Capital punishment or death penalty as means of giving justice has become the most controversial issue, which pertains to the laws that govern our society. Capital punishment is a legal process whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. With the rise in demand for human rights, taking away a criminal’s life has become the most controversial, talked about thing not only at the national level, but also at the global platform. Interestingly, the use of this execution extends to the beginning of recorded history. Most historical records of various civilisation and primitive tribal practices indicate that the death penalty was a part of their justice system.
The prison system was evolved keeping in mind that people, who have done wrong in their life and have started proving harmful to the society should be kept in confinement for some time and be given a chance to change and reform themselves. The idea works well in cases of theft, robbery and other minor offences. Complications and problems arise, when the offence involves brutal and inhuman acts like murders, rape, mass-killing etc. So, the controversial part is the gravity of crime, which is the deciding factor for execution.
The 20th century was a violent period wherein tens of millions were killed in wars between nations or states. Also, modern military organisations employed capital punishment as a means of maintaining military discipline. Although, death was prescribed for crimes in many sacred religious documents and historically was practiced widely with the support of religious hierarchies, today there is no agreement among religious faiths on the morality of capital punishment.
Now capital punishment stands in great controversy over the right of society at large to deny a person’s right to life. Some people are of the view that no one has the right to take away anyone’s life for any reason. Man cannot play God’s role nor should ever try to. When one cannot give life, one has no right to take away anybody’s life. On the other side, people also take into consideration victim’s right to life. The criminal too has no right to take away anyone’s life for any reason at all. So, if he could go to the extent of taking away someone’s life, he too has no right to live in a civilised society. Various arguments on both sides can be cited to support viewpoints that are poles apart.
Those who favour death penalty states that imprisonment is simply not a sufficient safeguard against the future actions of criminals because it offers the possibility of escape. Also, the punishment for the culprits that fits the crime would soothe the victim’s family and society would be relieved of such a criminal. More timely enforcement of capital punishment would help to reduce the crime rate by instilling a sense of respect and fear for law. In fact, some people consider execution to be more humane than life imprisonment because it is quick and instantaneous. Life imprisonment makes the prisoner suffer by rotting in jail for the rest of his life, which is more torturous. Another argument against the death penalty is that it costs more to imprison someone for life than to execute him/her.
The strongest argument against using capital punishment is that it is very cruel and completely inhuman. The methods by which executions are carried out involve physical torture. Many a times electrocution needs more than one application of electric current to kill the condemned. No one, not even the state, has the authority to play God. Contrary to the popular belief that the death penalty reduces the crime rate, various surveys have shown that the threat of the death penalty does not in any way reduce the occurrence of violent crimes. Capital punishment is discriminatory because at times some innocent people are executed due to a faulty judgement. Another argument against the death penalty is that where does the difference lie between the criminals and the society? The society in turn commits the same offence of killing, when it punishes the criminal for taking away life.
Currently, 58 nations actively practice capital punishment. Although, many nations have abolished capital punishment, yet over 60% of world’s population live in countries where execution takes place. Followers of Judaism and Christianity, for instance, have claimed to find justification for the death penalty in the biblical passage, “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”
Officially, 52 people have been executed so far in Independent India, though some democratic rights activists think it is more. This data clearly shows that as far as India is concerned, the law is not outrightly strict and quick on giving capital punishment. Infact, after the award of death sentence by a Session Court, the condemned convict has the option of appealing to the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court turns down the appeal, then the condemned person can submit a ‘mercy petition’ to the President of India and the Governor of the State. The basic intention behind any punishment in general is that a criminal deserves punishment so as to set an example for other would be criminals and to maintain the decorum of civilised human society. Henry Ford aptly puts that “Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty”. So, instead of debating over this, society should rather find ways of lowering crime rate to maintain peace.
“I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes”, quoted US President Barack Obama. In context to Indian Mythology also, it has been seen that time and again Gods have incarnated as humans to give punishments to demons like Deviki’s brother King Kansa, King Ravana or Holika. Gods gave them enough time and chance before executing them with punishment, but their crime/action proved more heinous than their character.
For the same reason on 3rd May, 2010, Ajmal Kasab was sentenced to death for attacking Mumbai and killing 164 people. He was found guilty of 80 offences, including waging war against the nation, which is punishable by death penalty. In another instance, all the accused of Delhi gang rape of Nirbhaya were given death sentence for their brutality. In such cases, famous people like Narendra Modi, Anna Hazare and Bollywood celebrities, have all appreciated the decision.