Time to abolish death penalty?

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death penalty on Ajmal Amir Qasab, one of the 10 men responsible for the horrific killing of 169 persons in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. He will be hanged to death.

The debate over the death penalty has always been vehement on both sides — that is, those who are in favour of retribution, especially for crimes that involve multiple murders, horrific crimes on humanity such as the one executed by Qasab and the nine other terrorists, child homicide, etc, versus those who feel that killing someone in response to killing is lowering the state to the level of the killer.

In India, the death penalty is awarded in the “rarest of the rare” cases. The SC decision on Qasab indubitably falls in that category. In legal terms, there can be no gainsaying that the judgment is not only correct, but also is testimony to India following a due process of the law despite the overwhelming evidence against Qasab.

Yet, the question remains: should India join the community of nations that has abolished the death penalty? For instance, last week, Norway awarded a 21 year jail sentence to Anders Breivik, whose bombing and shooting spree killed 77 people at a Norwegian island in 2011. It is the longest prison sentence possible in Norwegian law.

While India needs to debate hard whether the death penalty is the right way to tackle grave crimes, we would perhaps make a giant civilisational leap with its abolition. An execution in response to a murder may give a feeling of retribution to society but it has never prevented any heinous crime in the first place. It is also instantaneous. Instead, a life-long jail term could serve to be an apt punishment for someone who does not deserve the companionship of other human beings. There is no greater human misery than the feeling of being confined alone in a closed space for a number of years.

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