By Nithin Sridhar
With Yakub Memon being hanged till death on 30th July morning, the debate about capital punishment has again taken the spotlight. Many intellectuals have criticized not only the hanging of Yakub Memon, but also the very system of capital punishment. The present article aims to analyze some of these arguments against the capital punishment.
But before analyzing the arguments against the capital punishment, we should first briefly look into the role of punishment in justice system as understood in western and Indian traditions.
The role of punishment in society
In the west, many philosophers and thinkers have written about the concept of punishment and justice.
Hegel argued that a crime is an infringement of rights and this can be erased only by infringing the rights of the criminal through the infliction of punishment.
Similarly, Igor Primoratz says that punishment is morally justified as long as it is just and that it is just when it is delivered to a person who has committed an offense. He further states that justice is not being done, if the guilty goes unpunished.
Therefore, the purpose of punishment is to make the criminal undergo hardship for the pain and suffering he has caused to his victim and this punishment should be proportional to the hardship he has caused to his victims.
Beccaria argues that the purpose of punishment is two-fold: to prevent the criminal from committing fresh crimes and to deter other people from committing those crimes. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says: "A liberal justification of punishment would proceed by showing that society needs the threat and the practice of punishment, because the goal of social order cannot be achieved otherwise and because it is unfair to expect victims of criminal aggression to bear the cost of their victimization."
Therefore, in the western tradition of thinkers and law makers, various arguments have been provided for the necessity of punishment in delivering justice and maintaining social order. These include punishing a criminal for a crime already committed, punishing a criminal to prevent him from committing crimes in future, to deter others from committing such crimes and to give justice to the innocent victims who have suffered.
A similar view can be seen as being expressed by Indian thinkers and law makers as well. Various Smriti and dharma-shastras(i.e. books dealing with law, morality, dharma etc.) deal with the duties of the king and the importance of punishment which is called as "danda". For example, Manu says that anarchy will lead to the spread of fear among the common people (as there is no one to protect them), therefore, a king (i.e. a government) is necessary. He further says that the concept of punishment i.e. danda has been introduced so that the king (i.e. a government) can protect its citizens as only due to the fear of punishment will people involve in the practice of their own duties without resorting to adharma (unrighteousness). That is, the mechanism of punishment will ensure that people do not harm others or infringe the rights of others as its adharma and hence punishable.
Therefore, the role of punishment according to Indian worldview is four-fold: it protects the innocent, it punishes the criminals, it deters others from committing crimes out of fear of punishment, and it ensures social order by helping people practice their own duty peacefully.
Hence, we can safely conclude that "Punishment" is very vital for a harmonious functioning of a society. Now, let us look at some of the arguments made against capital punishment:
Therefore, it can be easily seen that many arguments against death penalty do not hold when analyzed from a larger perspective. These arguments of pacifism and blanked opposition to capital punishment can easily be applied to any kind of punishments. And if the mechanism of punishment itself is removed based on these arguments, then the society will end up in chaos and anarchy, where criminals will have a free run and masses will suffer. Though no person or institution has a moral right to take another's life, yet capital punishment is necessary for the sake of protection of the innocent, punishment of the criminals and for the prevention of whole society from falling into crime.
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NewsGram.)