Capital Punishment – Does it have an effect?

This blogpost is inspired by a conversation I had on twitter with a TV Journalist who had just interviewed Vaiko on death sentence. I had then promised him to blog my views but could not due to my preoccupation. Hence this delayed response. This view is not original and is inspired by a thesis I had read about the efficacy of Capital Punishment as a “Plea Bargain” tool in the US. The thesis argues that the inducement of avoiding the capital punishment could prompt the accused to plead guilty.

Unfortunately in India, we do not have the concept of Plea Bargaining. The Courts have further diluted the power of this punishment by ruling that it would be applied only in rarest of rare cases. This is a clear over stepping by the courts. But then considering the fact that there must be exceptional reasons for the Government to snuff a life, I would not dispute this overstepping.

But on the other hand what has happened in recent times is that there is an inordinate delay in the Courts. Already the Courts are not able to handle the volume of cases. Under these circumstances, if the Courts could use this power and say give a Life term to those who plead guilty but apply capital punishment to those who plead innocence but are later found guilty by Courts, there would be some relief to the pressure on Courts.

The two recent cases show how this reluctance of Courts and the lay public to use Capital Punishment has emboldened the accused. Those accused in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi and few others have shown no remorse to my knowledge. On one hand they plead innocence but on the other hand they play the tamil card. I know of atleast one girl immolating herself, seeking their release, I understand that there has been totally 3 such cases. There has been no public outrage against such deaths. Nor have the accused come out openly against such deaths. This shows that the arguments against Capital Punishment in this case does not come from any love for Human Life but out of narrow parochial feelings.

Similar is the case of Afzal Guru. He has pleaded innocence all along. But now we are told by his Jailor that he says he did that for the cause of kashmir. No remorse there either but a cynical exploitation of the system. I would take the resolution of the Tamilnadu Govt or the proposed one by J & K government seriously if they include the others on Death Row including Kasab. Atleast then, they would be genuine in their arguments.

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3 thoughts on “Capital Punishment – Does it have an effect?

  1. A very complicated topic. If our “normal” conversations are any guide, it would appear that we speak (and think?) quite casually about the death penalty. Even a professed Gandhian like Anna Hazare stated that corrupt MP’s and MLA’s should be hanged. He went further with Kasab and said he should be hanged publicly. Not to pick on Anna, but I have almost certainly expressed that so-and-so should be hanged in public (I might have said shot) and I have heard similar sentiments from decidedly non-violent people (housewives, grandfathers etc.). Obviously, this is casual empiricism – “me and the people I know see nothing wrong with the death penalty – so – it must be right” !! – Ultimately, it is an empirical question, but given the implausibility of a public referendum (California has these, but I am not sure they are happy with the outcomes – on many issues, a good idea suddenly turns bad if the outcome is not to your liking), I do not think we, as a nation have any problems with the death penalty per se. As for the motivations etc., whether someone killed for his country, state etc. is an irrelevant consideration (unless they were wearing a state uniform that authorized them to do so as part of their job description). Whether it is the LTTE terrorists or a Kashmiri separatist (you can even call them freedon-fighters if you like) is irrelevant.

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