1991 – Bomb blast kills Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others, injures many more. The 26 accused are given death sentence by the TADA court. On appeal to the Supreme court, only 4 are finally sentenced to death. Two decades later, they are still alive.
2001 – Terrorists infiltrate Parliament House and fire weapons, killing at least a dozen people, including civilians, and injuring many more. 4 criminals are convicted, mastermind Afzal Guru is sentenced to death. A decade later, not only does he live, but terrorists blow up a place outside Delhi high court, killing at least 13 and injuring at least 70 more - demanding him to be set free!
2008 – Pakistani terrorists ravage the city of Mumbai, indiscriminately killing 164 innocent civilians and injuring at least 300 more. One of them is captured alive, given a fair court trial, and convicted based of rock-solid evidence. Though given the death sentence, 3 years from the incident, mass murderer Kasab is still alive and pleads mercy.
The incidents highlighted above are just the tip of the iceberg.
Capital punishment is legal in India. Death, by hanging is the accepted method. However, even the most heinous crime, rarely attracts the death sentence. Even when it does, it is hardly ever actually carried out.
Statistics suggest that since 2004, no one has ever been hanged in India. Wikipedia confirms that about 26 mercy petitions are pending before the President, including the cases I mention above.
The big questions:
Why is India afraid of conducting capital punishment for criminals who deserve it? Once an accused has been proved guilty, why do our courts still hesitate to mete out severe punishment? Why is the death sentence so controversial?
Human rights vs. Capital Punishment:
The biggest argument against the death sentence is that of human rights. Human rights activists believe that capital punishment is the most serious violation of an individual’s rights. Here are further arguments against capital punishment:
1) Violation of the ‘right to live’ – the most basic human right
2) Death is an easy route for escape. It quickly relieves them of suffering and denies them of an opportunity to repent
3) Several years of suffering inside prison is adequate punishment for their crimes, there is no need to take a life
4) Wrongful executions – innocent people may die.
5) Threat of death could help elicit a confession – According to Wikipedia, ‘the threat of the death penalty could be used to urge capital defendants to plead guilty, testify against accomplices, or disclose the location of the victim's body’
While the above arguments make sense, in reality, how much of this is practical?
Violation of the right to live.
Yes, every human being has the right to live. No authority can deprive him/her of it. However, the people in question here, are criminals who have committed heinous crimes. Criminals, like the ones mentioned above, have performed cold-blooded homicide, killing numerous INNOCENT people, and injuring thousands of others. They defend their actions by claiming to have fought ‘for a worthy cause’.
Talking about Kasab’s right to live - Why don’t we ask the family of the victim? Ask a girl who lost her brother when terrorists fired gunshots indiscriminately at the innocent people in Leopold Cafe. Kasab and his gang killed at least 10 innocent people. The right to live – did those 10 people not have a right to live?
Talking of Afzal Guru’s right to live – Why don’t we ask the widow of JP Yadav who was killed foiling the 2003 attacks! The ‘casualties’ as they are easily referred to, also had ‘the right to live’.
On a related note, while on one hand the Government awards Ashok Chakra to such brave men, on the other, it conveniently seeks to pardon the perpetrator of the very crime!
Human rights are fundamental, no doubts about that. But does a murderer who has snatched another person’s right to live, deserve such a right himself?
As for the actual question of whether death by hanging is cruel or not, do read this interesting article titled ‘A Hangman Speaks’ to find out more.
Death denies opportunity to repent.
Honestly, the last time I heard of a ruthless killer who had repented and reformed himself, was in my text books - Angulimala! Do we, as a country, really believe that such terrorists will repent for their actions? Will they perhaps, help India minimise future attacks, by say, a detailed confession about their parent organization? The argument of repentance is very vague and subjective and mere speculation.
Several years inside the prison is sufficient.
Several years ‘is sufficient’. But for whom?
Statistics say that the cost of keeping Kasab alive has already grossed Rs.45 crores! The cost of a high security prison, medical facilities, cost of deploying additional security forces , etc. – all this is exorbitant.
For a country of 1.2 billion people, with more than half the population living BELOW the poverty line, the cost of keeping a criminal alive in prison certainly does pinch. Several years in prison is indeed burden enough on the average tax-payer.
In comparison, it is interesting to note that the value of a terrorist’s life is far higher than that of an innocent civilian in India.
Following the recent blast in Delhi, ‘The PM has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the dead and Rs 1 lakh for the injured. This is in addition to the Delhi government's compensation package of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of the dead. Those permanently incapacitated will get Rs 2 lakh; seriously injured will get Rs one lakh and those with minor injuries in the blast will be given Rs 10,000. In the case of death of a minor, the family will get Rs 1.5 lakh.’
Kasab’s life = Rs.45 crores, and counting!
Mumbai terrorism victim’s life = Rs. 5 to 7 lakh
Delhi blast victim’s life = Rs. 2 to 4 lakh
Keeping a criminal in prison, may (according to human rights activists), be punishment enough. However, the cost of this exercise is certainly not justified.
The risk of carrying out wrongful executions is real. Innocent people might be led to their death after a wrongful conviction. Having said that, cases where the crime has been proven beyond any doubt, like the Mumbai massacre for example - are clear-cut cases of homicide, where the criminal is awarded the death sentence but still pleads mercy.
Therefore, just as we worry about the miscarriage of justice, we must also ensure rightful executions are carried out, and justice is awarded.
Threat of death could elicit confessions.
Another subjective argument, that can hold weight only if it is supported by hard facts. One wonders about statistics that prove that a criminal has actually taken the bait, and confessed to other crimes, or helped bust a larger criminal ring. Is this speculation substantial enough to merit keeping a criminal alive, thereby also giving him/her a chance to escape?
Having explored the arguments for and against the death sentence, it is interesting to note that the global trend is to abolish capital punishment. Most countries have already put an end to it, and only a few countries, including India, still reserve capital punishment in the ‘rarest of rare’ crimes.
So what do you think the Indian Government must do? Consider the human rights of the convicted criminals and grant them mercy? Or mete out due punishment and execute the death sentence?
What do we want? Death of a convicted criminal? Or death of the death sentence?
Photo credit: Matthew High