Is the death penalty the only punishment for terrorism or violent crimes? Or is there a humane stance that preserves the integrity and security of a society?
What is it that makes me a person who feels and values life not by judgment but by its very quality of being?
This happens only when we realise that the greatest gift we have is the experience of life with all its hardships and happiness along with hate, sadness and joy. Life gives us life and life takes it away from us. We are given the gift to experience what is in between.
To take this life away from a person is not so much about killing him or her but actually about killing in every one of us the very quality that keeps us alive. Every act of ending a life, however justified, changes the very paradigm of our existence. Violence in any form is a grave disservice to the beauty of creation.
When I saw the image of the smiling public prosecutor holding what looked like a file or a book with the cover picture of Kasab and a noose, I was quite taken aback by the happiness on his face. On May 6 I realised that this was the universal feeling all over the country. People were actually dancing and celebrating the declaration of death. I almost felt like a character from William Golding's Lord of the Flies.
Most people feel that Kasab got exactly what he deserved meaning not just a conviction for his crimes but Death. If the judge had decided that he would get life imprisonment I think there would have been widespread condemnation. But what is wrong with this, one may ask. This man, along with his terrorist friends was responsible for the killing of hundreds of people. So why should we not want his neck. An eye for an eye. This one sanctioned by the law of the land.
The whole system of justice is to provide a suitable punishment for the crimes of a person. So why can't death be a suitable punishment? But what are we saying when we convict someone? We are saying that he or she is not suitable to live in society as they may cause more harm to people and needs to be removed from society. We also feel that these people need to be held responsible for the crimes committed by them. What do we achieve by hanging or electrocuting a criminal? Have we made this dead person feel anymore pain for his actions or is society safer since he or she is dead and not in solitary confinement in prison.
Why do we have the death penalty? To me it seems that it is just a way of saying that as a justice system we have the right to end a person's life. Each society has decided for itself the suitability of execution as a punishment for a crime. Even we feel sometimes that other countries should not have death as a sentence for certain crimes. Then what happens to our stand? It does not matter whom or why you are killing a person; a death is a death. This is not just a victory of good over evil but also a victory of the most powerful weapon in the hands of law that of taking away or giving life to a person based on evidence. Provide me enough evidence that you don't deserve death and I grant you life.
I know I have not experienced the suffering, pain and anguish of all those families who lost people due to the madness of these terrorists and in no way can anyone in their sane mind ever justify these actions in the name of religion or belief.
There are people who feel only a death sentence can bring closure to the affected families. I wonder? All that this achieves is to give the families a sense of revenge. We are actually feeding the very sentiment we did not want when the Mumbai attack actually happened. If we had attacked Pakistan in that emotional moment what would we have achieved except satisfy our vengeful nature? As a country we acted with maturity. So how is this different?
Others argue that the death sentence has been there from time immemorial. Is that a good enough reason? The caste system has also been there from time immemorial so why are we fighting it? Why don't we also have officially sanctioned torture rooms like the medieval times?
Isn't the death sentence an extension of the spectrum of punishments? So how is it different? By putting a person in solitary confinement or life imprisonment, aren't you taking away some part of his life? This is because you want society to be safe from such people. You also give the person an opportunity to change, to introspect, to realise.
This may or may not happen but we, as a society, remain humane. Isn't this what we try to find in us all our life?
What are all our religious leaders doing? No religion gives anyone the right to execute a person. Why didn't a single religious leader say something against the celebrations after the sentencing? I have not heard one dissenting voice. Or is the media also feeding this sentiment and doesn't want us to hear any other voice?
“Why waste the taxpayer's money to keep this man alive?” a friend asked. Do we really discuss how the taxpayer's money is being wasted on other things about which we never ask a single question? I ask, why can't we use the taxpayer's money to keep this guy in jail all his life and remain a mature, balanced and progressive society?
Why should such a criminal even have the right to live, many ask? But who gives you the right to take that away? If you do, then how are you different from him? We have every right to defend our society, country and life from the dangers of terrorism. But how does that extend to ending his life.
Some argue that the death sentence will work as a deterrent to others like Kasab. But there are no statistics to prove that countries that have banned the death sentence have a higher rate of murder or rape. Similarly the rate of crime in countries like the U.S. or India is not lower because of the existence of the death penalty. Over hundred countries have removed the death sentence including some African countries that have seen the worst kind of genocide.
There is no doubt that people like Kasab need to be removed from society, as we have every right to safeguard ourselves. But is execution the only way? And will that add to our security or strength?
I know this piece seems to have more questions than anything else. But that's exactly how I feel. I know the death sentence is law but I also know that we need to think very hard and deep in ourselves on whether we need it. In the meantime we need to realise that death for anyone is not a time for us to gloat. We wanted justice and we got it, let's not celebrate an execution.
T.M. Krishna is a Carnatic musician based in Chennai