‘Capital punishment unacceptable’

Print edition : August 21, 2015

IN the context of the recent case involving Yakub Memon who was awarded the death sentence by a special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act or TADA court for his role in the Mumbai bombings of 1993, Rajya Sabha member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Kanimozhi Karunanidhi has called for the complete abolition of the death penalty from the statute books. In response to a questionnaire that was part of a consultation paper of the Law Commission of India on the abolition of capital punishment, Kanimozhi has made it amply clear that she is against capital punishment in any circumstance. She shared her responses to the Law Commission with Frontline by email. Arguing in favour of abolishing capital punishment, she said there was no conclusive proof that capital punishment acted as a deterrent against future crimes. “It imposes hardship and trauma for the convict’s family who may have had no role in the crime and confuses the idea of retribution with justice, and society must move away from the conception of an eye for an eye,” she said.

It also deprives people of the opportunity to reform, she added, pointing out that most countries had abolished capital punishment. She also said the imposition of capital punishment was not free from risk as there was a chance of innocent people being sentenced to death and that the application of capital punishment was too judge-centric and depended on a judge’s personal belief in the matter. Kanimozhi also said economically and socially backward groups would always be at a greater risk of being subjected to capital punishment than the rich.

Capital punishment is a form of state-sponsored violence and the mode of execution itself, of hanging by the neck until death, is cruel, she said. It is barbaric and does not belong in a civilised society. “No mode of execution can be acceptable. Any technique used to take away life is nothing short of barbaric, is against universal human rights principles and has no place in modern society.”

Like others who have pointed out the imperfections in the system of investigation, Kanimozhi held that “current techniques of crime investigation and evidence collection are prone to errors, which may lead to false convictions. In such cases, awarding capital punishment would amount to irreparable damage.”

There is always the possibility of erroneous conviction, which is an important reason why capital punishment should not be an option of punishment. In 2012, she said, 14 retired judges had written to the President of India pointing out erroneous death penalty judgments given to some 15 persons in the last two decades. “While no system is infallible, we must ensure that precious lives must not fall victim to the deficiencies of the system,” she said.

On whether a sentence of life imprisonment could be an alternative to capital punishment, Kanimozhi averred that the sentence of life imprisonment or “full life” as suggested by the Supreme Court in Swamy Shraddananda vs State of Karnataka (2008) was sufficient as the maximum punishment that could be awarded.

On whether murder was as severe and abhorrent as an act of terrorism, she said both were severe and abhorrent acts and deciding the magnitude should depend on the facts of the case. “But neither crime can justify awarding capital punishment.”

To a query on whether crimes mandating capital punishment require a higher burden of proof over and above proof beyond reasonable doubt, the MP categorically stated that even with a higher burden of proof, “there is no place for capital punishment in a civilised society. The state has no right to take the lives of its subjects under any circumstance.”

In India, the Supreme Court has the power to confirm or reject a death sentence handed out by lower courts. Most people from the weaker sections of society would not be able to effectively contest their case in the Supreme Court, she said. In response to a question whether the recent Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which introduced capital punishment for the repeat offence of rape (Section 376E), and whether capital punishment should extend to non-homicide offences, Kanimozhi reiterated that “capital punishment should be removed from the statute books altogether”.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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