Punishment with a difference

Nilratan Halder | Published: March 17, 2018 00:37:07

A mobile court magistrate now serving at the Shahjalal International Airport for three years has come up with an ingenious punishment for petty offences by airport employees. Euphemistically called speed money --bribe that is, luggage slashing, acceptance of money illegally by providing trolleys are some such crimes that take place almost regularly at the premier airport of the country. The magistrate tried different methods before without success to curb such crimes. This time a novel idea struck him and he wants to have a trial run of the punishment for the offenders.

In a way, he is replicating a much tried out method used by teachers in schools. In order to discipline inattentive students or those failing to comply with instructions, teachers often subjected the offenders to write a correct spelling or a sentence a number of times --as high as 100 times. Or even, a teacher would have ordered a student to read a lesson repeatedly and as long as the latter could not master it.

In this case the magistrate has made it a point that employees found guilty of committing petty crimes would be awarded a punishment of compulsory book reading. A week's time would be allowed to finish reading the book of the offender's choice. After the allotted time the reader would have to sit for a test in order to prove that s/he has gone through the book thoroughly. Apart from writing a synopsis of the book --usually a novel and preferably one on the liberation war, the reader will face an oral test as well. This is to ensure that the write-up s/he submits is not written by someone else on his or her behalf. In case, the offender fails in the test, s/he will be handed over yet another book along with the earlier one. Now the test will be held on two books and further failure will only increase the number of books on which tests will be taken.

The beauty of the punishment is that it turns in effect a reward in that uninitiated mind is going to have a chance of enjoying reading books. Once a reader starts enjoying a book, s/he will develop appetite for more books and over time for classic and books of intellectual arguments. Then those in the magistrate's team will also have to read the books on which tests will be held, for they will take the tests.

Now, it is not clear if there is already a library at the airport. Most likely, one will be set up for the purpose. The magistrate is on record saying that the library will have new books only, no old books will do. Who will pay for the books? Obviously, he is not going to spend from his own pocket. But that is only when the process has begun. His idea is to give a book to read for the offender permanently and the offender will have to replace it with a new copy. How to begin then? Some funds will be required initially. It is not clear how the magistrate will manage it first.

Whatever may be the case, the idea is novel and should be tried in a country where reading books is on the decline. Smartphones have taken away the young readers and the old ones are also addicted to the 'idiot box'. In a situation like this, such compulsive reading may prove a blessing in disguise for those who are going to be penalised. There is however no provision for such punishments in the law book. What if foolhardy offender challenges this form of punishment in the court! Let's hope none will dare do this in order to lower the value of books further.

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