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Capital Punishment Is it still relevant today?

Recently, with the hanging of Afzal Guru and Kasab, we have seen an increased debate both on Television, Print Media as well as the rampant social media about the Validity of Death Penalty especially in the present times. According to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty as of 2012. India herself does not give capital punishment that easily. Before Kasab was hanged in Nov 2012, the last hanging was in year 2004. This is in line with Indias stated position, as spelled out in a 1982 Supreme Court ruling, that the death penalty is a punishment that should only be handed down in the rarest of rare cases. India has also backed the death penalty at the United Nations, along with other countries that still carry out capital punishment. At present there are some 476 convicts on death row in India and it might be years or even decades before some of them are hanged. The death penalty is a tricky subject to debate in India because the idea of bringing people to justice is often equated with the idea of vengeance, and not with the idea of punishment. If we take the case of murder, that idea of vengeance translates into killing the person who has killed. Those who want to retain the death penalty also claim that it is a deterrent against murder or graver crimes such as terror attacks. But how far they are actually correct is still debatable. There is no empirical data to prove that the death sentence has prevented murders from taking place or terror attacks being executed. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, India recorded 38,924 murders in 2003. That number

rose to 42,923 in 2011. Adjusting for population growth, the murder rate in both 2003 and 2011 was the same: 3.5 murders per 1,000. All this while, the death penalty stood, even if it applied to only the rarest of the rare cases. No loss of human life, however despicable the individual might have been, ought to be a reason for celebration. Instead, this should be a time of national reflection: reflection about crime, about punishment and about that cherished bedrock of our country i.e. justice. Both Kasab and Guru have been declared Martyrs by Terrorist Groups, with some even announcing plans to avenge their death. Hence it is still possible that Capital Punishment might have motivated some more indoctrinated minds to follow their path. In editorials, newspapers in India have taken varying positions on the issue. The Hindu made it clear that it opposes state executions, whatever the crime. We oppose it for ordinary killers and mass murderers, communal protagonists as well as terrorists like Ajmal Amir Kasab, the paper said in an editorial. The Times of India said that while it doesnt enthusiastically endorse capital punishment it supports it in cases like Kasabs. He has been accorded due process of law and his culpability for heinous crimes which certainly falls into the rarest of rare category for which capital punishment can be awarded has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt, the editorial said. Human Rights activists too have opposed Death Penalty from time to time. The Indian government should immediately reinstate its moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia head of the New Yorkbased group, described Kasabs hanging as a step backwards for Indias justice system. Another issue is of the selective nature of the executions, so we have Rajiv Gandhis killers being on Death Row for over 20 years but not being hanged simply because of adverse opinion of political outfits of Tamil Nadu. Similarly we have killers of Beant Singh, former Punjab CM, being honoured by Religious outfits in Punjab and protests being organised to convert his death penalty to life imprisonment. All this time, the government has remained a mute spectator. The Civil society feels that the government is more concerned about

safeguarding its own survival by keeping its allies happy. In case of Kasab, because of the gruesome nature of the crime committed by him, the public opinion was in favour of death penalty and the government would have had to face a massive outcry if he was given any other punishment apart from capital punishment. However, it would be pertinent to ask whether the punishment as opposed to vengeance would have been more appropriate if he were to be in jail for the rest of his life without the option of parole. Many European Countries have abolished Death Penalty on the ground that an eye for an eye reaction is no longer justified in the present society and that life imprisonment will be harder on the convict because he will be reminded each day, of the reason why he is being punished. As India progresses, and becomes a far more developed society, there will be a greater acceptability of western ethos and cultural standards than it is at present. The death penalty will become an anachronism. That is not to say that there wont be any murders in a modern democratic society or that the abolition of the death penalty will overnight turn India into a compassionate society. It most likely wont because the building blocks for a compassionate society are multi-disciplinary and therefore difficult to put together, and it would be a long, arduous and an almost impossible task. But there is no better time than to start now. Perhaps a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to ultimately abolish it could be the first step.