Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Do away with death penalty

The news item that India has voted against a moratorium on death penalty when a committee of the UN general assembly passed a resolution favouring it brings to focus again this much debated issue. India is in a minority with 52 other countries as 99 countries out of 184 voted for it and 33 abstaining. In actual practice most of the countries have not employed death penalty. Several leading jurists had pleaded in vain to the government for abolition of death penalty for the reason that it is irreversible punishment with the risk of innocent victims getting killed by the state.
Although capital punishment is legal in India they are few and far between. Between 1975 and 1991 only about 40 people were executed and there has been no execution between 1995 and 2004. One has only to juxtapose this figure against the number of murders taking place almost daily all over the country. The number actually condemned to death is a minuscule percentage of the murders taking place. While the judges award this extreme punishment in the rarest of rare cases where there is not even a shred of mitigating circumstances, the figures does not indicate for the real picture. The prosecution and the police more often than not present shoddily prepared cases, not infrequently under wrong sections and without proper witnesses allowing the culprits to escape with minor punishments or go Scot free. The judges do not condemn a man to death unless there is an iron clad case with no extenuating reasons.
Inspite of the rare cases of execution in the country hanging a man to death (India still goes by hanging with a noose till death) is a harsh and depressing manual business. Not all can be hang men as it calls for a strong stomach to bind the noose around the condemned man and pull the trapdoor for him 'to choke, gasp and swing until he died'. It is perhaps for this reason even hardened people do not come forward to assist the jails in this gloomy business. In the recent past, Tihar jail was frantically looking for hangmen which tribe has almost gone extinct. Human rights activists while arguing for total abolition of death sentence plead as interim measure for less painful methods of killing. Many countries employ less cruel and more humane method like lethal injections, electrocution, and gas chamber to take the lives. When this method of killing by hanging was challenged in 1983 on grounds that it was a torture and a painful process the apex Court in its wisdom it is learnt had surprisingly ruled that hanging did not involve torture, barbarity, humiliation or degradation.
The notion that capital punishment acts as a deterrent is flawed. The continuance of brutal and merciless hanging is not going to stop murders particularly when there is an unholy nexus between political class and criminal elements. Life long period of incarceration with no remission should be adequate. Society need not proceed on the basis of’ an eye for eye and a tooth for tooth’ even in cases of murders where there are no extenuating circumstances. It is enough to put them safely away from society in special prisons with highest security.
It is not too late for the country to go along with majority of nations in the plenary session of general assembly in December. What is sought for is only a moratorium on death penalty till it is eventually abolished. This is the way the world is moving save some democracy-deficit countries. Meanwhile let there be a public discussion on the subject to know the sense of the nation.

1 comment:

  1. Mr ,KP,

    I do not see that there can be any humane procedure in killing- be it hanging, decapitating , lethal injection, gas chamber , feeding to the lions , trampling with an elephant, burning at the stake or disembowelment.
    An act of crime is dealt by a larger crime that is all.

    I agree with you that a lifelong incarceration with no recourse to parole or remission is what has to be done. Not get worse in and reaction than the criminal itself.