Death Penalty and Guilt

The Khairlanji case in which six persons were sentenced to death created storm in my mind again. I can imagine how an insane man or a man in a fit of rage can kill a person. To think that the Judiciary should have the right to decide on a person’s death is beyond my comprehension. But I am not going to talk about the pros and cons of Capital Punishment.

I just want to say that I can not accept, and imagine that a person can be told that you are going to die on a certain day at a fixed time. I find it very inhuman [is there a better word available?].

So six persons being sent to gallows is very disturbing. I remember that several years ago a mad man assaulted men at railway station [was it at Dadar or Parel in Mumbai] and they were grievously injured. The mob of people at the railway station caught and attacked the mad assailant and killed him. There was a public outrage at the incident. Vijay Tendulkar, the great author, asked his readers boldly, ‘he was a mad man to launch a murderous attack, but were you like him?’ I think that article was published in Marathi daily ‘Loksatta’.

Khairlanji case made me take a quick look at issue of death penalty and here are some discoveries that I would like to share with you:

1. In Combat law [Vol. 2, Issue 2] the myths [with long explanations, not reproduced here] about Capital Punishment are placed before the readers, which are:

Myth No. 1: Death Penalty results in reduced rates of homicides, murders and serious crimes in a society. Myth No. 2: Innocent people are not convicted in death penalty trials. Myth No. 3: It is cheaper to sentence a person to death than keep him a lifetime in prison. Myth No. 4: In death penalty cases, the probability of being sentenced to die is the same for everyone.

2. Amnesty International-India and PUCL released findings of their study on May 2:

The study, Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India - A Study of Supreme judgments in death penalty cases, 1950-2006 highlights the essential unfairness of the death penalty in India by analysing evidence found in Supreme Court judgments of abuse of law and procedure and of arbitrariness and inconsistency in the investigation, trial, sentencing and appeal stages in capital cases.
The human rights group says that its report has found many inconsistencies in the investigation, trial, sentencing and appeals stages. It disagrees with the figure disclosed by the government of the total execution carried in different places across the country. Amnesty also disputed the official figure of 273 people waiting to be executed at the end of December 2005 as miscalculated one and that at least 140 people are believed to be sentenced with death penalty in 2007 alone. But the Indian officials have censured Amnesty claims that India’s official figure on death penalty is not transparent, as the death sentence are pronounced in courts which are then recorded in prison records. Also the death punishment is carried for “rarest of the rare case” after 1983 Supreme Courts’ ruling, and that there has been only one execution so far in last ten years in which Dhanonjoy Chakraborty was hanged in 2004 on the eve of Independence Day.

3. And this is what Tareq Ismael had to say on Jan 30, 2007 in an article called The Ghost of Saddam Hussein:

Saddam Hussein's execution coincided with the start of the Sunni celebrations of Eid al-Adha, the Shi'a celebrations historically beginning one day later. It is doubtful that this act of unbelievable provocation was happenstance. Rather, it was a reminder by the incumbent Nouri al-Maliki regime of ascendant Shi'a power and the sectarian logic it intends to enforce.
Throughout the Muslim world, the execution came to reinforce two important points:
▪ It reveals the cultural ignorance of the United States in its dealings with other peoples - the execution coinciding with a religious holiday, and moreover, contradicting the dignity that the dead are afforded in Islamic custom (even for Saddam)
▪ It underlines the challenge of lawlessness with which the west has come to deal with Arabs and Muslims.
While it has been suggested that the US attempted to delay the execution, only to be overruled by the al-Maliki government, this is suspicious; the al-Maliki regime, existing only by the good graces and protection of the US, is largely perceived as an extension of American power, and its "sovereignty" notwithstanding, it is hardly an independent actor. On this matter, perception is key.

4. I do not hold brief for any political party but surely it requires a magnanimous heart to do this:

Nalini Sriharan, the only surviving member of the LTTE assassination squad that killed Rajiv Gandhi, was awarded the death penalty by a special court after being convicted of involvement in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after Sonia Gandhi interceded in her behalf, pleading for clemency.

I found myself extremely uncomfortable when they announced over TV that Bhutto was going to be hanged the next day at sunrise. I got up and prayed for his soul at the time he was going to be hanged. [I relived that experience when I read Khushwant Singh’s account of Bhutto’s last days.] I found myself doing it again when Ranga and Billa were hanged. I read the book ‘Yes, I am guilty’ [Name is misleading, it is in Marathi] authored by one of the convicts in Abhyankar murder case. Ranga and Billa, and also the convicts in Abhyankar case committed crimes which were so heinous that a common man would feel nauseating after reading their report. Even then it was difficult for me to accept death sentence for them.

I have stopped eating red meat after I saw a lamb being butchered. Do I feel bad when we eat chicken? Somewhat. Do I feel bad when I eat Fish? Not at all. Do I feel bad when I kill ants or small insects? Not at all.

When we sacrifice an animal, our sense of guilt seems to be directly proportional to the body size of the animal. What do you think?

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