Merits of death penalty aside, is adding to crimes eligible for capital punishment a cop out?
Across the world there have been endless debates on the death penalty, whether it is correct or not for the state to deprive its own citizens of the right to life. This is a debate that can carry on forever, the arguments for and against this case are manifold and different in different countries. Is the death penalty biased against minorities and those from marginalised sections of society? Even in the United States there is a larger population of African Americans on death row than their proportion of the population. In some countries, particularly those with varying degrees of interpretation of Islamic Law, death penalties are still carried out in public and the executed are allowed to hang from cranes.
In India, too, there are hundreds incarcerated and on death row. The death penalty has been handed out fairly liberally by trial courts even though it should only been handed out in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases. The only execution in India in the 21st century for a crime not related to terrorism was Dhananjoy Chatterjee, executed on August 14, 2004, for the rape and murder of 14-year old Hetal Parekh in May 1990. The reason this case attracted widespread attention was because there was no direct eyewitness evidence tying him to the case and forensic sciences were were still being developed in the West at the time. India still has a long way to go in catching up on forensics but given that Dhananjoy maintained his innocence till the day he died, was it correct to have hanged him? If we kill an innocent man to satisfy our blood-lust as a society, then we are no different from the perpetrators of the alleged crime. In fact, the Indian Government and judicial system should be commended for being very circumspect in the final application of the death penalty.
Proponents of the death penalty argue that it is a deterrent, but as we have seen in India it has hardly been a deterrent to violent crime, and it is unlikely that the proposed death penalty to child rapists will make an iota of a difference. What will make a difference is swift and prompt justice and for that we come back to an issue that this newspaper has been raising time and again. The most urgent reforms that India needs are police and judicial reforms because both systems are broken. Badly broken. There is no hope of justice for most people, whether it is corruption or killing people and when a case like that of Salman Khan killing antelope takes twenty years to wind through the system, the evidence of the system being broken is naken standing in front of the country. The frustration towards this broken system explains the bloodlust of so many protests across India. The simple fact is that if the system is not repaired, India could well descend into vigilante madness. It is imperative that the system is fixed. Punish people for crimes and put them away for the rest of their lives and ensure justice is delivered in a reasonable amount of time.