for capital sin

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 30 Nov 2018 12:43:39

THE 2-1 split verdict of the honourable Supreme Court on the issue of death penalty has established that capital punishment has its own constitutional validity, though it might not have served the purpose as a crime deterrent. This verdict will serve a great purpose of setting at rest an unnecessary debate about death penalty as a concept. This debate has been going on almost in all countries of the world, except the ones following Islamic philosophy where capital punishment and other corporal punishments have been enshrined in the religious thought.

The world saw a wave of opinions against capital punishment and honourable judges in countless cases started becoming rather lenient with death convicts and started converting death sentence into life term. In India, too, such a thought germinated and became fairly pronounced. In the Supreme Court judgement in the case of a man who had killed three persons, the honourable judges commuted his death sentence to life term, but did rule that death penalty was not without a constitutional validity. 

In actual terms, the debate, whether death penalty serves any deterrent purpose or not, has only a hollow intellectual importance. If law were a true deterrent, then crime would have stopped centuries ago. But that has not happened because of the frailty of human personality as regards control of vices and negative emotions such as extreme anger, hate, cruelty etc.

Fundamentally, the purpose of death penalty was not a deterrence from crime, but a punishment to a person who had taken law into his or her hands and gone to extreme extent to cause trauma to other person or persons. Death penalty was included in law ages ago not because the State or law-enforcers harboured any sense of vendetta against a criminal, but because they were mandated to maintain a sense of security of common people who wished to live a normal life without crime and vice. It is in the light of such a thought that the principle of capital punishment for capital sin needs to be permanently embedded in our philosophy of justice, and that there is no need to keep fostering an uncalled for debate that serves no actual purpose.


It is necessary to return to the question whether death penalty has acted as a deterrent ever, for further elaboration. It is a fact that capital crime has continued to take place in human society. But it is commonly understood that countless lakhs of children around the world are warned by their mothers as part of a natural flow of grooming to save them from a life of crime because the law would catch up with them, and also because good people never indulged in crime. If this is not a social deterrent emanating from law, then what is it? And this deterrent is known to work very effectively. But if capital punishment is altogether withdrawn, even that deterrence -- of whatever intensity -- will go away.


Of course, when a convict’s death penalty gets commuted to a life term, he spends a miserable life in prison for long years. That, too, is a punishment, some may argue. They are , of course, right. Yet, going by the principle of humanistic leniency, a life term is a greater punishment as the person may ‘live’ death while serving the life term. Perhaps, that may be more cruel than death penalty in which the whole episode ends in just a few seconds, giving a sense of complete justice to the victims of act of crime.


We do not wish to appear as Devil’s Advocates as we favour capital punishment for capital sin. Yet, we also realise the importance of the law having been empowered with a tool of extreme nature to protect human dignity to the last ditch. Nobody rejoices in anybody’s death, except when he is a cruel criminal. That is why the judge breaks his pen’s nib once he pronounces death penalty. We must understand the metaphor of that symbolism.