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Report No. 35

Topic Number 17

Arguments for abolition

152. Arguments for abolition.-

Arguments for abolition of capital punishment, as put forth in various quarters, may now be summarised.

153. The arguments for abolition are numerous. To facilitate their consideration, it may be convenient first to classify them. First, there is the general argument against retention, based mainly on religious, moral and humanitarian grounds. Next is the group of arguments which emphasises its evil features, namely, that it is immoral, inhuman, irrevocable, and morbid, and leads to injustice. Next in order is a group of arguments, which tries to point out, that its deterrent object is not achieved and its other objects are not praiseworthy.

Then, there are arguments which try to meet some of the contentions advanced by retentionists. Next comes the argument that an experiment of abolition is worth-making, and the argument which takes pains to point out that the substitution of other punishment for the death penalty is worth attempting and desirable, and involves no risk. Lastly, there is the argument that the onus for retention lies upon the retentionists, who have not discharged that onus.

We now proceed to state these arguments in detail.

I. General

154. General.-

"Capital punishment should be abolished because it is a legalised, revengeful and cruel destruction of God's most wonderful creation, the human being.1".

It will be the greatest of dharma to do away with that which does away with life and thus give people a chance to become better, to become improved, giving a chance to people to live in amity, brotherhood, love and affection2.

1. Cf the resolution notified but not moved by Savitry Devi Nigam. This was referred to in her speech on Prithvi Raj Kapoor's resolution, Rajya Sabha Debates, 25th April, 1968, Cols. 483, bottom and 484.

2. Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Rajya Sabha Debates, 25th April, 1958, Col. 435.

155. The question of capital punishment is a question of values, the values we put on human life1.

1. Jaipal Singh, Lok Sabha Debates, 21st April, 1962, Col. 324.

II. Immoral

156. Immoral.-

Capital punishment is morally indefensible. Society has no right to take the life of any person. This is a consideration which is paramount to all other considerations.

It is morally wrong for the State in the name of the law to take life deliberately1.

Capital punishment is morally wrong because it is barbarous and out of step with modern morality and thought2.

1. Ceylon Report, p. 38, et seq, Summary of Arguments, under "Long-term effect"

2. Canadian Report, p. 12, para. 37, starting the argument.

157. In eliminating the criminal, it is stated, the State does not erase the crime, but repeats it1.

1. U.N. Publication (1962), p. 61, para. 222.

III. Inhuman

158. Inhuman.-

Capital punishment is essentially inhuman.

Death penalty is a form of cruelty and inhumanity unworthy of a humane civilization; even the most efficient methods of execution do not result in instantaneous and painless death1.

Humanity demands that capital punishment comes to an end2.

1. U.N. Publication (1962), p. 61, para. 227.

2. Shri Raghunath Singh, Lok Sabha Debates, 21st April, 1962, Col. 308 (in Hindi).

159. Capital punishment is most inhuman. Those who have witnessed the tortuous process know it. The prisoner, if he is to be executed tomorrow morning, is informed, the previous evening,-"Tomorrow morning at 6 O'clock you will be hanged.". This is the first torture. Then his entire family is brought there, even the youngest kid to weep there. Then there is the remaining 12 hours in the night; that kills him hour by hour. In the last half an hour, he is killed minute by minute. If the law abolishes whipping because it is inhuman, how can it permit this legal murder1?

1. Shri Umanath, Lok Sabha Debates, 21st April, 1962, Col. 332.

IV. Non-violence

160. Non-violence.-

Indian ideology is based on non-violence. This is the great ideal which the Father of the Nation kept before us, and if we have any regard and respect for him, death sentence must be immediately removed1.

If "a country physically and morally in shambles, as was Germany in 1948, could abolish the death penalty without any ill effects, this country of ours, the land of Lord Mahabir and Buddha-and of Mahatma Gandhi; the apostles of peace and of Ahimsa should need the continued protection of the hangman?".2

1. Smt. Savitry Devi Nigam, Rajya Sabha Debates, 25th August, 1961, Col. 1692.

2. Shir M.L. Agrawal, Lok Sabha Debates, 24th August, 1956, Cols. 4345 to 4388.

161. Indian tradition is based on reformation of the mind and spirit. Capital punishment was discarded by Gandhiji, who, regarded it as a negation of nonĀ¬violence, and was of the opinion that only God could take away life given by him1. "I do regard death sentence as contrary to Ahimsa. Only he takes life who gives it. All punishment is repugnant to Ahimsa. Under a State governed according to the principles of Ahimsa, therefore, a murderer would be sent to a penitentiary and there given every chance of reforming himself. All crime is a kind of disease and should be treated as such.2".

1. Shri Raghunath Singh, Lok Sabha Debates, 21st April, 1962, Cols. 310 and 311 (in Hindi).

2. This view of Gandhiji, referred to by M.L. Agrawal, Lok Sabha Debates, 24th August, 1956, Cols. 4345 to 4388, is quoted in N.B. Sen (Ed.) Wit and Wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi (1960), p. 67 (New Book Society of India, New Delhi).

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