“The Chief Jailor would open the page which contains the details of the condemned prisoner whose account is being closed and ask him questions in order to check the entries. He will be asked for his name, that of his father, his village and other details and after comparing the distinguishing marks on the body of the condemned man he would say, “ my friend, the president has rejected your mercy plea. Therefore, you will be hanged at 5:30 in the morning. Pray to God, if you want to pass on any information to your relatives and friends, I will make the necessary arrangements. These messages could be transmitted by telegram or you can use the post cards or envelopes that I will provide.
Some will cry out aloud; they will blabber about many things. They will beg of anyone they see, to rescue them from death. Tears will roll down in cascades from their eyes. The authorities will tell them to repeat the holy names of the Gods. But, on realizing that even Gods would not be able to save them, they will begin wailing once again. They will have no stamina even to stand up. The legs totter. The whole body is weak, yes, that is the fear of death.”
- Excerpt from ‘In the shadows of the Gallows’
This is not a scene from a classic piece of drama but the reality behind the ritual leading up to the gallows in a Indian prison.
India is one among the very few countries that retains the death penalty. Carried out by hanging, the death sentence is awarded in the “rarest of rare” cases. A 1983 judgment stated that hanging did not involve torture, barbarity, humiliation or degradation. Doesn’t the ghastly sight of a man, whose limp body lay suspended with his tongue handing outside his mouth, depict the ultimate dishonour of a human being’s dignity?
However, those in favour of capital punishment (retentionists) believe that this is a small price to pay for the heinous crimes committed by the convicts. Moreover, ‘doing away’ with hardened criminals as compared to keeping them in jail for life seems to them, more economical. Can the worth and dignity of a human life be measured in monetary terms? All of it boils down to how much we value a human life, murderer or otherwise.
Another argument supporting the death penalty is its usage as a deterrent for crimes. A survey of research findings on the relation between death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and revised in 1996, concluded that “Research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment and such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis…”
Minds of young children, once innocent, like that of Ajmal Kasab have been desensitized to the point where human life holds no value, creating the new crop of ‘suicide-bombers’. For someone, who was all ready to die for his cause, would death penalty really have any credible impact or act as a deterrent for others-to-follow?
Some retentionists argue that any punishment less than death penalty is an insult to the victim and society. Survivors as well as the family of the victims strongly condemn the murderer’s act of killing. How then, is it logical for them to demand a similar deed be performed by the authorities? The internationally renowned God man Osho believes “The death penalty is an eye for an eye. If a man is thought to have murdered somebody, then he should be murdered. But it is strange. If killing somebody is a crime, then how can you remove crime from society by committing the same crime again. There was one man murdered; now there are two men murdered”.
The cause of Human Rights is the most powerful argument that favours those fighting for abolishment capital punishment. Death penalty deprives the Right to life and to fundamental freedoms. Acknowledging this, a statement by the American Civil Liberties Union National Office reads, “Capital punishment is a barbaric remnant of an uncivilized society. It is immoral in principal, and unfair and discriminatory in practice. It assures the execution of some innocent people. As a remedy for crime, it has no purpose and no effect.” On 15 November 2007, a committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted to back a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions.
Shouldn’t a man or a woman who has perpetrated a horrendous crime deserve a chance to reform themselves? Are they not human? It is good to remember: ‘Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.’
Save an individual’s right to live.
Support abolition of death penalty in India.