Supreme and the path to realize the Supreme as the highest truth, and this will have to be recognized as the highest goal of human life. As long as human beings do not do so, the human race will find it impossible to implement a sound, well-thought-out plan of action for social progress. No penal or social code, no matter how well-planned, can liberate society. Without a spiritual ideal, no social, economic, moral, cultural or political policy or program can bring humanity to the path of peace. The sooner humanity understands this fundamental truth, the better.

Virtue and vice are both distortions of the mind. That which may be considered good in one particular temporal, spatial or personal environment may be considered bad in another. A country generally bases its penal code on the concept of virtue and vice which prevails in that country, and the concept of virtue and vice in turn is based on accepted religious doctrines. In my opinion virtue is that which helps to expand the mind, by whose assistance the universe increasingly becomes an integral part of oneself, and vice is that which makes the mind narrow and selfish. And the realm to which the mind of a person engaged in virtuous activities travels, is heaven, and the realm where the mind of a sinner races about in a wild frenzy, is hell.

I do not see any reason to discuss the ideas contained in the various religious scriptures.

P.R. Sarkar is a philosopher and spiritual teacher who lived in India (1921-1990).  This essay is an excerpt from his book Human Society (Ananda Marga Publications, Calcutta, 1962). Copyright Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha (Central)