Rajoana hanging: Why not abolish death penalty?

Parties will play cynical political games whenever there’s a death sentence. Let’s stop them from making a mockery of life.

Akshaya Mishra March 27, 2012 17:54:10 IST
Rajoana hanging: Why not abolish death penalty?

Let’s get it straight. When political parties raise the pitch over convicts awarded the death sentence, the intention is neither moral nor ethical. It’s a game of rank opportunism played around a human being’s life. It is a shame on all of us when we reduce a question as serious as somebody’s life to a farce.

Not too far ago, Tamil Nadu politicians wanted the death sentence awarded to three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case commuted to life in prison. Under pressure from several parties, the state assembly passed a resolution supporting the demand. In May last year, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) sought the PM's intervention seeking mercy for Khalistan militant Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar. His mercy plea was rejected by President Pratibha Patil.

Rajoana hanging Why not abolish death penalty

SAD chief and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Image courtesy PIB

The right wing outfits, including the BJP, have been demanding the early execution of the death sentence awarded to Afzal Guru, a convict in the 2001 Parliament attack case. And now we have Punjab’s political parties and the Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) demanding the commutation of the capital punishment awarded to Balwant Singh Rajoana, a key conspirator in the murder of former chief minister Beant Singh in 1995.

It is clear by now that political games will be played whenever there’s any such sentence. Parties will be in a competitive hurry to make demands for commutation of the capital punishment awarded to convicts. Obviously, none of them would be serious about the magnitude of the crime the latter committed or about the warning such punishment would send out to potential criminals of the similar nature. They would conveniently forget that the plight of the families who suffered due to the action of the criminals.

It is interesting that Rajoana himself is against any move for clemency. He has refused to take help from the ruling SAD, saying the party is taking up his cause for its vested interest and is trying to use him for political gains. Earlier during the trial, he had refused to defend himself in the court and expressed no faith in the Indian judicial system. But that’s another matter.

Why not stop death sentences in the country? The political class seems to have no respect for it. Doing away with it would at least help stop the cynical politicking over the harsh punishment. It would also stop people from making a mockery of the judiciary and judicial processes. The sentence is awarded in the `rarest of rare’ cases. Our leaders, obviously, don’t believe that the killing of a former prime minister or a sitting chief minister is a rare crime.

Human rights activists have been demanding its repeal, arguing that it’s barbaric and has no place in a civilised nation. They consider capital punishment as retributive justice which is not in sync with the spirit of the modern times. The phrase 'rarest of rare' is open to interpretation and judges vary in their opinion of it while passing judgements in individual cases.

Internationally, the death sentence has put India in an awkward situation. As the gangster Abu Salem extradition case reveals, India would find find it difficult to get criminals extradited to the country unless it does away with the capital punishment. It is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which requires countries to move towards the abolition of capital punishment but is still undecided on a moratorium on the death penalty.

The continuation of the death penalty puts it at odds with the European Union, which has made abolition of it as a policy objective. “We consider capital punishment to be inhumane, and a violation of human dignity. Experience in Europe has taught us that the death penalty does not prevent an increase in violent crime, nor does it bring justice to the victims of such crimes. Any capital punishment resulting from a miscarriage of justice, from which no legal system can be immune, represents irreversible loss of human life,” says the EU declaration.

Why should not India consider the abolition of the capital punishment? It would at least spare us the hypocritical antics of our political parties.

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