Capital Punishment: Do We Need It?

Posted on August 16, 2011 in Specials

By Dhruva Mathur

The Government of India has all of a sudden woken up to the number of mercy petitions lying before it and has decided to slowly and steadily, in a typical bureaucratic manner, get rid of them. Recently, Afzal Guru’s (infamous for his role in the parliament attacks) mercy petition was rejected by the President Pratibha Patil giving rise to a debate on whether capital punishment is really needed? And if it is needed then what is the type of crime to which it applies.

Countries like China have a strict capital punishment policy and are said to carry out the most number of executions by a country in a year. However, what is much more important is the type of crime that an individual has committed which demands his execution. For example in China and Singapore, severe drug trafficking (that is, carrying large amounts of drugs as stipulated by the national law) is considered to be an offence for which the offender can be executed. There have been protests about these laws in these countries but as such, no serious step has been taken by the respective governments to address this issue.

Capital Punishment has been abolished in the European Union. Over there, it is rather unpopular. However at times when a court case related to murder of a child or otherwise catches the eye of the people, then there is a lot of support for reinstatement of capital punishment. The Amnesty International regards most of the countries as Abolitionist which means that these countries do not necessary use capital punishment but they still contain this form of punishment in their laws.

Thus the question that arises here is, ‘Do we really need Capital Punishment?’ There have been times when an individual has committed the gravest of all crimes and has been awarded a death sentence but then the Human Rights organisations have stepped in and got the punishment reduced. Frankly speaking, I find it difficult to understand the logic of talking about human rights for a person who has killed someone. Didn’t he too violate somebody’s right to life?

What about the families who have lost their relatives or friends or anyone close to them? Can anything at all be done to compensate them for their loss? I personally do not believe that money can be a compensation for such people for what is money going to do? Money is not going to get a son back to his mother or a daughter to her father. Yet the governments tend to follow this policy. Of course if the child/relative/friend has done some really honourable deed like maybe saving someone or fighting for the country, then yes they should be honoured and the whole country should see that honouring ceremony for the life that was lost was lost for a good cause.

Ever since I developed a analytical mind of my own, I have believed that the people should not be divided on the basis of gender, caste, religion or anything for that matter. What they should be divided on should be their deeds. I tend to classify people as good and bad. People who tend to do bad things like harm, injure or kill civilians, I tend to see them as bad while the others who try to help others need to of course be seen in a good light because the world goes on due to these good people, who live and devote their life for others, these people can be someone or anyone, they can be the policemen who work day and night and earn an honest living or they can be the people on the road who helped an individual when he/she fainted.

Thus the question that arises is how should the people who do not do good to the society be punished? According to me, people who have committed extreme acts of violence, killed individuals or children or been an accessory to the crime should be given the capital punishment certainly. However the others who have not done such a serious crime need to be given a second chance at life for no individual is inherently good or bad, they tend to become that way by the choices that they have made. If any person is given a second chance in life then they would certainly want to change the way they have lived, and therein lies the beauty of living a good life.

So we come back to the question of capital punishments. People who are given the capital punishment need to be executed within a reasonable time frame for if there is a gap of ten years between the judgement and the actual execution then people tend to become a little more relaxed and view this concept of capital punishment as something that they can get away with. Thus these executions need to be carried out within a reasonable time frame. And that would result in some sort of psychological restraint in the minds of extremists and future murderers.

What I would like to state in the end is, though it is every individual’s right to have a life, this right shouldn’t apply to those who have destroyed lives. For if it were to apply to them then whatever evil is there hidden in every individual would resurface. Thus the human rights organisations must assume a responsible role of appealing for the correct individuals. People who do not have criminal record and have not committed any serious crime need to be aided and appealed for but those who have killed individuals or been accessory to murder have no right to command an ounce of sympathy from any heart.

The writer is a 17-year old student with an avid interest in political and economic matters.