Do away with the death sentence

A Delhi court’s order to hang the four convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case on January 22 is being hailed as the last step to bring closure to a case which has tormented the nation for seven years. The rape and brutal torture and murder of the 22-year-old girl in a bus in Delhi outraged the nation and shocked its conscience. It continues to roil it even now. It led to a substantial debate on crimes against women and adoption of new laws to deal with sexual violence. While this may have created greater awareness about the rights of women and gender justice, the idea of the need to award the most extreme punishment of death for rape, or for any crime, that may have gained more currency during the debate, is a negative. The failure of the system to implement the death sentence all these years is cited as a sign of the failure of justice or of its slow movement. But it is the death sentence that constitutes a denial of true justice.  

An enlightened and civilised system of justice should have no place for capital punishment, however heinous and egregious a crime is. Death sentence is a primitive and barbarian response to a crime. A progressive and sound system of justice should aim at reformation, not retribution. Mahatma Gandhi’s remark that an eye for an eye will only make the world go blind has been forgotten in the country. Most of the civilised world has either abolished capital punishment or does not implement it even if it exists in the statute book. It has been proved that death sentence is not a deterrent against rape, murder or any other crime. The punishment in the Nirbhaya case has not resulted in a fall in cases of rape and other crimes against women. It should be noted that the Justice Verma committee, which made recommendations about changes in the law in the wake of the Nirbhaya case, had rejected the death penalty as a punishment even in the rarest of rare cases. 

There is not only a clamour for the death sentence and its quick execution in the country but also for effecting it even without a trial and judicial decision. The recent killing of four alleged rapists by the Hyderabad police in a case similar to the Nirbhaya case was seen as a cause for celebration by many. Life should be celebrated, not death. Killing, judicial or extra-judicial, is killing. Neither the state nor human beings have the right to take the life of another human being. Justice should be humane, and even the worst criminals, like Nirbhaya’s killers, deserve it. 

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