"You look at the crime and you look at the criminal. If it is a drug dealer who shoots an undercover narcotics officer, he gets the gasoline. If there are two fools who rape a 10-year-old girl and kick her with pointed cowboy boots until her jaws break, then happily, happily, happily lock them up in a gas chamber and listen to them squeak. It's very easy. Their crimes were barbaric. Death is too good for them, far too good, "
– John Grisham to kill a time
Our awareness is at the root of all our decisions. When we think about it, it is our thoughts that make us who we are. It is our thoughts that create societies, rules and laws and the penalty for disregarding these laws. Everything we do, or let do or want to do, is determined by our mindset. Our idea of what is right or just or appropriate is also determined by our thoughts, which is why we often find our thoughts, ideas and ourselves at the opposite pole to another person. This leads us to the inevitable question: what is the difference between our mind and that of a criminal, and who should say whose idea is superior and should prevail over the other?
The death penalty has existed in our society for over 4,000 years – initially for crimes as minor as bread theft, but also for the release of a slave or adultery. It has been used by the most civilized societies and the most distant tribes around the world. It has been used as a deterrent and was an effective measure to contain crime. Today we classify the death penalty as a last resort punishment, reserved for the "rarest of the rare", for crimes that are so diabolical that we as a nation have nightmares, crimes that are so daunting and extreme that they will last for months after the Reporting such crimes occurs a crime that people are reluctant to take to the streets for fear.
December 2012 was such a month. The brutal rape and murder of a 23-year-old graduate in physiotherapy shook the nation to the core. India broke out in anger at the fate of young Nirbhaya, the fearless who died without their guilt, except perhaps because he was gullibly naive in a world where beasts roam freely like their rapists. Today, January 2020, seven full years after her brutal rape and murder, we are still discussing merits for the death penalty. Every time the death penalty is mentioned, we discuss its advantages and disadvantages and ask how we, as a civilized society, advocate death as a form of punishment.
For me it is straightforward. The young woman died innocently. She died an agonizing death that she certainly didn't deserve. The country's Supreme Court, the country's highest court, described the crime against her as "diabolical," for which she paid the highest price. Critics of the death penalty often argue that death as a punishment is not a deterrent, that there is no credible evidence of its effectiveness, that its use has not led to a decrease in crime rates, but the truth is that this is not possible. Take one purely statistical view of the nature of a crime.
As a society, one of our primary duties towards citizens is to protect them. We can discuss the death penalty and (in) humanity for violently robbing the life of a person who is considered to be incapable, but society works on the basis of a greater common good, the greater good of a larger number of people. If the actions of a member of society irrefutably and irrevocably pose a serious threat to society as a whole and they are classified as going beyond reform, the only logical way is to remove the threat.
(Pinky Anand is a senior lawyer who acts as an additional Attorney General of India.)