Sunday 30 August 2015

Finally some legal solution to death penalty

India’s Law Commission report is expected to oppose death penalty

The Law Commission report pending submission of  (on 31.08.2015) and acceptance / by the Government of India is reported to have recommended abolition of capital punishment except in cases of terrorism. Though it does not require graphic definitions, legally, it helps to define classes and tenor of tenor.  Given the shades of state sponsored terrorism and non-state actors, the lines between nationalism economic exploitation and traitor-ship / martyrdom blur. Thus definitions certainly help; even if such definitions need period reviews and improvisations.

Given that death penalty has never been an effective deterrent, instead abrogates human rights and justice, it serves the purpose to explore alternative means to serve deterrence. When a person has committed a cognisable offence and is convicted, the rule of law is indeed upheld.  Society is secured, democratic principles are put to robust practise. But death penalty takes away the right to life of the convict. That is not justice, rather vendetta.

So that brings us to the argument what about the life / lives of those that the convict damaged / killed? Even in the case of a premeditated murder the victim is unaware of the fate awaiting him / her. In the most unfortunate twist of fate the victim / deceased survivor bore the brunt of the perpetrator’s vicious behaviour. But will putting him / her – that is the perpetrator - to death serve the purpose of deterrence or justice? No, not really, death penalty is only vindictive emotional knee jerk reaction guaranteed to ensure that the ills plaguing the society will never be cured.

Pardon me, I am not justifying any such condemnable behaviour but am sincerely trying to understand what causes deviant behaviour in some people. If the causes are not addressed the symptomatic manifestation will sustain and in turn that may only sustain death penalty.  I am aware that those opposed to abolition of death penalty will spew venom at me and question me why I shouldn’t subject myself to rape or if I have felt the anger and helplessness felt by the family members of someone who has been murdered. But here, I am trying to address the emptiness of vengeance.

What prompted the criminal to do what he / she did? In the case of drug peddling - broken homes invariably lead to drug addiction and then drug peddling. In the case of rape, gender verbal abuse and emotional abuse in the tender years of childhood trigger violent behaviour. Drug peddlers feed on and are fed by drug addicts. So that is a vicious cycle.  By putting to death the convicts does the victim get justice? No: Only a sense of emptiness without purpose permeates the soul.

Closure? Getting closure is significantly connected to cultural norms. The Hindus and the Buddhists often ascribe their fate to Karma. Christians forgive conscientiously the Muslims inherit the law “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” from the Civilisation of Mesopotamia in Babylon where Islam took root in a later day and age.

Child rearing was never easy. Parenting skills are all the more challenged in an unequal world order prevalent in society. Building emotional resilience through inculcation of ideals, yet making the child aware of the pitfalls of perfection is the challenge for parents.

So now let us address the needs of the innocent victims. Victims must get state support –emotional counselling, rehabilitation, economic assistance to victims of violent crime including policy support for job reservations, medical treatment reintegration assistance, and insurance.

Convicts must be allowed to see the treatment and reintegration of the victims while they – the convicts are punished. That way justice is done.

Death penalty is only vindictive, appropriate for emotional reactions and serves no purpose, but at the same time, the convict’s right to life is suspended. Yes what about the right to life of the victim? Yes it is unpardonable that anyone’s life with dreams and hopes can be snatched away at the will of a crook or demented soul. It is unfair to the family of the victim too. But neither the victim nor the family of the victim can get closure out of vendetta. But the perpetrator must be “taught” to value life of fellow human beings and animals. For this atleast he / she must be allowed to live and reform.

It is practical to deport all death row convicts from all countries to a life in prison in any uninhabited Island where a UN / ICRC monitored penal colony / settlement can be established. Local fishermen and indigenous people can be given opportunities to ward, feed and securely monitor the convicts. Convicts must have rights to visitation and medical treatment, food, clothing, reading material and visits by family without any further indulgence whatsoever; but should be punished without recourse to further legal aid / appeal. The death row convicts should be allowed access to basic / simple food, communication and clothing. The time spent in such isolation is guaranteed to bring remorse. It’s a greater punishment than death penalty.

Social entrepreneurs, counsellors, human rights activists, the Gandhi Peace Foundation are the most appropriate resource people for such sustainable engagement. One reformed prisoner can substitute an army’s intelligence networks effectively in mitigating crime… for death penalty is and always will be a miscarriage of justice. 

Malini Shankar

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