I am feeling very disappointed that the appeals seeking to stay the execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a 42-year-old man convicted of raping and murdering a 15-year-old schoolgirl have been rejected. He was sentenced ten years ago, and various appeals have dragged on and on. Finally all his chances have been used up, and he is to hang on Saturday the 14th.
It seems to me perverse and illogical to grant the State the right to destroy human lives while expecting individuals to observe the sanctity of life. On tonight's news a statistic revealed that 80 nations of the world have abolished the death penalty, while 78 nations allow it. Clearly the planet is a bit confused about whether or not the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. Most professional authorities maintain that it has never been shown to be an effective deterrent.
Personally I've always felt that the death penalty is in some ways a soft option. A person who knows that he/she will be killed by the State can, in a certain sense, take refuge in that knowledge. He/she may believe that it's better to get a bit of killing and mayhem done, and then be spared a long slow death by old age/disease, by dying on the gallows or by fatal injection. By contrast someone who expects to spend the rest of his/her life languishing in prison -- in some cases, the typical 14 years of a 'life' sentence can be extended -- if caught, may think more carefully about violent crime as a life-style choice.
This is aside from the compassionate argument that everyone should have the right to repent, to reform him/herself and to make over his/her life. I am always astounded and saddened by the simple vengefulness which argues, instead that 'he took a life, so ... his should be taken in exchange'. The fact is, there IS no exchange. The life that was taken remains taken and nothing brings it back.
Then there's the question of how we decide that THIS young man, Dhananjoy, who happens to have been caught and convicted deserves to die, yet there ... and there ... and there -- we see examples (in India at least) of people who are known to have taken lives and yet they walk free. Take the example of the Admiral's grandson who killed six pavement dwellers by running over them with his BMW as they lay asleep on the pavement -- he's free. Or take the case of the politician's son who shot a young woman, Jessica Lal, in a bar, at point-blank range, in full view of other people in the bar, because he was drunk and she told him the bar was closed for the night. He's free. These are both examples from Delhi and in recent years. There are so many others -- there are dacoits and men who've murdered their young wives for dowry and official instigators of violent riots -- and all these people are walking free.
The wrongness of the death penalty is in its finality. Our justice system is so faulty that we only manage to punish the poor and the underprivileged (Dhananjoy's victim went to a convent school and was of a higher social class than him) -- which means that we are more concerned with ordinary vengeance and with scapegoats than with justice. It's as if we believe it's okay to exterminate someone if he's too poor to protect himself -- NOT really because he's a menace to society and NOT because we really care about protecting society from depraved individuals.