Straight Angle™: Is legal murder a retribution to an illegal one?
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Is legal murder a retribution to an illegal one? 

I am asking this question after hearing and seeing the news about the judgment in Priyadarshani Mattoo's murder case. And I am particularly unhappy that the judgement was hailed as "Justice" and a pointed reference made to the fact that it is capital punishment.

I had never been a votary for capital punishment. As I said here and here, death cannot avenge death. As I kept listening to the news and the commentaries being made in the media, I can't help but feel sad that we as a Society had long lost the concept of tolerance and we are no better than barbarians. I am not saying what Santhosh Singh did was correct or right- far from it. I strongly condemn his actions. I also know that condemnation would not be enough. But to avenge one death with another is hardly the way to go.

I was completely appalled to hear words like "Now, Priyadarshani's soul would rest in peace", "Justice delayed is not Justice denied"- What is Justice for these people? If you mean punishment by killing is Justice, then I would rather say we are not a civilized society. Why should we let the soul rest in peace by killing another one? If what Santhosh Singh did was wrong, is it any more right what we do? He was convicted 15 days before and there was no news of Justice delayed or Justice delivered. The media wanted him to die and only when they got the punishment, they pronounced the verdict as Justice.

We use our legal systems to pronounce who deserves to live and who doesn't. If we say what Santhosh Singh did was wrong, then how do we reconcile to what we are doing, as a sane, mature civilized society? Killing him with legal impunity. I would rate this as a more cold blooded murder than the one that Santhosh Singh did. To pre-determine a murder, to execute it to the precision of a executioner- this is what we are doing as a Society.

I want to make it clear again- I am not saying that punishment is bad- what I am saying is, Capital Punishment is wrong- morally. I wonder if the same news reporters and channels would say "Justice delivered", had the punishment been something of a life imprisonment for 200 years or so?. There can be a thousand wounded hearts wanting retribution for all sort of injustice. So if all of them prefer to answer in terms of death, then will it be fine or will it be justice then too? What lets us assume the role and power of deciding on an individual's right to live? I accept what Santhosh Singh did was a heinous crime- my point of contention is that, we are not any less heinous by hanging him to death!

Here, the media had already decided on what should be the punishment and they were only too happy to see it coming along. If this is the retribution for rape and murder (supposedly deserving death), then how can we ever condemn violence for retribution (assumed or otherwise). I can see the media's wish written all over, when there were words like "Soul rest in peace", "other victims can look forward to justice". What is the point that we are making? That we need to be reminded that our judicial system needs to hang someone to let others know that they too will be hung?

Hadn't we already hung Auto Shankar? Why hadn't it deterred others like him from committing a similar crime? If we think that we can deter crimes by punishment, we are obviously wrong. If that is the case, there should be no crime at all, for we had been hanging criminals for quite sometime now. What are we letting ourselves believe. I see a very basic flaw in our logic. We condemn revenge, we condemn violence, we condemn killing. But all these are fair and fine when done in the name of Law.

So, we legalize murder- Our way of rendering Justice!

Update: I am having an online discussion with a bunch of friends on this issue and the sort of observations that had come ranges from:
  1. I agree to the punishment.
  2. I agree that capital punishment is bad, but in this case, that is the only punishment possible.
  3. I agree that capital punishment is bad not because we are killing him, but he would have to undergo a harsher punishment all life than be killed at one go!
These are responses not from any uneducated person. All of these are from people highly educated and in decent positions in Society. I am really appalled at the sense of revenge that we have (on behalf of the victim). While I completely understand their sympathies with the victim, they miss the point that what they are doing is exactly the same thing that they are opposing!

There were responses to the effect that even our Gods were killing (Rama killed Ravana, Krishna killed Kamsa etc, etc). Now, that leads me to think, have we ever made a God that doesn't threaten us with death or destruction for wrong deeds? Or is there any God that doesn't punish? and for that matter does God have the right to take ones life for the crime that he/she does? Can there be a God that doesn't punish a person and still remain a God- Wait..I am digressing.

Now, there were responses to the effect that we can't waste tax payers money on putting criminals like these in prisons and feed them till death! This lack of sensitivity to a person's life and the assumption that food, shelter and clothing are the only needs of a human being baffles me. There were also responses to the effect that we don't have a better option than death. This is even more saddening- We seem not to have a better option than killing a person for a rape and murder case.

This reminds me of the CNN-IBN coverage of the story, where the news reader kept repeating the point that this case is a "Rape and Murder" case, whereas some committee had suggested that there can be no capital punishment for only a rape case. Hardly makes any difference. And add that to some panel members comment that rapists should not be pardoned. Is it because, unconsciously and/or subconsciously we still place a heavy premium of the sexual purity of women? Had it been a molestation of a man by the same person and subsequent murder, would we still call for capital punishment? [To be updated as I get more thoughts and more responses]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We think you are correct..!
Lock them up for ever rather than killing them!

10/31/2006 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry dear i feel that Santhosh singh moved from civilized to barbaric state so a civilized punishment dooesn't do any good at all.And on the other hand we have one barbarian eliminated to feel better in a civilized society.So i feel absoultely right about the capital punishment and if u feel it's wrong think yourself on the shoes of a father of that girl or a close relative of her.In that instance not only he is barbaric he will even turn you into a barbaric one.So never spoil our civilized society.

-Vinod Sridhar S

11/01/2006 4:03 AM  
Blogger Cogito said...

Very well said. I have felt a lot of times the same way.

The fundamental question is " Is strong punishment a deterrent for this kind of a crime ? " .Will there be more murders if we abolish capital punishment ? How can we guarantee the "right to live" for innocent people and at the same time penalize heinous crime ?

The answers to the above questions aren't easy.We as a society need to answer them.

11/01/2006 6:55 AM  
Blogger Krish said...

@mallu films: :)..welcome aboard!

@Vinod: Well, V, I don't think we need to be barbaric to punish a barbarian..Do you go and bite a dog, if it bites you? A Civilised society is judged by the maturity of its civilisation..not by the tit for tat punishments that it doles out to its individuals. If you say that one barbarian should be eliminated to feel good about the civilization of the civilised society, then I would def question your basic premise of "Civilisation". Before he became barbaric, he too was a part of the same civilised society..n just because he happened to get caught, it doesnt mean that he is the only barbarian in the society!

@Cogito: Thanks. Hard questions indeed..how about leaving him/her stranded in the international waters in a boat and food supply for a day? Would that be a suitable option??

11/02/2006 2:58 AM  
Anonymous Avis said...

Nice points made, but then again, they r individualistic. as much as i wish it happens to nobody, the so called phrase "being in the victim's shoes" makes me think what i wud have done. i blv laws has been put forth by people like us only, trying to reach a consensus, and i feel, i repeat i feel, kudos to them for playing the phrase perfectly !! i dont support capital punishment until the crime has been proven, but yes, once it has been done, i totally blv in one of the comments made above that barbaric acts need to b punished, perhaps with the worst one u can find...but having said all this, thr r always two sides of a coin, and these r my views.....classical case of "eye for an eye" or "cheek for a slap" !!!

11/07/2006 10:07 AM  

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