Indian society would be improved by an abolition of the death penalty
It is a pitiable reflection on Indian “thinking” that only when the hangman’s noose beckons does the debate on the propriety, or impropriety, of capital punishment attract the requisite intensity of focus.
What ought to be a scrutiny on principle — in parliament and beyond — gets heavily influenced by the specifics of the case hitting the current headlines. This actually detracts from the core issue of whether India should follow several civilized countries in scrapping with what many insist is a barbaric practice that has outlived its relevance.
That relegated to the back-burner are critical queries such as whether rehabilitation should be integral to the justice-administration system, or if an execution actually serves as deterrent, or what constitutes true “closure” adds to the sense of dismay about the statute book not having been revised in harmony with contemporary values. What obtains is a high degree of “drama,” a media circus, and a political-communal rather than legal and philosophical evaluation of a matter of life and death.
Possibly the worst of the emotions gripping the nation have been reflected in the controversy over the Yakub Memon execution.
Communal passions, political one-upmanship and ugly comparisons dominate the public space. Unending legal wrangles that had divided the apex court on one specific technicality, their Lordships having an unprecedented post-midnight session after “activist” lawyers reached their residences, allegations of deceit and underhand functioning of the investigation have pervaded the air. And then the fears of a communal backlash, fuelled no doubt by those insisting that badla has been attained, all that has unedifying implications. So too the posturing over whether India is “tough” or “soft,” when what matters more is the competence of the governance apparatus. Hardly addressed has been the larger question of whether hanging one man — officially admitted as having played a secondary role — “compensates” for the more than 250 killed in the 1993 riots in Mumbai.
Certainly the Indian justice system has enhanced its reputation in that it went to the ultimate extent to permit Memon to explore every avenue of redress.
Yet, that there was a degree of merit in each of what some may slam as stalling tactics suggests that the process — from the initial police action right till the final order of the apex court — is not completely foolproof.
Maybe there is no such thing as “foolproof,” but if there is validity to that contention then so too is there validity to the query on whether the state - via its system of criminal justice — has the right to deprive anyone of his life? To put it bluntly: there is nothing capital about capital punishment, Indian society would be elevated by its being junked. There has to be a distinction between justice and vengeance and that distinction must be drawn through cool and dispassionate debate. This is an editorial published by The Statesman on July 31.