Capital Punishment in India

The argument against capital punishment: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Hanging a murderer is to seek retribution and to not attempt his reformation. Death penalty is not ethical since none of us have the right to demand or take another’s life. Death penalty is not an intelligent option as it simply erases the offender and leaves the root cause of the offence untouched. No matter how heinous the crime, it is the society who created the criminal. Hanging the convicted is to cop out of society’s responsibility to rehabilitate the criminal. It is to play an unforgiving God and exercising only the powers of destruction and protection and not the ones of creation. It is a step back in our evolutionary process by perpetuating a destructive ‘tit for tat’ cycle.

The argument for it: “To not punish is to sanction the un-sanctionable.” 

Premeditated murder is unpardonable. It reflects an incorrigible condition which neither time nor hardship can cure. When a human plans in cold blood to seek the extermination of fellow humans, he loses the right to society’s compassion. Not erasing the convicted offender would be to run the risk of repeat offences. Rehabilitating the offender costs money and effort which are better spent on higher priorities with better return on investment. To punish is to deter. To deter is to prevent. To not punish is to sanction the un-sanctionable and violates the trust of citizens. It is to create an environment where everything is viewed through the prism of self-flagellating tolerance.

Adding a new breed of criminal to the mix: The terrorist

The capital punishment debate is complicated as it is. Now add a new breed of criminal to the mix. The terrorist.

The terrorist is an individual who, for various reasons, has chosen to commit premeditated murder. What the terrorist does is definitely not an impersonal war. It is very personal. The terrorist provides no advance warning of the targets, location or time of attack. Several months of planning often go into an attack. It is hardly credible to view terrorists as passionate individuals who lost their heads over some petty provocation and indulged in an impulsive act, and thus ones to regret their actions later and reform. Terrorists represent the fringes of society where the possibility of rehabilitation is the faintest. They are the closest to a lost cause as we can find. Stopping the growth of terrorism is not a lost cause. Reforming terrorists might be. They combine the passion of a temporarily deranged murderer with the cold blooded-ness of a serial killer and the intelligence of an army. If not destroyed, they will destroy. It is us or them. As dramatic as it sounds, that’s the way it looks from the view point of an ordinary citizen.

The Dilemma: Dharmic justice or Gandhigiri?

The Supreme Court today upheld death sentence to Ajmal Kasab, who participated in the murder of innocent people during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Should we hang Kasab in our lust for revenge? Or should the President pardon him? Will pardoning terrorists encourage more terrorism or will it stem the flow by winning their hearts and minds?

To pardon a terrorist is to break the inviolable social contract that we the citizens have made with our governments to serve the society and to be protected in return. To extinguish the life of a terrorist is to uphold Dharma on which depends the survival of our society as we know it. A Gandhian style of “blank check” tolerance, as history tells us, can make martyrs out of the tolerant. On the flip side, to forgive Kasab is to take the high road and demonstrate the divinity in us.

If you had the choice: would you choose the power to destroy an enemy? Or, would you choose the power to change his mind? Dharmic justice or Gandhigiri? This is a tough call in a country which has taught us both.

12 Replies to “Capital Punishment in India”

  1. I'd certainly forgive a person like Qasab, the real criminals are the masterminds of the attacks. Death penalty should only given in following cases:
    Aggravated murderers
    Rioters(the instigators only)
    Terrorist masterminds

  2. I'd certainly forgive a person like Qasab, the real criminals are the masterminds of the attacks. Death penalty should only given in following cases:
    Aggravated murderers
    Rioters(the instigators only)
    Terrorist masterminds

  3. I hear you, Rachna and understand where you're coming from. Personally, I don't buy into capital punishment. I think it's an inhuman practice that doesn't belong in today's society in any country. All it does is to satisfy the lust for revenge and nothing more.

  4. I hear you, Rachna and understand where you're coming from. Personally, I don't buy into capital punishment. I think it's an inhuman practice that doesn't belong in today's society in any country. All it does is to satisfy the lust for revenge and nothing more.

  5. Dear Mr Jeevat Singh, I respect your view points. But, when we begin deciding when death penalty is "appropriate" and when it's not, we are playing God. The concept of taking another person's life – for whatever reasons – does not belong in a civilized society. This is my personal opinion.

  6. Dear Mr Jeevat Singh, I respect your view points. But, when we begin deciding when death penalty is "appropriate" and when it's not, we are playing God. The concept of taking another person's life – for whatever reasons – does not belong in a civilized society. This is my personal opinion.

  7. If I agree with the Gandhigiri POV, I would only want one thing: treat Kasab like a dangerous criminal and let him go through the same punishment as those in that category go through, not as a state guest. We have any number of reformed convicts coming out of prisons equipped with education and sometimes a trade. I agree though that the root cause has to be dealt with, not unlike indigenous medicine which does that as opposed to modern medicine that treats the symptoms, doing away with them temporarily till they surface at another site, or the same one.

  8. If I agree with the Gandhigiri POV, I would only want one thing: treat Kasab like a dangerous criminal and let him go through the same punishment as those in that category go through, not as a state guest. We have any number of reformed convicts coming out of prisons equipped with education and sometimes a trade. I agree though that the root cause has to be dealt with, not unlike indigenous medicine which does that as opposed to modern medicine that treats the symptoms, doing away with them temporarily till they surface at another site, or the same one.

  9. The root cause is the state of lawlessness that prevails in our neighbor to the west. We need to find ways to make Pakistan understand that it cannot absolve itself of the crimes committed by its citizens in India. I don't believe that this is very hard to do or is a complex problem to solve. What's missing is the will on our part.

  10. The root cause is the state of lawlessness that prevails in our neighbor to the west. We need to find ways to make Pakistan understand that it cannot absolve itself of the crimes committed by its citizens in India. I don't believe that this is very hard to do or is a complex problem to solve. What's missing is the will on our part.

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