Thursday, August 12, 2004

About those who 'deserve' to die

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.


Anonymous said...

it is true that justice is merely a concept – money is the reality.
it doesn’t matter how someone dies – its how he lives that we should be concerned with.
a 30 year old man who rapes and kills a 14 year old girl (who ravishes justice did you say?) doesn’t deserve to let the government spend money feeding him till the end of his days! the earlier one eliminates him – the cheaper and better it is is what i say.
ten years of appealing and waiting was the crime in my opinion – they should’ve tortured the bloke till they got ready to hang him.
regret you mentioned? ha ha dear ms. mp - usually it is said – more than the things you do – it is the things you didn’t do that you regret! gt

Anonymous said...

The best argument against the death penalty is surely the fact that the wrong person might be hanged? This happens far too often - even in developed countries with highly-efficient and "fair" justice systems.

In India, miscarriage of justice in this fashion is a frighteningly likely possibility: there is a heinous crime, the police find a likely scapegoat and pin it on him. "In the name of the republic, justice is served". (They used to guillotine in Pondi/ Chandanagar until the mid 1950s with the District Magistrate muttering this classic catchphrase).

In cases like Dhananjoy where there is really little doubt about the man's guilt, the arguments pro/con execution are v. abstract.

Anonymous said...

to abstract controversial issues is to hide behind the need to take a side. i maintain that acts of violence like rape need to be appropriately dealt with to ensure that they are not promoted further in the society (to illustrate this – think of the other extreme for e.g. imagine if rape was a “small felony” - like driving through a stop sign – you get caught – you get a ticket all is ok ) how would you feel to know that your 14 year old cousin is playing at your doorstep and mr. d is the security guard in your premise? the point is that deliberate heinous crimes that affect innocent victims need to be forcefully dealt with to prevent their spread. a solution needs to be empowered.

Marginalien said...

This issue of 'heinous-ness' (heinity?) is worth attention -- how do we decide that something or other is heinous? I am surprised to find that so many people apparently consider Dhananjay's crime to belong to the 'rarest of rare' category which (in India) is believed to make it suitable for consideration as a capital offence. There are, after all, COUNTLESS (some statistics suggests a rate of one-a-day dowry murder for Delhi alone) examples of in-laws who oppress and torture young brides who do not bring in adequate dowries.

We know of these situations, most often, when they culminate in the murder or suicide of the bride. I think it is safe to assume that many such marriages very likely involve marital rape -- which is surely the same as any other type of rape ... or is it? Does marriage sanctify the sort of behavior that in the case of a Dhananjoy is considered 'heinous' to the max? Is there a view that rape and/or murder within the confines of a family's inner walls isn't really heinous at all? Is it better to be damaged by someone known than someone unknown? Is it possible that the Dhananjoys of the world are used as scapegoats for all the victimizers who can't be brought to justice because there are too many of them?

Anonymous said...

to diminish d's act because others involved with barbQ brides are condoned is mixing the issues up. a grown up man is caught in raping and KILLING an innocent girl - i'd go with " off with his head" in alice's famous words. are you familiar with the statistics of repeat sexual offenders? more than 70% of them perform the acts again. (your honour - i couldn't help it - the skirts, the sarees...) there is an alternative - which is voluntary castration... apparently the testosterone et al get flowing affecting the central nervous system -and the rest is history or rather herstory after that. apparently very few offenders go for that alternative.
rape is an act of violence and it is ofcourse un42n8 that it is so prevalent in our society - and that the system allows it to such a high degree in india - which in fact further reiterates my slant towards the death penalty. Recalling the statistics you quote - i would further propose that promulgating the notion that convicted parties involved with the human roasting should be eligible for execution might infact serve as a powerful determent on its own - obviously current status quo isn't working right? gt

Marginalien said...

Oo cool -- whole families swinging from the gallows! We could extend and refine this idea by permitting the families of fried brides to despatch evil in-laws by whatever method was used to murder the girls. It could get to be quite entertaining! Whole villages might go up in flames, whole neighbourhoods of South Delhi and elsewhere would be depopulated. You should suggest this to Family Planning agencies, gt ... I can just see the slogan: She Fries, Nation Thrives.

Anonymous said...

I like the concept of 14-year-old cousins! Let's consider some more scenarios with a death penalty thrown in.
A) Your 14-year-old cousin is playing, D is the guard, the cousin is hit on the head from behind and raped. You have clout and pressurise the cops. D is picked up and hanged to the satisfaction of all, especially your neighbour who has actually done the dirty deed. (To add a little spice to the basics, assume your 14-year-old coz is male because we can then fiddle around with the Unnatural Practices Act as well).

b) Your neighbour has a running battle with you about, let's say parking rights, and a new draconian rape law is passed. She says Yippee! and promptly accuses you of rape- there is corroborative evidence of bad blood between you because you've had public arguments, and your neigbour has clout. What's your last request?

C)You have a running battle with your neighbour and also have clout. You promise your 14-year-old Coz a new PS2 console and set things up. See where this is going?

We can rock and roll all night long with interesting scenarios - none of which are impossible in the Indian context.