In­dian so­ci­ety would be im­proved by an abo­li­tion of the death penalty

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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