The Hindu's resolve in taking up the campaign against capital punishment far and wide is laudable and George Orwell's essay is the crown jewel. The powerful narrative of “A Hanging” (Aug. 31) slowly builds up the emotional disturbance in the minds of readers. Raising moral and ethical questions against modern society on its wisdom to bring to an end a still blossoming life, he has subtly brought out the physical and emotional anguish, and trauma and the sense of guilt on the part of the executioners. Those who perceive the death sentence to be a powerful deterrent may note that crimes are on the increase even otherwise. A more equitable, democratic and fair society may perhaps help reduce them.
Every right thinking citizen owes a sense of gratitude to The Hindu for having published this magnificent essay at a time when “to hang or not to hang” is the question. At a time when power itself is governed by the spirit of corruption, there is need to check it by grace, a hope and an inspiration suggested by Orwell. Beneath the physical and vital being is the mental being. Otherwise even the Bard of Avon would not have said, “The common executioner, Whose heart th´ accustom´d sight of death makes hard, Falls not the axe upon the humbled neck, But first begs pardon.” If one impulse of the puddle — “a bleeding piece of earth” could sensitise a convict, or the sorrow of a whining dog could teach us “more of men and moral good,” clemency has no significance in the Constitution. Even the chant of “Ram, Ram” is a death knell to the executioner when the convict must have felt “Oh Lord! forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
S. Thiyagaraja Sarma,
What surprised me were the words in the introduction “… as part of its (the paper's) editorial campaign for the abolition of capital punishment in India.” It is natural to have various viewpoints on the issue. Capital punishment is not totally justified either. Perhaps that is why the ever important phrase “rarest of rare cases” is used in the Constitution while rendering such a sentence. The descriptions in the essay do extract sympathy for the criminal.
The essay forcefully invigorates the debate on the subject of capital punishment and makes out a serious case for the abolition of the death penalty from the statutes. Unfortunately, in a country deeply divided by “vote-bank politics” and a corrupt administration, its abolition will only encourage “heinous” and the “rarest of rare” crimes. Only when people and politicians have matured to a level where a sense of justice is an automatic part of their constitution can we think of abolishing capital punishment. Perhaps, it is better to remove the provision of “mercy petition” altogether, and prescribe a time-limit for an execution to be carried out once the final court of appeal has been dealt with.
Vijaya Kumar Dar,
If those guilty in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case are pardoned, it will set a bad and dangerous precedent. Orwell wrote his essay keeping the conditions of his time in mind. Our country and the world have changed a lot since 1931.
Karavadi Raghava Rao,
Capital punishment is a legacy of the British Raj and ardently being followed by us. After reading the essay, I shudder to think of the hellish life of those condemned in prison and their state of mind before execution. The dog's sudden appearance and its reactions and the victim's cries till the very end are heart-rending. Capital punishment must be abolished and replaced by some other form of stringent deterrent.
The essay powerfully portrays not only the existential angst and desperate cries of a convict awaiting his fate, but also the cold sense of duty with which the State players carry out their duties. In languishing in jail for years, the three accused in the Rajiv Gandhi case have already died a hundred deaths. Ms Sonia Gandhi herself made a magnificent gesture to Nalini. Then why not let humanism prevail over law? That political parties take a stand for or against mercy petitions has more to do with their ideologies than with any form of compassion for or grudge against the convicts. Most of Europe has already abolished the death penalty.
I was moved to tears after reading how the prisoner avoided stepping into a puddle on his way to the gallows. No one has the power to kill a fellow citizen, however heinous his crime may be. The state must have an alternative.
R.K. Vijay Nambiar,
The melodrama, the underlying pathos, the melancholic style and the careful listing of minute detail — all made it a good essay. How I wish I had an equal command over the language to highlight the trauma being faced by those who are the victims of numerous terror attacks. The Hindu periodically publishes the pictures of the aftermath of terror attacks. Essays and stories may be interesting to read but drawing lessons from them needs more search of facts that may be absent in such essays. George Orwell did not think it necessary to give an account of the misdeeds of the man that led him to the gallows.
It made me think about whether capital punishment is too much for the wrong committed by the prisoner (as the principle of morality says, no one has the right to take the life of another). Then, if it sounds so, here comes the paradoxical question: “shouldn't grave deed doers be met with the grave and the rarest punishments?” If that is the case, then what would be the justice to the principle of morality?
The gut-wrenching essay, on “A Hanging,” will help buttress the abolitionist cause. Capital punishment is based on the principle of lex talionis (law of retaliation), i.e., punishment should correspond in degree and kind to the offence of the wrongdoer. In recent times, the overwhelming view among penologists is that states need to deliver justice in respect of serious crimes without resorting to executions which are nothing but legalised murders. The deterrence argument no longer holds any value if one is to go by crime statistics in countries like the U.S. which still execute criminals. In the U.S., there have been instances of people being subsequently cleared of the crimes for which they were executed.
Many of us may not be privy to the scene of a hanging, but Orwell's literary gem has done it. It is evident that Orwell empathises with the man. Who can forget his “Shooting an Elephant,” where Orwell tells us that he was helpless and unwilling to participate in the killing of an elephant but had to do it mainly to uphold the Englishman's pride. Today, most of us face his predicament of unwillingly supporting the barbarous practice of hanging.
M. Somasekhar Prasad,
The images of a puny “Hindu” convict and the intruding “large woolly dog” will remain a disturbing nightmare for everyone with a sensitive conscience.
Col. C.V. Venugopalan (retd.),
Hats off to The Hindu for digging out such a treasure.
Capt. N.S.Velayuthan (retd.),
One feels compassion for the convict mainly because his crime has not been revealed. However, how could we risk the lives of one billion people by taking away capital punishment from the statute book? Is it wise? There has to be a strong deterrent.
One can only think of the Bhutto case when, on March 24, 1979, the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed the appeal petition filed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto against his death sentence, despite appeals for clemency. I remember that even though Pakistan and India were at loggerheads, there were many who prayed for a miracle. The 12 days, from March 24 to April 4, 1979, proved to be days of agony.
Tharcius S. Fernando,