Crime and Punishment


The murderous priest and the nun with the victim in the foreground
Image from LiveLaw

Dostoevsky’s unforgettable character Raskolnikov commits a murder to prove to himself that he is above the common man’s morality. He kills a despicable woman who is a ruthless usurer and hence won’t be missed by anyone. In the process, however, he is forced to kill that woman’s sister too, who is a good person, in order to get rid of the inconvenient witness. The crime doesn’t prove what Raskolnikov wanted it to. Instead of proving his superiority to average human beings, the murders leave him with a restless conscience. Eventually he has to confess. There is no other way.

The person who convinces Raskolnikov that he had indeed committed a crime against no less than the humanity itself is a prostitute. Sonia had chosen prostitution as a profession out of sheer helplessness. She is a saintly person at heart.

A self-righteous murderer and a saintly prostitute: one of the many contrasting pairs that Dostoevsky created. The murderer learns with the help of the prostitute that his crime is not only the murders he committed but also the hubris of placing himself above his fellow beings. If Sonia commits sins (of prostitution) it is for the sake of an entire family that depends on her for survival. While she has placed herself at the service of her helpless sister and her children, Raskolnikov places himself conceitedly above the others. Sonia tells him to kiss the earth and confess his sins to the entire humanity. His crime is against humanity. Hubris is also part of that crime. Raskolnikov learns morality from a prostitute.

Raskolnikov and Sonia were the first characters to rush to my mind as I read about the verdict passed on a Catholic priest and nun yesterday in Kerala in 28-year-old case. The priest and the nun are murderers. They murdered an innocent young nun who happened to witness their illicit physical relationship. The murder was committed with a small axe. Incidentally, Raskolnikov too had used an axe for his crime.

Unlike Raskolnikov, the priest and the nun continued to live normal lives for nearly three decades. In spite of massive protests and media coverage in Kerala for a long period, the priest and the nun continued to live as if nothing had happened. Even the most villainous characters of Dostoevsky would put their heads down in shame seeing how the priest and the nun could deceive their own consciences so smoothly. The nun had even gone to the extent of getting hymenoplasty done to mislead the court. [That’s nothing, of course, compared to what all the Church did to save the priest-nun couple from justice.]

Self-deception of the type indulged in by this priest and the nun requires extraordinary thickness of skin. Thickness of conscience, that is. They were people of god. Representatives of Jesus on earth. Pity Jesus! How many crucifixions he has endured because of his representatives in the church founded in his name!

The nun is reported to have broken down when the verdict was read out. It couldn’t have been tears of remorse, of course. She might have thought about the wretchedness that awaited her in a prison cell in contrast to the regal life that her convent afforded her. The priest was seen telling the media people just after the verdict that he was innocent and he would be judged fairly in “God’s court”. He looked vilely nonchalant. Siberia reformed Raskolnikov, but the priest didn’t show any indication of following in the footsteps of Dostoevsky’s protagonist.

On the contrary, he is likely to be projected as a martyr by the Catholic
Church when the appropriate time comes. The Church has perpetrated worse atrocities with its criminal priests. One Benedict, a priest who had an adulterous relationship with a woman whom he killed eventually, is now being projected as a saintly figure who suffered gratuitously in the jail for a crime committed supposedly by somebody else. Nuns are not so lucky, however. This nun may end up in absolute oblivion sooner than later. She may even redeem herself by confessing the truth even as Raskolnikov did.

Tailpiece: Now if Franco Mulakkal is also arrested, they can together establish a diocese in the jail, says one of my friends.


  1. Well, yes. The biggest deceit committed by a majority of human-beings is deceit to themselves only. Genuine contrition is experienced only by the (rare) saintly ones whose deserve forgiveness if not by the law or the world, then at least by themselves.

    1. I'm sure you have also noticed that the professionally religious people, including those in politics like yogis and modis, are incapable of 'contrition'.

  2. The way Dostevsky portrayed the conscience of Raskolnikov after that murders is a real torture to the collective human psyche.

    1. Guilt is terrible to bear for ordinary mortals. But the number of extraordinary ones is ever on the rise.

  3. 28 years is a long time for justice. Sr. Abhaya’s parents died waiting for it. Convicts can appeal.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Adventures of Toto as a comic strip

Reading Comprehension for senior students

Writing Skills - Invitation