The judgment on the16th December 2012 Delhi gang rape case awarding death penalty to all four accused seems to have brought finality to the cries for justice. While this judgment is found to be in consonance with the majority’s demand, PUDR yet again reaffirms its stand on the futility of capital punishment.
In opposing the punishment of death to the four accused, we do not defend the crime for which they have been penalized. PUDR believes that the act committed by the accused was a brutal, inhuman, gruesome act that called for serious punishment. However, we are convinced that death penalty cannot be the answer. It is important to consider the purpose of punishment in determining its nature. We reiterate that the purpose of any punishment is not vengeance but construction of conditions that enable transformation of the guilty, who must expiate the harm done by them. The idea of retributive justice embodied by death penalty is against the very idea of justice, which is reduced to an act of taking away a life to avenge the loss of another.
Our opposition to death penalty is a principled one that argues against its deployment even in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases as there can be no definitional understanding of the said clause. Anything and everything could be brought within its ambit. There has been no substantial empirical ground to prove any link between death penalty and deterrence, an argument often floated to justify death sentence. Death sentence is irreversible and leaves no scope for correctives in case of an error in judgment. It is also our understanding based on subjective evidence that the award of death penalty is predominantly reflective of the class and caste biases prevalent in our society. The dominant sections and power holders get away with the same crime for which those on the margins are awarded death sentence.
Because we are against death penalty as a legally sanctioned murder by the State of someone under its custody for the above-mentioned reasons, we oppose its deployment in the present case as well. Death sentence in this case has also completely absolved the state of misperformance of law and order functions. The fact that the gang rape was facilitated by lapses on the part of (also in compliance with) authorities, be it the traffic administration or police, has completely been eliminated. While the alacrity, speed and seriousness with which this case has been brought to a conclusion are noteworthy, the same should mark all similar cases where a women’s body is violated and her life is snuffed out only to assert false male-superiority.
Death penalty is the propagation of a culture of hate. It infuses a sense of vengeance in society and reinforces the cycle of violence. PUDR strongly believes that a democratic and just society cannot be envisioned on the idea of retributive justice and disdain for an individual’s right to life. The way forward is the reform of a society infested by a pervert patriarchal psyche, which is the root cause of brutality against women. The attack must be made on such a mentality and not on a life.
D. Manjit and Asish Gupta