Capital punishment is the punishment of death generally awarded to those guilty of heinous crimes, particularly murder and child rape. While India practices “hanging by the neck” for capital punishment, other countries practice shooting, electric chair etc. Currently, 58 nations actively practice it, and 97 countries have abolished it.
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” said Mahatma Gandhi. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution, admitted in the Constituent Assembly that people may not follow non-violence in practice but “they certainly adhere to the principle of non-violence as a moral mandate which they ought to observe as far as they possibly can.” With this in mind, he had said, “the proper thing for this country to do is to abolish the death sentence altogether.”
The Indian Penal Code recognises capital punishment under eight sections (121, 132, 194, 302, 303, 305, 307, and 396) for different offenses. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides that “no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.” The abolition of death penalty is largely seen as a step in the interest of human dignity in line with Article 5 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, and its protocol in 1989, besides Article 3 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It has been said that capital punishment is brutal, that it is the law of jungle – “an eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth”. It has often been pointed out that there can be no place for capital punishment in a civilised country. Moreover, judges are not infallible and there are instances where innocent people have been hanged to death due to some error of judgment.
Many sociologists and abolitionists call it a “judicial murder”. Human rightists argue that there are several reasons why capital punishment must be abolished. Firstly, it encourages a “culture of violence”. Secondly, it has no deterrent value: its use has not been shown to have brought about a significant decrease in crime. It is the certainty of punishment that has an affect on a deterring crime, not the quantum of punishment. Thirdly, it is irrevocable; once done, it cannot be undone.
Terrorism has often been suggested as the reason why capital punishment still exists in India. The monster of terrorism has spread its bloody wings over most of countries. Terrorism stands on an altogether different plane and cannot be compared with murders committed due to personal animosity or over property or personal disputes. Supporters of capital punishment argue that it is an inevitable and indispensable punishment to be awarded to those notorious criminals without any clemency. Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru are two recent examples under this argument.
The landmark cases where the death sentences were awarded in India are the Ranga Billa case, the assasination cases of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, the Laxman Nayak case, and the 2004 Hatab case of West Bengal, in which accused Dhananjoy Chatterjee was hanged on 14th August 2004.
Despite relentless efforts made by both the Central and State governments through the enactment of strong and stringent laws on heinous crimes, the number of crimes nevertheless have not decimated. This poses a challenge not only before the judiciary, but also before the government to dwell on other alternative modes or ways to reduce the number of increasing crimes.
Death penalty is not the solution. The real problems lie somewhere else, and we need to look into details and deliberate thereupon, rationally and judiciously. Crimes are a product of socio-economic and other issues, and the wide and broad ditches that exist in these issues.
Poverty is a social status that emanates from the weakness of the economic capability of an individual. It makes our life miserable and poses a threat to the very existence of life and sustainability. It is because of this that we have to compromise our life even to fulfill the basic needs of life such as food, clothes, shelter, sanitation, health, etc. It is the main component of increasing crimes as it encourages people to commit crimes for sustaining their life. The relevance of this fact is very common as we come across many terrorists, ‘Naxalites, live bombs and such from poor families.
The economic status is an important reason that provokes committing crimes. An individual who is jobless and has no source of income would choose the wrong path to sustain his livelihood, which in turn might lead him to do unfair and unsociable practices such as selling drugs, involving in human trafficking, cattle trafficking, smuggling and other illegal activities. These make them criminals in the glance of the civilised society and law books.
Social status and the seed of social division involving superiority and inferiority among different section of a society, besides religion, is another powerful culprit that creates distance and develops tension among people. The Bheema Koregaon incident, the Muzaffarnagar incident are examples that substantiate this argument, and knowingly or unknowingly drag people in the clutches of crimes. With the enhancement of science and technology, crimes have also reached their peak.
Modern technology has brought in various technology-led crimes such as cybercrimes, social media crimes, or crimes induced through modern weapons. Declining social values in the modern era have also contributed to the increase of crimes. Trust, faith, integrity, tolerance and confidence have drastically lost value, deviating people from the right course of a meaningful life.
While religion and the degree of orthodoxy is not a new cause of division in society, the race of proving one’s religion superior to others have also significantly contributed to various crimes, including false and unfair propagation of a religion through forceful ways — such as forceful conversions, ‘love jihad’, efforts to institutionalising a religion-based state — have provoked many people to join the anti-nation and social elements, stamping them in the category of criminals.
Although death punishments have been provisioned for heinous crimes only, it is human tendency that if any person is once involved in any crime, he is frequently found involved in other crimes as well, unless proper measures and rehabilitation mechanisms are not adopted either by the individual himself or by the state, taking responsibility of improving lives of those who have been found convicted in light to these heinous crimes.
The reasons for crimes discussed above would have to be sorted out to make society crime-less and save people from doing crimes rather than punishing them stringently either by death penalty or a rigorous life-long imprisonment. In either case, criminals would be eliminated, but not the crimes. We have seen the death penalty to the four convicts of the Nirbhaya rape case, with the rape case of Kathua and Unnao are in pipeline. Sure, criminals would be eliminated, yet, we frequently hear rapes cases from different parts of India, proving the fact that crimes are not on the down curve.
As crimes are multi-faceted, they require a multi-pronged strategy to eliminate them. From efforts such as removing economic hardships for the poor and the marginalised section of society, to promoting education and societal values among masses, and encouraging a secular approach towards each religious group, promoting a civil society to contribute significantly towards the upliftment of all people, and finally, creating awareness around the pros and cons of committing crimes, would be a good strategy to decrease the crime rate of India.
The world is moving away from using death penalty. The European Union has made the “abolition of the death penalty” a prerequisite for its membership. The 65th United Nations General Assembly voted in December 2010, for the third time, in favor of abolishing death penalty, and called for a global moratorium on executions. Amnesty International reports that 140 countries — more than two-thirds of the world — do not use the death penalty anymore. India needs to recognise this global trend and act in step with it. President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam suggested that Parliament should consider the abolition of death sentence altogether.