Rape and the Rope
Although India is amongst those countries around the world which still practices capital punishment, it is rarely used. The Supreme Court, in a 1983 ruling, had stated that the death penalty should be imposed in ‘the rarest of rare cases’.
Only particularly gruesome or politically sensitive cases have attracted the death penalty in the past two three decades, but in the alarming wake of rising case of crimes against women and girl child especially the brutal Delhi gang rape case that took place in a public bus in 2012 and the recent Kathua rape incident, people have been pushing for it to be used against rapists. Now, over the past years Indian Courts have handed out more death cases in cases relating to rape and murder than in the 80s and 90s.
Recently, in what was termed as a landmark judgement in the state of Manipur, the death penalty was awarded to a 21-year old man for the rape and murder of a minor girl committed three years ago. This was heralded by the people as justice served well. But given conflicting arguments on the efficacy of capital punishment, both the government and the public should treat cautiously on the subject.
The controversy exist because the question of capital punishment is an ethical one as everyone has the inalienable human right to life, even those who commit murder and sentencing a person to death and execution violates that right. The counter argument is that a person can, by their actions, forfeit human rights, and that murderers forfeit their right to life.
But while debating about capital punishment, first we have to remember the basic argument behind ‘Retribution’ and ‘Punishment’. All guilty people deserve to be punished; only guilty people deserve to be punished; and guilty people deserve to be punished in proportion to the severity of the crime. The argument goes that real justice requires people to suffer for their wrongdoing and to suffer in ways appropriate for the crime. Each criminal should get what their crime deserves and in the case of a murderer and rapist, what their crime deserves is death.
Lots of people find the argument fit with their inherent sense of justice but the argument against ‘Retribution’ is capital punishment is just a sanctified form of vengeance rather than retribution and, as such, is a morally flawed concept. Scenes of enraged mobs attacking prison vehicles ferrying the accused o to and from court, or chanting aggressively outside prisons when an offender is being executed, suggest that vengeance remains a major ingredient in the public popularity of capital punishment. Another most common and cogent argument against capital punishment is that sooner or later, innocent people will get killed, because of flaws and mistakes in the judicial system. And there is ample evidence that such mistakes are possible as sources from Amnesty International have cited that in the US, 130 people sentenced to death have been found innocent since 1973 and released from death row.
Another major point against the death penalty as retribution is those of the criminals who may be kept in death row for years. Camus and Dostoevsky have argued that the retribution in the case of death penalty was not fair, because the anticipatory suffering of the criminal will outweigh the anticipatory suffering of the victim of the crime. This makes the punishment more severe that just depriving the criminal of life.
Now take the point of ‘Deterrence’, this seems to be the particular objective behind the widespread and popular demand in the country especially in Manipur for the death penalty for murder and rape. In most cases, capital punishment is often justified with the argument that by executing convicted murderers and rapists, we will deter would be murderers from killing people. But the argument against it is that statistical evidence does not confirm that deterrence works although it does not show that deterrence does not work either, and some of those executed may not have been capable of being deterred because of mental illness or defects. Some capital crimes are also committed in emotionally unstable states without thinking about consequences. More importantly, no-one knows whether the death penalty deters more than life imprisonment.
The argument will go on, but in the meantime, what we can do is speed up the judicial system as deterrence is most effective when the punishment is soon meted after the crime. The more the legal process distances the punishment from the crime- either in time or certainty- the less effective a deterrent the punishment will be.
Last but the not the least, popular public opinion is that the existence of capital punishment provides a psychological relief by reinforcing the hope that there will be a reward in due time. From an ethical point of view, this is the totally consequentialist argument that executing some lives will lead to an increase in happiness or sense of security, and whatever one’s stand is in regard to capital punishment, then that is a good thing.
Leader Writer: Danny Haobam
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