Abolish The Death Penalty!

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Ahmedabad: So Yakub Memon was finally hanged to death early this morning (July 30th) in the Nagpur Central Jail! The 54-year old Chartered Accountant was convicted for the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts which took the lives of 267 people and injured many more. The team of lawyers defending him tried every possible option to stay the death penalty but to no avail.

President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Memon’s final plea for clemency despite a petition from several eminent citizens. The petition which was signed by over 300 persons (former Supreme Court judges, academia, human rights activists, film makers, politicians and others from civil society) requested the President to stay Memon’s execution citing procedural lapses and “disturbing aspects of this case which make the award of death sentence of Yakub Memon as grossly unfair, arbitrary and excessive”.

Apart from the fact that Yakub Memon had already served more than the stipulated time for life imprisonment and that there was little evidence of his direct involvement in the blasts, he was still hanged. Several citizens have termed it as ‘legal murder’. A sense of permissiveness seems to have permeated several sections of Indian society. From last evening, one could see a sense of gloating of ‘fait accompli’ – as people thronged the gates of Nagpur Central Jail for ‘selfies’; media anchors and reporters felt that it is their divine responsibility to scream and yell for a man’s blood! The three members of the Apex Court wouldn’t even consider a further fourteen days reprieve.

On the other hand, Maya Kodnani the linchpin of the Naroda Patiya massacres (and already convicted to more than a life term) gets bail today from the Gujarat High Court; the master-minds of the Gujarat Genocide and the encounter killings of innocent youth, roam freely with immunity and impunity and also hold some of the highest offices of the land; Jayalalitha has been acquitted due to ‘miscalculations’ of her scandalous assets; the Vyapam scam has already taken the toll of more than forty lives; the ‘Lalit-gate’ corruption issue; the killings of dalits, tribals and minorities; the hate-speeches of law makers – for all this and more, many conveniently turn a blind eye.

“There is indeed something rotten in the State of Denmark!”. No, we are not advocating the death penalty for anyone! The death penalty must be abolished! It is a barbaric act and not in sync with civilised society. No violence can be justified; no murder can be rectified; death penalty however is not the answer! Objective studies clearly demonstrate that in nations and societies where the death penalty has been abolished, the crime rate has decreased dramatically.

On March 20th Pope Francis writing to the International Commission Against Death Penalty says, “today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed; capital punishment contradicts God’s plan for man and society and does not render justice to the victims but rather fosters vengeance.” Two wrongs have never made a right. Let us hope that at least in this ‘legal murder’ of Yakub Memon that we all awake and work towards the abolition of the death penalty in India!

(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

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  1. The hanging of Yakub Memon gives us a good reason to start the debate over the death penalty. I would like to make out a case in favour of retaining the death penalty.
    The main arguments trotted out in favour of the abolition of capital punishment are these. First, we should not be party to taking precious human life. Second, sentencing someone to death when facts may later prove him or her innocent means irreparable injustice will be done. Third, death is never a deterrent. And, a fourth, that retribution should never be the aim of capital punishment. It is primitive and barbaric to seek death even for the worst crimes.
    Let me agree that none of these arguments are invalid in toto. But they are not as strong as they appear to be at first glance.
    Let’s take the first argument. Every human life is precious, no doubt. The right to life is the most fundamental of rights. No state should be allowed to take it away easily.
    But no fundamental right is without riders either. Free speech, property and faith, all these are rights subject to reasonable restrictions. Sure, the right to life is even more fundamental, but this only means that the right to take it away has to be foolproof and not amenable to subjective readings.
    When someone is a terrorist, killing people at will, or a serial murderer or rapist, is this person’s right to life all that sacrosanct all the time?
    Also, we need to evaluate the death sentence compared to the alternative: a life sentence. Is living life in a dingy cell somehow more humane than sending the killer to the hangman? When suicide bombers voluntarily kill themselves for psychic gains, why is the right to life somehow so sacrosanct? They want to die anyway – and they don’t believe in other people’s right to live.
    Let me add two more elements to this argument. Why is only human life so valuable, and not that of animals or other fauna? Why is it so unethical to hang a human being, but perfectly all right to murder animals by the million when this causes global warming, makes our diets excessively fatty and cholesterol-laden, and also leads to needless suffering to creatures whom we dominate?
    Moreover, what if keeping a person alive can cause even more deaths? Keeping Maqbool Butt alive led Kashmiri separatists to the kidnap and murder of an Indian diplomat in Birmingham in the early 1980s. Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, Indian Mujahideen, Al Shabaab, and ISIS will do anything to get the release of their jailed comrades. Keeping Maulana Masood Azhar and Sheikh Omar in jail caused the Kandahar Indian Airlines hijack and may even have contributed to the 9/11 mass murders at the Twin Towers. When keeping deadly killers alive in jail can tempt their compatriots to indulge in more killings, how is this justified?
    When it comes to demented people who kill or rape for pleasure and revenge, and when they do so out of mental sickness, is it better to keep them rotting in jail or end their suffering and potential threats to society – including other jailbirds?
    Sometimes, the greater good is more important than the life of one individual. Hence the death penalty is not something we should reject out of sheer emotion.
    Let’s take the next argument – that sending someone to the gallows when he may be innocent is the worst form of injustice. This is a reasonably good argument, but we need to examine it closely for its implications.
    There are two kinds of states – malevolent ones, that are run by dictatorships and hence outside the rule of law, and democratic ones, which do give the accused a chance to prove their innocence. In the first case, there is no point arguing against the death sentence since that kind of regime is against any argument that is not in favour of it.
    In democratic regimes, where the rule of law is reasonably expected to operate, the accused have a chance to prove their innocence. Let’s remember, Yakub Memon got 21 years to prove his innocence, and failed. However, the real issue here is whether he (and others on death row) got reasonable support from the law so that they don’t end up on the gallows for want of an adequate defence. In big cases, the courts themselves provide legal support; the real problem lies with the poor and weak in criminal cases that do not catch the public eye. It is a travesty that the bulk of the people languishing on death row are from these segments of society. This problem needs remedying by strengthening the law – a law which provides state legal support for the poor. Maybe, a group of concerned citizens can serve as watchdog to ensure that this gets done.
    That still leaves the question of the non-guilty facing a death rap because of poor evidence gathering by the criminal investigation teams.
    This is a valid argument, but not an overpowering one. Reason: the fact that mistakes will be made occasionally should not be used to kill the idea of death penalty in the rarest of rare cases. Once we create a basic list of crimes that fits this “rarest of rare” category, the rules for applying the death sentence can be tightened suitably so that convictions based on weak evidence should automatically attract nothing more than lifers. This is a reasonable safeguard to have – and it can be codified into law.
    The third argument, that capital punishment is never a deterrent, is actually the weakest of them all. If death is no deterrence, is a jail term (even a lifer) a better deterrent? Ask yourself: if you intend to kill, not out of some degree of temporary insanity or driven by extreme emotion, nothing is a deterrent. If you kill after plotting assiduously for it, you are prepared for any consequences. So death or jail will be no deterrent anyway. I believe that punishment itself does not deter too many crimes involving the killing of people, but it is still needed to send out a message to society. Punishment is how we educate ourselves on what is acceptable or unacceptable to a society. This is the prime purpose of any punishment, death or jail, regardless of whether it deters or not.
    The last argument, that death penalty cannot become a form of retribution, I personally disagree with. States punish crimes with punishment, including death, so that people don’t take law into their own hands and seek retribution directly. Punishment by the state is vital to keep ordinary citizens from taking the law into their own hands – some form of retribution is vital for closure, for righting wrongs. Of course, an occasional Gandhi or a Buddha may not want retribution, but most societies are held in place by the promise of retribution for wrongs inflicted, and not by the forgiving nature of the wronged. Retribution is a human emotion that needs to be acknowledged – just as love, anger and hate are – and punishment is vital if society is not to sink into wanton lawlessness.
    These are some of the reasons why I think the death sentence should be retained. But it cannot be wayward and arbitrary. We need a specific set of crimes which are defined as rarest of rare and not leave it to the imagination of all-to-human judges to decide this. This is what the debate on capital punishment needs to focus on, not whether it should be abolished.
    It may be possible to abolish death penalties in extremely advanced countries where people are normally law abiding and the state is strong enough and has enough resources to even attempt to correct the behaviour patterns of deadly criminals. But India is not anywhere near that stage. We need the death penalty for our own reasons at this stage in our development as a civilised society. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we must do what the Joneses do to their killers in Scandinavia or Europe. That way lies chaos and disaster.

  2. Finally, I have something in common with Fr. Cedrick Prakasha!! I guess we agree on the topic of banning death penalty. Even though we have different reasons (God Vs reason) to support a ban on death penalty, we both agree that the practice is not something to be continued in a modern society.

    Now, I should also point out how he has continued his old habit of bad mouthing Modiji in every possible opportunity. See his repeated references to ‘gujaraath genocide’ while maintaining a clever silence on Sikh massacre following Indira assassination!! smiles…

    • “Well, it takes courage to do it. Do you know what it is?”, claims Original RSS, Duplicate Pai pointing at Congress.

      “RSS” and “Courage” are antonyms! If they had any courage, why they do not implement the promises they made to the Hindus since the last sixty years promising that

      1. they would build the Rama Temple at Ayodhya,
      2. they would bring uniform civil code,
      3. they would remove Article 370 and remove all special status given to Kashmir when it acceded to India as offered by Raja Hari Singh of Kashmir,
      4. that it would punish Pakistan for border violations,
      5. that it would bring back the black money,
      6. that it would make public the mysterious disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose,
      7. they would prosecute those who were responsible for Nehru murdering Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherji by administering slow poison through Sheik Abdull,
      8. they would take action against Congress for the murder of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya at the Moghal Sarai Railway Shunting Yard,
      9. that they would take action against Indira Gandhi and other conspirators for poisoning Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent,
      10. that they would recapture the territories occupied by China
      11. that they would liberate occupied Kashmir from Pakistani
      etc, etc!

      If Modi or RSS has any manliness in them, leave alone courage, they must now take military action against Pakistan or, alternately, buy b…… for themselves.

  3. The Other Side of Yakub Hanging Saga…I do not support terror in any way however the 1993 bomb blast did not happen in few seconds . What the police and intelligence authorities were doing ? Why the Government or Judiciary did not punish them for not doing their duty ? Did any of the state or ministers from center owned up responsibility ? The investigating and intelligence agencies say they induced Yakub so he may believe them and could be hanged …? Without any inducement Dawood Ibrahim himself gave offer to Sharad Power to surrender why did Mr.Pawar did not do the same thing which was did with Yakub ?

    We celebrate Karigil Vijay Diwas every year ? Kargil is undoubtedly ours…why did we allow pakistan army chief and army to come there and settle down ? …..then spend crores of rupees to flush them out and call it as a Vijay ? recent terror activity in Punjab …We are qucik to blame Palistan …but How did they came inside India ? What our Army…intelligence ….BSF were doing ? Yesterday a lady from pakistan traveled till Jalandhar without any travel documents just to see Salman Khaan…..

    Death Penalty is a debatable issue ..having said this what’s the point in keeping alive rapists of Nirbhaya ? who dont have any remorse even after committing such a heinous crime .

  4. I have to commend ‘R J’ for laying out a strong case in favor of death penalty. He/She has done a great job of addressing each argument by the opponents without any exaggeration, insults or ‘oggarane’.

    However, I am not convinced by his/her case for the following reasons.

    1. I guess I belong to the second category who oppose death penalty mainly because of its irreversible nature. Now, one can argue that any form of punishment is irreversible. In a way, it is true. Time lost is lost. However, there is something profoundly irreversible when it comes to death in human experience. It’s final and end. Plus, the chances of innocent guys getting punished is not one of those ‘rarest of rare’ thing as studies have shown over and over again. Let’s take the most recent examples from India – Afzhal Guru, Kasab and Yakub Menon. Out of these three cases, only one case (Kasab) was very solid. Other two were not so clear and that’s precisely why it took years and years before they were hanged. Also, one has to consider other factors like political pressure and nationalistic jingoism. In other words, ‘rarest of rare’ can also be misused and it can come under serious questioning as we witnessed in Guru and Menon cases.

    2. It doesn’t make sense to keep death penalty because some of the criminals happen to ‘suicide bombers’. The behavior of criminals or their values shouldn’t influence what judiciary does.

    3. The notion that people are law abiding in advanced countries is also flawed one. It changes from location to location. For example, Chicago has some of the best suburban communities within 15 mins of drive from some of the notorious neighborhoods known for daily shootings and murders! But, the bigger point is – you don’t come up with a punishment based on overall bad behavior of a society. The main purpose of punishment is to deter/discourage people from committing crimes. However, this has to be done in a fair and balanced way so the public trust the system, not suspect it. Death penalty doesn’t deter the real criminals, instead it creates a huge fear in the minds of law abiding folks.

  5. ‘Legal Murder’

    Fr Cedric Prakash seems to be an expert in coining new words. Rajnath Singh, please take note.

    I would like to hear from Fr Cedric Praksh, what the government of the day in 1993 should have done. Why did Sharad Pawar let the opportunity slip? Was he afraid that some skeletons will fall from his cup board too? Finger pointing is rampant and Fr Cedric Praksh is no exception to this unfortunately.

    I dare Fr Cedric Prakash to avail a Cong I ticket from Mehsaana and contest the elections next time around. He will lose the deposit.

    • I would like to hear from Fr Cedric Praksh, what the government of the day in 1993 should have done. – Dronu Sugam – beloved bro of Sonu Nigam

      Dronu saaru,

      Please contact him at the foll address instead of hollering out into the ether and getting no responses.

      – PRASHANT:A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace,
      – Near Kamdhenu Hall. Drive-in Road,
      – Ahmedabad 380 052, Gujarat, India
      Tel: 79 66522333 /27455913 Fax: 79 27489018
      You can ALSO ask your Original chaddi balaga bandhu from Yumreeka to “LOOK UP” Fr. Cedric first before he send him a ‘Hello, How dya do?’ postcard.

      • I wonder why our Joker Praveena Pinto is too quick to respond when someone comments on Fr.Prakaasha. However, when I ask him about ‘cartoon’ controversy, he runs away and hides in the same place with our friend Pincode Pai!! smiles…

  6. For strange reason I am not convinced that Yakub Memon was hanged. While I am not completely against death penalty for eg: Kasab or perhaps Nirbhaya Delhi rapists I will not have any remorse for them.

    For Yakub Memon I think based on his interview that he voluntarily surrendered or perhaps contemplating surrender in the hope that law would be lenient and ultimately he will be able to clear his name and live a free life. Perhaps he was indirectly involved in some logistical work but may have did it half heartedly.

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