Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Death Penalty in a Civilised Society?

Amidst all the gloomy headlines that greet us everyday, was one with a difference. It went thus: IRAN TO SCRAP DEATH BY STONING. (The new Indian Express, Aug 7, 2008)

That was good news. Countries associated with draconian, hideous, ‘savage’ laws and penal measures are beginning to look at them from a humanitarian angle. But this set me thinking. Who or what is to decide what mode of execution is brutal enough to warrant the epithet “inhuman” or acceptable enough to earn the label ‘civilised”? Why is it that stoning to death creates a moral revulsion in us, the inhabitants of the so called modern, civilised, progressive, liberal society?

Public hanging, public beheading, crucifixion and stoning to death must have had, at the outset, an exemplary purpose, and as such are specifically devised to terrorise the onlookers into deterring them from committing similar crimes. The more brutal, the more it strikes terror in the hearts of the onlooker. For the victim of public execution, there is a denial of dignity in death which can be as painful as the pain of execution. Of these, perhaps stoning and crucifixion are a degree more cruel in terms of the duration of suffering involved in the slow death of the victim. In its actual modus operandi, being stoned in public and by the public is akin to lynching. The faceless fury of the mob adds an element of humiliation to the horror and pain of the punishment. Again, the right to dignity in death is denied.

To come to the query raised earlier, I guess it is the attitude to the criminal that forms the basis for branding the mode of administering capital punishment as human or inhuman. The traditional society(read non progressive, non liberal. noncivilized), holds the attitude that a person condemned to death, from whom has been stripped the right to existence, has no more claim to the rights enjoyed by the living men of the world he is about to leave behind. That world, it is believed, is under no obligation to respect the life and dignity of the condemned person. For, the criminal has forfeited all his rights as the member of the society the minute he commits a crime which warrants death penalty. He is like a dead man walking.

The modern state takes pride in respecting a person’s rights till the last living moment. Efforts are made to make death as painless as possible. The last wishes of the condemned person are respected and he is given a wholesome meal and access to religious solace before execution. But does all this make execution a pleasant experience, or the mode of administering the death penalty less brutal or primitive? Hanging or electric chair or lethal injection is no less obnoxious than the aforementioned methods. They do not enable the person to conquer the bitterness of death. Most certainly, we cannot use the term ‘civilized, to these modes of killing, or for that matter, any mode of killing. For killing – and that’s what Capital punishment is – is immoral, brutal and primitive. I would call all death penalty officialised/legitimized murder.

Capital Punishment is immoral and unethical. Who has a right to take away from another person his right to existence? No judge or jury or tribunal or court can appropriate the authority to condemn a human being to death. Period.

Death penalty is objectionable also on account of the flaws in the justice systems. No legal system is flawless. It is no impossible task to frame an innocent person with a crime deserving capital punishment. It can happen that the defence is unable to prove his innocence in the court of law. It is also possible that a guilty person can get away with murder in the existing system. In other words, the judicial systems of modern states are so ridden with loopholes that miscarriage of justice is a possible eventuality and a common enough happening. This being the case, the state must abolish capital punishment in order to obviate the possibility of an innocent person being deprived of life for a crime she/he did not commit.

Those who disagree can argue that capital punishment is a deterrent and is, therefore, necessary to reduce crimes. Well, I beg to disagree with that argument. From time immemorial, death penalty has been there - all over the world. But man has always killed and looted, and broken every commandment handed down to Moses – and he continues to do it.

Abolition of death penalty in every country in the world would be a major landmark in the human evolutionary process. For that would amount to the official abdication of the right of governments to violate the most fundamental of all human rights – man’s right to life and existence.

Have another post on this issue: http://pareltank.blogspot.com/2006/12/death-penalty.html


  1. I'm not a big fan of capital punishment myself. But I'm not convinced about the need to totally abolish it.

    "Who has a right to take away from another person his right to existence?" - A logical extension of this argument is to ask which court or tribunal has to authority to condemn a man to a life of imprisonment (which can be worse than death - I remember reading a short story about this. Tolstoy?). Does that mean that we stop having prisons also?

  2. Hello!

    Very informative and thought provoking post!

    I am of the opinion that death peanalty should not be abolished altogether. It should be retained in some form or the other.

    Just as you said that the State has no right to take away life so also no one has the right to kill another person under any circumstance. Every one knows this inculding the murderer. Therefore, if any one commits murder wantonly and there is a clearcut evidence, then the person who committed the murder should be put to death. This is a painful task to execute even for the hangman!

    We want to live in safety and security and that is why we have a government and a legal system to protect our right to life.

    We dont want to be killed mercilessly by terrorists, murderers,rapists, theives and other insane psychopaths.

    Kudos to you for this wonderful post!

    Have a good day!

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  4. @ Philip
    the society has to take care of itself. in order to ensure that, it restricts the opportunities of a criminal to commit crimes. this is what is achieved by the prisons for prisons deprive a person of his freedom of movement. ideally, prisons should reform him, and transform him into a law abiding citizen. prisons are part of the machinery to ensure that crimnalss are not at large, and while incarcerated, the rehabilitation process goes on. there is no deprival of LIFE.

  5. Respecting the dignity of life - from a philosophical standpoint sounds right.. But I really don't know if any human being who 'respected the dignity of life' would be at the recieving end of a death penalty! This is not to say that I am an advocate of the death penalty, but I do think the crime will multiply manyfold in many countries if the death penalty is abolished. Personally I think too that no man/government should be able to lawfully take the life of another human being, but what is right is really pretty grey to my mind..

  6. However inefficient our system be, it is one of the bast in terms of judicious capital sentences... Death sentence is given to only those who thoroughly deserves it...

    There can be arguments against it, but there are some people who doesn't deserve to be in this world.. Consider that pedophile (Sebastian in Trivandrum), who committed that crime when he was out on parole after the same sin...He shouldn't have been out at the first place. I firmly believe he shouldnt exist on planet earth, I'd rather support the Iranian method here..at least for once...

  7. death penalty is useless, as it doesn`t bring the victim back to life.so, WHY MUST IT BE PUT TO PRACTISE?
    MOREOVER, only God has the right to takes back life, not us, mere human beings.


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