Dr. Annie Besant (1847-1933) a great Theosophist, Home Ruler and the first woman president of the Indian National Congress wrote in her autobiography Chapter VI: “I lifted up my voice in all our great towns [in England] trying to touch the consciences of the people, and to make them feel the immorality of a land stealing, piratical policy. Against war, against capital punishment, against flogging, demanding national education instead of big guns, public libraries instead of warships…”
Now, again, the debate is on the subject of capital punishment. Why great people like Dr. Besant opposed capital punishment and other barbarous punishments like flogging and chopping off the limbs? All over the world, civilised societies are against such unethical punishments and they suggest prison reforms and penal codes framed centuries back. The question is, can we end terrorism and communal violence by imposing severe punishments?
A person conditioned from his childhood to hate all other religions or ethnical groups other than the one he belongs to earnestly believes that he is waging a holy war which we call terrorism. It is also the case with nationalism. The soldier who kills hundred thousands of innocent people by bombing is acclaimed as a hero in the post-war period. His nation honours him with various awards! What about the innocent people who were brutally murdered by the ‘war hero’? The other nation and the people there will consider him only as a monster.
The points raised by the Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in his article “A question of rights and wrongs” (Open Page, The Hindu , November 25, 2012) are very pertinent.
When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, great thinker and philosopher J. Krishnamurti was in India. Everybody asked themselves the question who killed Gandhi? A Muslim? A Hindu? Because if he were a non-Hindu, communal violence might break out all over India and nobody could control it. Krishnaji replied to them “We killed him, you and I killed him.” Behind every violent action in this world we, the humanity at large, is responsible. Because violence has existence only in the human mind.
There is no violence in the eyes of a tiger which pounces upon its prey. There is no evil in the poisoned teeth of a snake. There is no malice in the thorns of a cactus.
Hanging one or two individuals or even a group of people is not going to end the issue of terrorism and violence. Gandhiji said, “An eye for an eye will blind the whole world.” When we proclaim ourselves a Hindu, Muslim or a communist, we are erecting an iron wall which separates us from the whole humanity. Then our dogmas, religious beliefs, dos and dont’s religious textbook and political formula become important and we consider others as ‘heathen’ whom we have to hate or reform.
Awarding capital punishments to any hardcore criminal will not serve the purpose. We should give the culprit ample time to rethink his action. He should be convinced about the enormity of his crime and made to repent. In the Buddhist story of Angulimal (a notorious person who killed people and made a garland of their fingers), the Buddha was able to transform him and he became a disciple and attained Arhatship . There is a divine element in every seemingly evil person. In the land of Buddha, we forget this principle due to political or other considerations.
Even the term ‘criminal’, ‘extremist’, ‘terrorist’ are only relative. Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev who were hanged by the British Government were considered ‘terrorists’ who bombed the Legislative Assembly. But they were heroes from our point of view. In ancient times, people believed that by burning alive a person affected by leprosy, small pox and other contagious diseases, they could eradicate such diseases. In the modern society too, we have a wrong idea that the elimination of certain individuals or groups from this earth will put an end to violence and terrorism. We are holding such modern superstitions!
In the post-Independent India, Gandhian freedom fighter and revolutionary Jayaprakash Narayan proved before the world that notorious dacoits of Chambal can be reformed and brought to the mainstream of national life. Those criminals surrendered before JP and the government and pledged to follow the path of non-violence.
The culprits who killed thousands of innocent Sikhs in Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 were elected and re-elected to Parliament! Who listens to the weeping of “November Widows”? The real culprits of ethnic cleansing in Gujarat are considered good administrators of a developed State! Where is the demarcation between national and international terrorism? There is only violence in the name of religion, culture, language or colour. Any form of division will breed violence. We should not forget that we are first human beings and then only Asians, Hindus, Catholics or Brahmins. By hanging a single individual secretly in the early hours of November 21 we are not waking up to a more humane world, but only marching towards a dark midnight of glorified violence.
( The writer is Secretary, Kerala Theosophical Federation, Thrissur district. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Hanging one or two individuals or even a group of people is not going to end the issue of terrorism and violence.