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Opinion: Life Imprisonment Or Death Penalty, The Criminal Gets Eliminated, Not The Crime

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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.”

Capital punishment is said to be the law of jungle – “an eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth”.

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.

Social hierarchy among different section of a society is a powerful culprit that creates distance and develops tension among people. The Bhim Koregaon and Muzaffarnagar riots are examples of this.

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.

The Economic Background Of Criminals And Crimes Committed

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.

The Social Background Of Criminals And Crimes Committed

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.

The most recent case of a death sentence in India, before Nirbhaya convicts’ hanging, was Yakub Memon, who was executed by hanging in Nagpur Central Jail on 30 July 2015. Image source: youtube.com

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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