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No noose bad news


The debate over whether or not the death penalty should be retained in the Indian Penal Code is both irrelevant and irresponsible. To cite the example of liberal democracies in Europe that have abolished capital punishment makes little sense, not least because in many of these countries there is increasing discomfort over the state failing to provide justice to victims of horrendous crimes.

When hangmen were rendered jobless in Britain, The Times, reflecting popular opinion, had famously declared, "No noose is good news". Today, polls show that the return of the noose in that country, as well in those whose governments have made a fetish of showcasing an effete state's inability to confront criminals and protect society from crime, would be cheered as good news. Those who argue against capital punishment usually insist that sending a person to death is neither moral nor just.

That is not true. On the contrary, it would be morally wrong to allow a killer to get away without paying for the crime of which he or she is guilty. Since the crime involves the loss of lives, often of innocent people and at times of children, justice demands that the state should respond with all the moral force at its disposal and deprive the criminal of his or her right to life. Not to do so would encourage killers who are not burdened with either moral compunctions or ethical values.

For instance, suicide bombers get their just desserts, but their fellow terrorists need to be served theirs so that they too get to feel the emotional and physical pain of death. Human rights activists who claim the state does not have the authority to deprive an individual of his or her right to life provide a second line of defence to the anti-death penalty lobby. Such argument is specious and should be treated with the scorn it deserves. Terrorists, mass murderers and sexual deviants who slaughter people either to promote their perverse ideology or satiate their equally perverse desire forfeit all claims to human rights by committing horrific deeds. To accord them the privilege they deny to others amounts to legitimising and justifying their crime.

President APJ Abdul Kalam's well meaning, though naïve, suggestion that death row convicts should be pardoned and allowed to spend the rest of their lives with their families, therefore, need not elicit any positive response. The criminals for whom he has recommended official pardon include those who plotted the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, murdered children, killed policemen and wiped out entire families. The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement in 1980, has already laid down that the death penalty should be used only in the rarest of rare cases. This has been done primarily to exclude any possibility of miscarriage of justice.