The barbarity of the death penalty

Why capital punishment should be given the death sentence

Updated - May 18, 2016 10:03 am IST

Published - February 22, 2014 02:27 am IST

Three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, who have spent 23 years in jail, about half that period on death-row, have had their death sentence commuted by the Supreme Court on the ground of delay caused in the disposal of their mercy petitions. This marks a point where India has touched its cultural Everest.

The Indian Constitution has in a sacred provision bestowed upon every citizen the right to life. Life is God’s greatest gift to humankind, and no man or woman should be robbed of it by another human being under any circumstance. This constitutional boon is perhaps the highest blessing that the citizens of Bharat secured from the paramount deed in Article 14 of India’s suprema lex , its Constitution.

This sublime and sacred article of the Constitution is nullified and desecrated by the power, included in the Penal Code that the British rulers left behind, conferring on the judiciary the power to impose the death penalty as a judicial punishment for committing the offence of murder. It is a plain contradiction of the right to life conferred by the state if the same state can impose or can exercise the right to kill, whatever the cause may be. India is perhaps the most celebrated nation in the civilised world with its Vedic glory and ancient culture, a land that is proud of a range of icons from the Buddha to Mahatma Gandhi.

British imperialism imposed upon its colony, India, the sentencing barbarity of capital punishment. Lord Mountbatten was treacherously killed and the British judiciary imposed the death sentence on the killer but the cultural reforms of Westminster abolished the death sentence. That murderer is still alive.

In the United States, many states still do not have the death penalty. The majority of the world’s civilised nations have already abolished the death penalty, and the United Nations is actively considering the elimination of capital punishment from global criminal jurisprudence altogether.

It will therefore be a glorious gesture and a cultural tribute to Article 14 if right now all the political parties of India, acting in unison, decide to abolish the gallows and pay a tribute to Gandhiji by depriving judicial power or state authority to impose the death sentence for any crime. The legislative abolition of the death penalty through a simple, single-sentence resolution by Parliament will be a statutory tribute to the Founding Fathers of Article 14.

Imposing life imprisonment for committing the crime of murder is also horrendous, but at least it does not rob the God-given gift of life. Life ever and death never, that is the spiritual quintessence of all religions which have entered the sacred land of India.

The illumination of a civilisation arrives only when a people come to terms with the end of life and intimate integration with what we call death in the absence of another world. Death is not the end of life but the beginning of a new chapter of existence.

The truth of life and the myth of mortality is contained in a quotation from Tagore’s Gitanjali:

I know that the day will come when my sight of this earth shall be lost,

and life will take its leave in silence, drawing the last curtain over my eyes.

Yet stars will watch at night, and morning rise as before, and hours

heave like sea waves casting up pleasures and pains.

When I think of this end of my moments, the barrier of the moments

breaks and I see by the light of death thy world with its careless treasures.

Rare is its lowliest seat, rare is its meanest of lives.

Things that I longed for in vain and things that I got — let them pass.

Let me but truly possess the things that I ever spurned and overlooked.

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