2012 Delhi gangrape case verdict: Have we become ogres of revenge impatient for brutal deaths?

Editor's note: The following write-up is a piece of satire.

Now that the highest court in the land has upheld the death penalty in what was a horrific case of sexual assault and murder, it is time that we reinstate public executions in our country and also have the victim’s family members participate in the hanging. Enough of this squeamishness surrounding the prospect of seeing the guilty hang.

Imagine a public spectacle on Chowpatty where a man is hanged and then it may happen, to paraphrase Warden Duffy, who supervised only 90 executions at San Quentin, that the neck does not break and the prisoner strangles to death. Imagine his eyes popping almost out of his head, his tongue swelling and protruding from his mouth.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

The rope may, perhaps, pare away large portions of skin and flesh from the side of the face that the noose is on. He may urinate, defecate, and droppings may fall to the ground as the cheering crowd looks on, and yes some lily-livered folks may faint because "at almost all executions one or more faint or have to be helped out of the witness-room".

But that fainting business is not likely to be the case with us in India. We are made of sterner stuff; we want revenge, and we want it served well. Hope you heard the generous applause that greeted the upholding of the death sentence in the court when the judgment was delivered. Listen again, for you will hear it in the days and weeks echoing more loudly than the last. All over the country. It is not merely a case of some attendees clapping at justice being done. It is our collective demand to ensure that we see justice — retributive and deterrent — being announced and done.

What is execution if not retribution and deterrence twined with 19 feet of manila rope, well-twisted and fully stretched? And on both the counts it is the time we bring the public back in. For it to be true retribution, we must insist on an immediate family member of the victim as hangman or hangwoman. Imagine trying to get a man punch drunk just so that he can pull the lever.

What a terrible shame to deny the sweetness of revenge to the family that seeks the death of the perpetrator of the crime done to their dear one. Imagine the hoots and cheers as the family member gets up, looks the person, who has brought death and desolation to the family, in the eye, and then draws the bolt. That would be crime avenged. Not an early morning ritual conducted in a prison by a paid minion of the justice system when the person most affected by the criminal’s action can salve his sorrow.

But why the public spectacle, you may ask. Precisely because a crime is never against a private person. It is held to be against the people at large: The public. Remember, it was not a private person versus these horrendous criminals. It was the National Capital Territory of Delhi representing us and even though we may want to leave the task of hanging to the family, we sure want to be present at the gallows. Directions for a live telecast can be issued. News channels can have a field day. Collective revenge would have been taken.

Also, what deterrence the sight would be. Seeing the man brought to the gallows, hands tied and the agony of it all will make each one of us aware of what lies in store if we are to commit the same crime. Reading reports of the sentence or the execution can never ever bring home what is in store for us.

Even hearing a breathless reporter or a justice-demanding anchor cannot come close. Imagine being told someone was beaten and seeing it for yourself. Seeing it in flesh is what makes the difference. It sears us, and if deterrence works due to fear, then the fear has to be felt making its way up our spine before we say, "No. Not for me to even imagine this crime. Forget committing it." The likelihood of murder, rape and sedition would lessen. The rarest of rare cases would become even rarer. Deterrence achieved.

It may also be that after we have restored public execution by hanging, we may not find it adequately revengeful or deterring. In fact, every time I discuss the death penalty in a class full of young women, I am told that torture, painful castration, dismembering before hanging, would be the right thing to do.

So perhaps we could then move to burning at the stakes, or the wheel, or guillotine or even the headman’s axe. Presided and performed by immediate relatives with the avenging public in attendance, and for assistance.

As for those few, a tiny few, differently inclined who consider this nothing more than a blood sport and spectacle, there are benefits to be had from witnessing. Just recall the words of Boswell who had at first been shocked when attending public executions, but later realised their value.

"Dying publicly at Tyburn, and dying privately in one’s Bed, are only different Modes of the same Thing. They are both Death; they are both that wondrous, that alarming Scene of quitting all that we have ever seen, heard and known, and at once passing into a State of being totally unknown to us, and in which we cannot tell what may be our Situation: Therefore it is that I feel an irresistible Impulse to be present at every Execution, as I there behold the various Effects of the near Approach of Death, according to the various Tempers of the unhappy Sufferers: and by studying them, I learn to quiet and fortify my own Mind."

Now, should the public hangings begin?

Updated Date: May 06, 2017 15:55 PM

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