Ahmedabad : October 10th is observed as the “World Day Against the Death Penalty”. This year the focus is raising awareness around the application of the death penalty for drug-related offences, to reduce its use. Running against the abolitionist worldwide movement, many countries added the death penalty for drug crimes in their legal system between 1980 and 2000.This trend is going down today; however, in some countries drug crimes are the main cause of death sentences and executions. Studies very clearly show that the death penalty is no deterrent to drug crimes.
The International Commission Against Death Penalty (ICDP) enunciates four major reasons why the death penalty should be abolished: (i) the risk of executing innocent people exists in any justice system, (ii) the arbitrary application of the death penalty can never be ruled out (iii) the death penalty is incompatible with human rights and human dignity (iv) the death penalty does not deter crime effectively.
Today the ‘death penalty issue’ is a major one in our country. On July 30th Yakub Memon who was convicted for the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts was hanged to death in the Nagpur Central Jail. All his pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears including the Supreme Court. A petition signed by over 300 eminent citizens to the President of India that he grants clemency did not evoke a response; these citizens cited procedural lapses and “disturbing aspects of this case which make the award of death sentence of Yakub Memon as grossly unfair, arbitrary and excessive”.As his final days drew near, a sense of perversity seemed to have gripped sections of Indian society. TV anchors were literally baying for his blood; newspapers screamed “vengeance”; some sadist took ‘selfies’ outside the jail not to miss out on an “important moment of history”.
On October 1st, a Special Court awarded capital punishment to five of those convicted in the 2006 Mumbai train blasts. There is a strange logic though: those who bay for the blood of Memon and the like- become totally “dumb” when it comes to the ‘masterminds’ of the Gujarat Genocide of 2002 and of the several fake encounter cases which followed; these roam about with immunity and impunity; some hold very high offices of the land; some have been reinstated and even been given promotions. The Vyapam scam case which has already taken the lives of more than forty individuals and the Lalit-gate scandal are conveniently swept under the carpet. Like the Dadri incident, we hear daily of attacks on dalits, tribals, minorities and women all over.
Death penalty is no solution for any of the above perpetrators; the tragedy is that ‘justice’ seems to be very selective; public ‘opinion’ is so easily manipulated, that the sense of fair play and objectivity gets clouded in passion and subjectivity. No act of violence can be justified; more so, when the victims are innocent people. These dastardly acts have to be condemned; but two wrongs have never made a right, just because a person has committed a particular crime, the answer is not the death penalty.
The State has the duty to protect the ‘right to life’ of every single citizen. This is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Constitution of India. By espousing capital punishment, the State equates itself with the perpetrator. ‘Amnesty International’ regards the death penalty as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’. Last August, the Law Commission of India recommended the abolition of the death penalty –except in terror-related cases. Today 140 countries (two- thirds of the world) have abolished the death penalty. It is time that India does so immediately too!
About Author :
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)