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Updated: February 17, 2013 03:11 IST

Terror and horror of the death sentence

V. R. Krishna Iyer
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V.R. Krishna Iyer
The Hindu V.R. Krishna Iyer

Gandhi’s country must set an example by abolishing capital punishment, says Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer

The President has dismissed the mercy petitions of four of Veerappan’s associates who had been sentenced to death. They should not hang.

I appeal to the authorities to remove the death sentence from the statute book. Every state execution amounts to nothing but murder. The people of India must rise against such grave crimes by the state. The state cannot take away the right to life.

I appeal to my countrymen, and the comity of nations, to campaign against such slaughter. About 90 per cent of the world’s states have abolished the death sentence.

Life is given by God and can be taken away only by God. Execution by the state amounts to inhumanity. Gandhi’s country must set an example by abolishing the capital punishment. Even if supported by a judicial verdict, the state should not hang a human being.

I plead with the President and elected leaders: no more hanging. Abolish the gallows.

I have always opposed the capital punishment, as a judge and otherwise. Lord Scarman, in a Privy Council judgment, followed my judgments and wrote to me: “I am sending you a copy of the Privy Council Appeal judgment from Jamaica. The case is Riley v. The Attorney-General. You will see that Lord Brightman and myself in our dissenting opinion made very great use of some observations of yours in the Indian Supreme Court. Thank you so much for the really passionate way in which you have in the past and continue now to forward the cause of human rights.”

Lord Denning, the great judge, wrote to me: “…You have indeed been using your time to full advantage. Your book on Human Rights and the Law will be of the greatest value to many. During your time on the bench, you were a leader of thought on these matters and your judgments have received much acclaim. I find myself largely in agreement with your point of view…”

Arise, awake and stop not till execution is annihilated and the state stands for human life and opposes the death penalty. A movement by all the people of India should support the campaign against taking away human life. All life, even the smallest, is divine. What God has given no man and no state shall take away.

The divinity of life is our vision. To preserve it is a majestic mission. Danse macabre be not proud. You are impotent.

(V.R. Krishna Iyer was a Judge of the Supreme Court.)

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