From Afzal Guru to Veerappan aides: India must put death penalty on hold

In months, President Pranab Mukherjee has sent more people to the gallows than most of his predecessors, thereby allowing the Home Minister to crow about their success in dealing with such cases and dealing with terror at large with an iron fist.

The sudden rush in death sentences, with four former associates of sandalwood Veerappan now set to face the gallows, the death penalty seems to be a tool that will not be sparingly used by the Indian state. Given that the current president has sent six to the gallows, the pressure will remain on this government and the next to retain its iron fist in dealing with cases.

This argues, Siddharth Singh in his column in Mint, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Pointing to the fact that there is no statistical evidence to show that crime and death penalty are not directly linked, he argues that we might as well have the death penalty in cases where it is merited; specifically cases of terrorism, crimes against the state and against women.

Lets not celebrate the death penalty just yet. Reuters

Lets not celebrate the death penalty just yet. Reuters

Singh argues that the death penalty needn’t be applied in “rarest of rare” cases where it is left up to a judge’s discretion and says we need a judicial commission to lay down sentencing patterns in cases so that crimes get uniform punishments.

Unfortunately it’s impossible to agree with this argument, as convenient as it may seem to deal with crime. The death penalty, which involves the taking of life, as it stands can never be applied except in rarest of rare cases with good reason. It involves proving without doubt that there is no other way to rehabilitate a convict before the state is forced to take life.

To make death penalties universal in a certain category of cases is amazingly flawed. Every case of acting against the state isn’t as heinous as terrorism, and to deal with them with the death penalty would send a lot of people to the gallows, even in cases where it is not merited. Naxalism, no matter how we choose to view it, cannot be dealt with in the same manner as terrorism. Applying a standardised system for sentencing convicts would be fraught with problems in crimes that are deeply based in social and political flaws in the Indian state.

Sexual crimes, while an emotive issue presently, also falls in the same category. No two sexual crimes are exactly the same and neither are the circumstances that lead to them. Each requires individual assessment of the crime before deciding the sentence.

And to have a judicial system that sets blanket rules for trial courts is also a terrible idea. The court on finding a person guilty would not be able to judge the severity of the crime and would be forced to sentence a person to a fixed tenure just because of guilt being proven.

The call for a quicker judicial process to deal with crimes quickly is a welcome one. But a glaring flaw that has been ignored while making the case for the death penalty is the efficiency of the investigating agencies. Without conclusive proof that people are guilty of crimes, it would almost be akin to creating a police state by giving investigative agencies the power of life and death over those they choose.

India has held on to the death penalty to use as a showcase punishment in cases where the state needs to prove a point. While the state may not be mature enough to do away with it just yet, we are definitely too immature to handle it carelessly.

Updated Date: Feb 18, 2013 17:40 PM

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