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PUCL Bulletin, September 2004

The death sentence

--- By Y.P. Chhibbar

[See also, Mercy petition for Dhananjay Chatterjee click]

Death sentence to Dhananjay Chatterjee has brought to the fore the justifiability or otherwise of death sentence in our country. The PUCL is for abolition of death penalty and is a part of the international movement against it. The Supreme Court of India has held that death sentence should be awarded in “rarest of rare” cases. This in itself is an indication that the court, at the time of delivering the judgement, (was, even if in a half hearted manner) abhorring death penalty. The PUCL thinks that even in such cases death penalty should not be awarded. Modern state should not continue with the practices of the feudal times.

We have chosen a welfare structure of State. A welfare State, instead of taking the life of a citizen, should aim at improving his/her life and values of life. Any person tried and condemned and put in jail should not be written off. The jail has to be a sort of penitentiary. We should be erring if we were to think that condemning a person to death would bring about a change in the society or in the psyche of the criminal.

We know that death sentence has existed in the societies of world for hundreds of years but crime has not gone down. What is more important then continuing the death penalty is the reform of criminal justice system, the reform of jail administration, and bringing about a change in social attitude towards those in prisons.

The system of eye for an eye belongs to the past; it belonged to an autocratic feudal society. We have existed in an independent democratic system that we ourselves created for more than fifty years now. We are a ‘latecomer’ in the comity of independent nations. We have the advantage of introducing and adopting ideas already initiated and tested in other countries. For example where as in England women had to agitate for securing a status equal to men, women in India got it as a matter of course in the new Constitution.

We should evolve a forward-looking ideology of state, which aims at creating atmosphere and structures to take the citizens into new dimensions of personality. If Sir Thomas More could imagine in his Utopia in the 1516 such ideal citizens who, sitting at a round dining table, would be putting food in the next person’s mouth, why can’t a country of the second millennium aim at creating a better citizenry?

Let us discuss about the average citizen also. No one can deny that the common person reacts with anger towards criminals of the type of Dhananjay Chatterjee. Any one who commits such a heinous crime will earn the condemnation of one and all. The common reaction is instantaneous and is in favour of extinguishing the life of such a criminal. State is differently placed. Government as the personification of State cannot, for everything, count hands raised and take decision. As an institution the State (read the Government) has to show leadership to take the society from ‘actual will’ towards ‘real will’.

 

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