Crime and Punishment

The recent controversy surrounding the clemency petitions and their commutation to life sentences by the President , unearths a larger issue.

On a transactional note, the decision could definitely be contested in terms of the degree of legal counsel that was involved before making such a decision, but what is also evident is the fact that even though capital punishment is not abolished in India, the actual cases executed have been few and far in between. What happens to the rest is a life oscillating between life and death. It has been argued that the mental trauma inflicted by keeping the fate of such prisoners on hold is far worse than death. But then, does the mental trauma of death row convict seem a little frivolous when compared to the crimes they have committed and the resulting trauma of the victim or their families.
So this brings us to the more important question of our stand on capital punishment.

The philosophy of punishment as very aptly put by Markandey Katju, former Supreme Court judge rests on four tenets : It can be a deterrent and work by creating fear. It can be retributive, making one pay for it. It can also be preventive, to stall a crime; or reformative,to strengthen the human character.

If the intention of the punishment is retributive or meant as a deterrent , then capital punishment can be deemed necessary. In all the other cases , rigorous life imprisonment will suffice. The cases which have been commuted are extreme cases of depravity and fall under the ‘rarest of the rare’ category. This again brings us to the subjective nature of the ‘rarest of the rare’ categorization. There are other known cases which prove that sometimes the death sentence have been awarded purely hinging on the ability of the defense counsel and the knowledge or subjectivity of the presiding judges.

The knee jerk reaction upon reading about most of the cases is extreme revulsion and the need for retribution. The horror of ever being exposed to the filthiest of human minds is enough to demand for permanent removal of such filth from the society. But unwillingly, we still need to cling on to the shred of humanity we possess and try to assess objectively the actual criminal behind the person.

The case of Sushil Murmu is a good case in point. On 11th Dec, 1996, he kidnapped and decapitated a young innocent child to Goddess Kali for his well-being. Another case of having committing the same deed against his own brother was pending against him at this time.The perversity of the crime is shocking and revolting. But the small voice of humanity begs to question whether the real criminals are ignorance and superstition for whom Sushim Murmu was just a conduit. Will the killing of one Sushil Murmu irradicate ignorance and superstition. There are of course, many other cases, where it’s not possible to offer any logical explanation other a human brain malfunction or some psychiatric illness.

The decision is not an easy one and needs a multi-dimensional examination from a societal, humanitarian and judicial standpoint. But the time is now ripe to take a more definitive stand on the whole issue and if its ‘eye for an eye’ that we as a society consciously seek, then lets not keep the lines getting any longer on the death rows.

References: : Sushil Murmu vs State Of Jharkhand on 12 December, 2003

10 thoughts on “Crime and Punishment

  1. Interesting. But no conclusion? Understandably so I guess. Much debated from ages. But no possible to reach a conclusion I guess. From a practical stand point, I would say we are over populated. So why not quickly get rid of the depraved criminal kinds?

    1. Thanks for visiting ! True. But isn’t there always a tussle between taking decision from a practical vs. an emotional standpoint. Its definitely not an easy decision, not something which can be taken by a small set of people, but the decision has to be made and cannot be brushed under the carpet anymore.

  2. emptyrucksack

    You got me with that one, was expecting Dostoevsky and all that.

    Indian news is too much to watch and then brood, you have a lot of patience πŸ˜›

  3. alkagurha

    Nicely penned but personally, I am confused on this one. Given that we are a soft target for terrorists, its not an easy decision. And the fact that poor can’t even hire lawyers to present their case makes it worse.

  4. I am the ‘be rid of the criminals’ type πŸ™‚ I see no reason to molly-coddle even a poor criminal when the law-abiding poor man is left to fend for himself and starve. The rights of the law-abiding should stand well above the rights of a criminal, for a criminal, after all, has forfeited his rights by choosing not to adhere to the mores of Society and, thus, ought not to be considered a fit case for seeking the rights that Society grants its citizens.

    The issue, therefore, for me is about whether the criminal is really one – as in whether the criminal jurisprudence system has worked efficiently and accuses the person who is actually guilty of the crime. AND, there is also the vexed issue of social injustice, where an otherwise law-abiding person is driven to crime because society is unjust to him. Which is where the ‘rarest of the rare’ cases kick in. It is for the judges to decide upon whether the crime is conclusively proven and whether the criminal was forced into the crime before handing down the death penalty.

    I am in agreement about the fact that the delay in the criminal justice system, both in processing the cases and in the execution of the sentence should be minimized. Delays, alone, though are only a reason to seek redressal of the delay – not an argument against the death penalty. IF, indeed, the death penalty is otherwise thought necessary, seeking to do away with it because of delays is to seek a solution for the wrong problem.

    1. The point that you mentioned – that of whether the criminal jurisprudence has worked efficiently – that question is the one which troubles me the most.While some cases are definitely open and shut and therefore , the quantum of punishment is the only question that remains ; the possibility of the innocent being sent to the gallows cannot be completely refuted, if we were to really become more enthusiastic about the imposition of capital punishment.
      I agree that the delay in punishment is an independent argument and it’s just another facet to the whole thing and not an argument for or against the death penalty.

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