Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ban capital punishment. Allow mercy killing instead.....

A day when there is nothing special to report on allows for a good debate on something much more relevant and important!

A few days back, the President of India finally rejected the mercy petitions of two criminals who had been sentenced to death by the Supreme Court many years back. As is usual in India, every decision spurs a heated debate in the media and so did this one. The BJP accused the Congress on not deciding quickly on Afzal Guru though it was unable to explain why its own government did not reject any mercy petitions in the six years it ruled. Like everything else in India, even capital punishment is an intensely political subject!

Frankly, I think it’s a demonic act on the part of any government or country to kill someone. Even if that person is guilty of the most gory of crimes. The key point here is about whether a country has the right to take someone’s life away. And a related point is whether the tit-for-tat principle should be adopted at all in these matters. Admittedly, murder, terrorism, treason and the like are very serious offences and affect ordinary peace loving people.....but is killing them at all within the powers a government should have? There is also the question of morality here. Who is man to decide when a person’s life should be taken away? Hasn’t society given that task to God? Can man decide to assume the role of God at all? Because that’s what man does when he/she decides for or against capital punishment. By acting now.....after so many years of waiting.....the President has acted like God and ordered execution for two people. Equally, by not taking a decision on several others.....she has again acted as God. Who gave ordinary human beings the right to behave like God?

Just look at the countries actively practicing capital punishment. Based on 2010 executions, the list includes China (2000+ executions in 2010), Iran (252), North Korea (60), US (46), Saudi Arabia (27), Libya (18), Syria (17) and Bangladesh (9). Except for the US, which of these countries inspires us to be like them? Most of these countries are notorious in any case. Many of them.....Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia......actually allow public execution. What kind of system is this? Is China going to be the inspiration for India in this regard? Everyone knows of the opaque justice system in that country. How do we even know that those killed deserved to be killed? Now look at countries that have legally abolished capital punishment. Or have stopped capital punishment in practice even though the actual abolition is still to happen. This list includes all the liberal countries in the world. All of Europe (except tiny Belarus), Australia, NZ, almost all of Latin America, South Africa.....this is the list of countries I would like to see India in. The US is an anomaly.....but the US is an anomaly in so many things. It’s the only liberal country that allows its citizens extremely easy access to guns....which other civilized country allows this? In this one instance, I would rather avoid the example of the US rather than follow it.

One of the main reasons why capital punishment is practiced is that it is supposed to be a strong deterrent against crime. But statistics shows that if this is true at all, it is only if death is CERTAIN in all cases of conviction. In most countries that allow capital punishment, capital punishment is rarely used and hence there is very little co relationship with lower crime rates. Just look at the US. In many ways, the US is the where maximum crime happens.

India should abolish capital punishment. More so because we have had a long term historical policy of forgiveness and non-violence. Capital punishment is violent. Research shows that there is no non-violent method of inflicting death on the accused. Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence throughout his can India then allow this form of violence to continue? Besides, we must keep in mind the infirmities and frailness of our judicial system......not everyone is convinced with the judgments pronounced by our courts. Our forensics capability is rudimentary......the grounds on which we convict people is hugely suspect. Even in cricket, there is a provision for a 3rd umpire and the 3rd umpire looks at irrefutable evidence before deciding. In the case of real life, let that 3rd umpire be God.....who alone knows the real truth (apart from the author of this post!).

Life imprisonment is a strong enough sentence to be awarded in most crimes. In many ways, life imprisonment is a worse punishment than instant death. Just look at how suicide bombers are growing in numbers. What motivates them is the relatively peaceful end to their lives rather than living a life of continuous violence and hatred. Life imprisonment is as strong a deterrence as death itself is. Who wants to spend his life in the kind of jails we have in India! Of course, the flip side is that keeping a prisoner jailed for his entire life is an expensive proposition. This argument is not true in the case of India, where in any case, there are very few executions. That cost of holding prisoners is already being incurred.

Instead, countries must work together at allowing Euthanasia. Or mercy killing. Terminal patients who suffer relentlessly should be allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Of course, it’s a huge challenge in a country like India to allow euthanasia. Our religious scriptures clearly don’t allow it. Our societal structures are such that many children would be tempted to inflict euthanasia on their parents to inherit the wealth quickly. These are complications in India. But I think the western world is ready for euthanasia.

The real truth is that India is a liberal country and it must be seen in the company of other liberal countries. We are not like China or Iran. Human life has value in our country. We must abolish capital punishment. Even the UN has passed a resolution in 2008 calling for a global moratorium on executions with a view to eventual abolition. India along with China, Indonesia and the US voted against it. We must reverse this decision of ours.....

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