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Capital Punishment Revisited

The hanging of Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab in the Parliament attack case 2001 and Mumbai attack case 2008, respectively, has once again stirred the debate on the veracity of the award of the capital punishment in our country.

Capital punishment is synonym with death sentence generally awarded to those guilty of heinous crimes, and supposedly to be given in the rare of the rarest case.

The traditional way of awarding such punishment is through "hanging by the neck" till the person is declared dead. In some countries capital punishment is awarded by, shooting, electric chair, beheading, poisoning etc.

The award of capital punishment is an age-old practice that is now being resisted in recent times. It is called barbaric and uncivilized act of punishment. There are various arguments put forward by those making hue and cry against capital punishment.

“An eye for an eye", and tooth for a tooth" is the law of the jungle. There is no place for such act in a civilized society as no one has the right to take anyone’s life.

Capital punishment is judicial murder where a life is taken away in a brutal way. Its murder, even if the State is committing the crime, goes the argument.

Capital punishment lowers all those involved to the level of the murderer as murders tend to be an act on the spur of the moment, they are not rational acts and therefore the offender does not think about the consequences.

Further, the judges are not infallible and there are instances where innocent people have been sent to the gallows due to error of judgment. It is too late after someone is dead to find this out.

Capital punishment is generally supposed to be deterrent but there is no evidence that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to prevent further crimes. In fact, heinous crimes continue unabated.

In countries where capital punishment is practiced, it is often the poor, the uneducated and the minority groups who die, not the worst offenders, is another argument.

Further, capital punishment serves no useful purpose. It hurts the family of the prisoner more than the prisoner. By sending the criminals to gallows, we in no way help or provide relief to the family of the murdered. Rather, we deprive another family of its bread-winner.

As a result of such strong views against capital punishment, in recent times there has been an increasing tendency in western countries to avoid capital punishment and convert it to life imprisonment.

However, there are many countries, including India where capital punishment is in vogue. There are arguments put forward for its continuance.

Society must protect its individuals, even if this means that one must die to protect others. Society has always had the right to kill, as it does when it wages war.

Often, "life imprisonment" means only a short time, and then the criminal is released and is free to offend again.

Justice demands that criminals receive a punishment in keeping with their offence. Therefore, a person who takes the life of others should lose its life too.

Capital punishment is the only penalty to make criminals think twice before committing any heinous crimes.

In such cases the chance of error is very small given the fact that such trail goes through various layers of the judicial process. The judicial system at every step gives due consideration to the error element.

Further, it’s highly unethical to support criminals who have indulged in heinous crime, such pests have no place to live in a civilized society.

There is much truth is such views both for and against the capital punishment, and they must be taken into consideration before a decision is taken to abolish or retain capital punishment.

It would be important here to mention some facts related to capital punishment. According to Amnesty International more than half the countries in the world have now abolished the capital punishment. Since 1985 twenty-five countries have abolished the death penalty either through law or by practice. Once abolished, the death penalty is rarely introduced. Those who retain the death penalty have not used it for many years. Only four countries so far have re-introduced death penalty with exception being Nepal, there have been no executions in the other three countries.

In India, in spite of the demands from some section of the society to abolish capital punishment it has not happened so far.

In our country capital punishment is being awarded only in rare of the rarest cases when it is established beyond doubt that the murder was not the result of a momentary impulse or of any serious provocation, but through a well-planned act and in a cold-blooded manner.

In such cases, it is felt that nothing less than capital punishment would meet the ends of justice. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that India has not so far abolished capital punishment but used it more judiciously.

The frequency of capital punishment has been on a decline in India as well. There is increasing number of death sentences being converted into life imprisonment. The exception being the execution of Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab, both cases falling in the category of crime carried out in a well-planned manner. They can be considered as an aberration and not a consensus for reviving capital punishment in India.

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