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Doctrine of Torture and Kill
|by BS Murthy|
That hundred and forty years after Fyodor Dostoyevsky enlightened us against capital punishment, we still persist with it in some parts of our planet, belies our insensitivity towards the sensitivities of these condemned by the justice system of our own making. What Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin said in The Idiot then is something forever,
Even in terms of legal equity, the capital punishment, in the rarest of the rare cases, is untenable in our country, where criminals routinely manage to slip through the yawing gaps in our investigative mechanism or evade prosecution exploiting the loopholes in our criminal justice system, where the apathetic prosecution procedure enables the indicted to obtain bail, albeit after a short stint at the goal as under-trials, and to remain at large thereafter, where life-imprisonment for murder means but a fourteen-year sentence, which might get curtailed by the whim of a payroll, born out of the fancy of a political expediency. Given the realities of criminality, the fallacy of the advocacy of capital punishment should be apparent for the informed, whose clarion call should be for the speedy trial and effective incarceration in our country.
Be that as it may, unmindful of the realities of crime and punishment, it is the penchant of the proponents to view capital punishment as a means of deterrence to murder. While the spirit of the statute is to ensure the right to life etc. of the citizens, it is but a naïve argument that without the capital punishment in place everyone would be at each others’ throat. It is worth noting that in spite of the well-meaning rent control act, which in practice proved to be inimical to the landlords, they are not known to take recourse to violence to evict the tenants. And notwithstanding the statutory provisions of divorce for infidelity, an odd man still murders his unfaithful wife. So, it is not the laws, sound or otherwise, that condition the reactions of the involved but it is the individual mind-set that shapes one’s reaction to the perceived injustices. Thus, while the presence of the capital punishment on the statute has not obliterated the murderous mind-set in some, so its absence from it is not going to make us murderers all. On the other hand, it is the mind-set of the murderer that defines his life as a lifer - lack of remorse and the absence of repentance would ensure a troubled existence, a life-long punishment by itself, self-imposed at that.
In its primitive form, laws were made to punish those crossing the legal boundaries drawn around individual social spaces and invariably it was the have-nots who were left catching the wrong end of the legal stick of trespass. Why, in the 19th Century England, many a hapless and hungry ended up on the gallows for stealing, believe it, a loaf of bread! If the harshness of the sentence mirrors the ‘unjustness’ of that age, that someone was caught in the act of pick-pocketing at the public hanging of a pick-pocket exposes the ‘naiveness’ of the ‘death as deterrent’ supposition. Well, it is other times now when ‘justice’ does not seek gallows for the ‘haves’ who bungle public money in billions in white-collar crimes. Lest our own posterity should perceive us as barbarous forbearers, we must bring the curtains down on the obnoxious capital punishment - murder most foul - by understanding the underlying absurdity of it all.
It is averred that only by hanging the murderer that the deceased’s ends of justice would be met. Going by this analogy, God must be hanged over and again to meet the ends of justice of those who perish in the Act of God Perils such as typhoons, floods et al. How absurd. The cruelty of the capital punishment lies not only in inflicting an unnatural death upon the convict but also in the inimical life he is forced to lead before it ends on the gallows. As Shakespeare averred, “death, a necessary end, will come when it will come” but the thought of the ‘inevitable death’ never bothers us, the free men, to bog us down in our life till the very end that is. It is not hard to imagine that a convict on the death row is condemned to live with death on his mind devoid of the blessing of life-hope, which is but ‘living in torture’. So, the mercy that death shows man, is denied to the convict on the death row, and that makes the capital punishment, murder most foul – torture and kill.
Arguably, the ‘catch and hang’ Kangaroo trial saves the convict from the mental torture of the pre-gallows incarceration but our judicial sensibilities would rather have a free and fair trial, prolonged though, to ensure that no innocent gets punished even at the cost of letting off a dozen guilty. Well but of what avail is the ‘fair procedure’ that unwittingly sanctifies cruelty towards the convicted and whither goes the judicial sensitivity when it comes to letting the convict rot in the cell robbed of his hope before the hangman snuffs out his hope-less life?
We have the last word of Prince Myshkin, penned by the genius of Dostoyevsky, “I believe that to execute a man for murder is to punish him immeasurably more dreadfully than is equivalent to his crime. A murder by sentence is far more dreadful than a murder committed by a criminal. The man who is attacked by robbers at night, in a dark wood, or anywhere, undoubtedly hopes and hopes that he may yet escape until the very moment of his death. There are plenty of instances of a man running away, or imploring for mercy — at all events hoping on in some degree — even after his throat was cut. But in the case of an execution, that last hope —having which it is so immeasurably less dreadful to die, — is taken away from the wretch and CERTAINTY substituted in its place! There is his sentence, and with it that terrible certainty that he cannot possibly escape death — which, I consider, must be the most dreadful anguish in the world. You may place a soldier before a cannon’s mouth in battle, and fire upon him — and he will still hope. But read to that same soldier his death-sentence, and he will either go mad or burst into tears. Who dares to say that any man can suffer this without going mad? No, no! it is an abuse, a shame, it is unnecessary — why should such a thing exist?”
What else is the capital punishment that punishes those with ‘death on their mind’ twice for the same crime - with long imprisonment followed by execution - but the doctrine of torture and kill?
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