Capital punishment is the execution of a person by the state as punishment fo a crime. Over the ages capital punishment has been given to criminals by using various methods such as lethal injection, hanging, electrocution, gas chamber etc. The question at hand is “Is capital punishment justified?”
Death sentence as a punishment has been subject to controversies since long. The basic reason is the moral and humanitarian questions attached to it. For this, one needs to understand the death sentence by itself.
Capital Punishment in Different countries
Capital punishment or death sentence being one of the harshest punishments known to man has taken a gradual humanised change over the years. Being a mode of punishment prominently followed in most parts of the world for centuries, has now been abolished in many countries. India is one of only 58 countries that have the death penalty on their statue book. India seems to be stuck between the global trend to end death penalty and the few nations that sti follow it. It has taken a very safe ground by giving a minimal provision and leaving it to the discretion of the judiciary to award the punishment in special circumstances.
The question that is constantly debated upon is that when should capital punishment be awarded or should it be awarded in the first place? What sort of crime or offence would demand a capital punishment? Should a serial killer with no conscience be incriminated?
Some say that life-imprisonment is an easy way out and it would also give chanc to reform the criminal. Most of the people now feel that punishment for crimes like murders should not be death but some reformative or deterrent sentence. Death sentence cannot reform a criminal. There is a huge uproar everywhere against capital punishment and death sentence, saying it is immoral and that it infringes the inalienable right of life’ of an individual.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN
In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is a pledge among nations to promote Fundamental Rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
Article 5 of the Declaration states that no one shall be subjected to cruel and degrading punishment. Therefore, abolitionists insist that capital punishment should be ruled out because it is cruel, inhuman and degrading. The governments which have abolished death sentence, find that there is no increase in the number of murders in the countries after the abolition.
There are numerous arguments put forward against death sentence. The classic one is that society cannot show that killing is wrong by killing. Even Gandhiji said, “Hate the sin, not the sinner”. It is further added that capital punishment is a vengeance rather than retribution and as such, is a morally dubious concept.
Arguments in favour of Death Penalty
The people who want to abolish death penalty claim that it violates the sanctity of life. So isn’t the sanctity of victim’s life more important than the convict’s life. In our zeal to protect the rights of criminals, we should not minimise the rights of their victims. An innocent’s life should be valued over the offender’s. The most common place argument given is that executing a murderer will not bring the victim back. Justice is not about bringing back the dead. It is about enforcing consequences of one’s own action. It is about preventing future misfortune and protecting the life of the vulnerable and about arming the weak.
Some people stress on the barbaric nature of the death penalty as a reason for its abolition, forgetting that the acts committed by the people sentenced are not exactly humane.
Arguments Against Death Penalty
Most importantly people should understand that certainty of punishment and not severity is the real deterrent to crime. The death penalty is unjust and inhumane. Miscarriage of justice is, in fact, one of the biggest concerns about the death penalty. Unfortunately, even in 21st century, someone could be wrongly hanged. Studies conducted by Amnesty International have shown that the process of deciding who should be on death row is arbitrary and biased.
It is a fallacy to think that one killing can be avenged with another. For, capital punishment is merely revenge masquerading as justice. Especially, in a country like India where free legal aid is, at best a mockery to the system, there is no denying the fact that most of those waiting death sentence are of weaker backgrounds.
The debate over capital punishment has been raging on for countless number of years. Yes, it is right that death sentence is not the solution to the increase in crimes. But, at the same time we should not ignore the fact that capital punishment has been used for thousands of years due to the fear it inflicts on the people who witness and learn about the death penalty. The use of this punishment has helped to reduce crime and alter the minds of future criminals to deter them against committing heinous crimes. But, it should be given in the rare of the rarest cases after proper investigation of the criminal’s offence.