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August 26, 2017

Essays for IBPS PO VII : Is Capital Punishment Justified ?

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Is Capital Punishment Justified ?

  • What is capital punishment ? 
  • Capital punishment in different countries.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN. 
  • Death penalty is against the human right. 
  • Various arguments against death penalty. 
  • Different aspects related to capital punishment. 
  • It is a socio-ethical controversy.
Capital punishment is the execution of a person by the state as punishment for a crime. Over the ages capital punishment has been given to criminals by using various methods such as lethal injection, hanging, electrocution, gas chamber etc.

The question in front of us is "Is capital punishment justified?" Death sentence as a punishment has been subject to controversies since long. 

The basic reason is the moral and humanitarian questions attached to it. For this, one needs to understand the death sentence by itself. In most countries, capital punishment is a method of suppressing crimes and political dissent. It is given as a punishment for premeditated murder, espionage, treason or as part of military justice. In some countries, even sexual crimes, such as, rape, sodomy and adultery and drug-trafficking carry a death penalty. In China, human trafficking is also regarded as capital offence. 

The question that is constantly debated upon is that when should capital punishment be awarded? What sort of crime or offence would demand a capital punishment? When someone commits a heinous crime against another being, such as, a person who has raped an eight month pregnant woman, then murdered her? Or an abominable thief ? Or should a serial killer with no conscience be incriminated? Some would say that life-imprisonment is an easy way out and it would also give chance to reform the criminal.

There is a huge uproar everywhere against capital punishment and death sentence, saying it is immoral and that it infringes the inalienable 'right of life' of an individual. In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a pledge among nations to promote Fundamental Rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.  

Article 3 of the Declaration states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. A group of reformers known as abolitionists interpreted the life penalty along these terms and reached to the conclusion that the death penalty is a violation of human rights since it deprives a person of his right to live. If such reasoning is followed, then the state should abolish prisons since it violates a person's right to liberty. 

Article 5 of the Declaration states that no one shall be subjected to cruel and degrading punishment. Abolitionists insist that the capital punishment should be ruled out because it is the cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. But one noticeable aspect that the abolitionists and most people miss out is the fact of justice for the victim. 

In the fight for justice and human rights one generally forgets about the victim's right to justice. What about the psyche of the victim, who has been wronged? If the criminal has a right to live respectfully, then the victim, too has the same right. The person who has infringed another person's right to live peacefully and respectfully should be meted out with similar treatment. 

There are numerous arguments put forward against death sentence. The classic one is that society cannot show that killing is wrong by killing. Even Gandhiji said, "Hate the sin, not the sinner". It is further added that capital punishment is a vangeance rather than retribution and as such, is a morally dubious concept. 

The anticipatory suffering of the criminal, who may be kept on death row for many years, makes the punishment more severe than just depriving the criminal of life. Some people also argue that death sentence does not deter crime but recent studies have proved that for each inmate put to death, three to eighteen murders have been prevented. 

Moreover we talk about sanctity of life. But isn't the sanctity of life of the victim is more important than the convict's life. In our zeal to protect the rights of criminals, we should not minimise the rights of their victims. An innocen t's life should be valued over the offender's. 

The most common place argument of all is that executing a murderer will not bring the victim back. Justice is not about bringing back the dead. It is about enforcing consequences of one's own action. It is about preventing future misfortune and protecting the life of the vulnerable and about arming the weak.

Some people stress on the barbaric nature of the death penalty as a reason for its abolition, forgetting that the acts committed by the people sentenced is not exactly humane. Moreover, the death sentence is more humane and easy to undergo than life imprisonment since it ends the torture of the criminals in few minutes as opposed to the torture he would undergo in W prisons for a long time. 

Our late ex-President APJ Kalam in his book 'Turning Point' wrote that as a President his role was to get every case examined and establish the truth against those waiting for the gallows. He also went on to find that almost all the case pending had a social and economic bias attached to it. In the Afzal Guru case the way the execution was carried out in utmost secrecy led to an unprecedented move on the part of the state, where it was said that in trying to steamroll a morally bankrupt opposition and a media campaign of surpassing banality, the government has revealed both its achilles heel and the cruel side. An Oscar winning movie (foreign language category), The Secret in their Eyes' has also outlined the various aspects related to capital punishment. 

In the public discourse there is a belief that we hang the murderer, we hang the rapist and we will deter all future crimes. This is rather a consequentialist argument, satisfying the end without an appropriate means. A count where free legal aid is at best a mockery to the system, there is no denying the fact that most of those waiting death sentence are of weaker background. 

Therefore, it is preposterous to retain capital punishment. This process in its underbelly is antithetical to the core objective of criminal justice system, to reform and rehabilitate. 

It has been rightly said, "Gallows are not just a symbol of death, but they also represent cruelty and brutality, an apostle of primitive savagery; terror and irrelevance for life; medieval fanaticism and modern totalitarianism" 

Difficult Words with Meanings :
  • Lethal - deadly, sufficient to cause death
  • Electrocution - death caused by electric shock
  • Controversies - prolonged public disagreement or heated discussion
  • Suppress - subdue or defeat
  • Dissent - lack of agreement, dispute
  • Espionage - spying, counter-espionage
  • Treason - disloyalty
  • Sodomy - anal sex
  • Heinous (of a person or wrongful act, especially a crime) - hateful or shockingly evil
  • Abominable - hateful, despicable
  • Incriminated - implicate, involve
  • Infringes - violate, breach
  • Inalienable - absolute, unchallengeable
  • Abolitionists - a person who favours the abolition
  • Ruled out - eliminate
  • Meted out - dealt out or spread out
  • Vangeance - revenge
  • Retribution - punishment, penalty
  • Dubious - doubtful, uncertain
  • Sanctity - sacredness or blessedness
  • Consequence - outcome or result
  • Vulnerable  - exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed
  • Banality - an uninteresting statement
  • Savagery - a cruel or violent quality
shared by Nisheeta Mirchandani
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