Death Penalty: Rise of the Bloodthirsty Indian

It's not the quantum of punishment that matters - it's the CERTAINTY of punishment

It’s not the quantum of punishment that matters – it’s the CERTAINTY of punishment
creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by e_monk: http://flickr.com/photos/e_monk/8084554531

It’s about time the government initiated the process for removing the death penalty. As it is, India hardly executes anyone. The courts rarely hand down death sentences and when they do, higher courts tend to invalidate them. And even if those go through, there’s a tortuous process of appeals and the President sits on the paperwork for years upon years leaving the whole thing in limbo. It’s a pretty ridiculous situation – not to mention that the death penalty is one of the stupidest deterrents for crime. At least in India. When criminals are sure that the victim will not register an FIR in the first place, or when the police themselves refuse to register them even when required to do so by law, you think any potential law breaker is worried about the death penalty?

And yet, just take a look at the comments on the TOI article in the first link. Don’t get me wrong – comments on a news website (and TOI comments in particular) are usually a cesspool of vitriol. But I enjoy reading them if for nothing else, than to get an idea of how certain types of people think. Without exception, the comments on that article favor the death penalty. And many of them want to go beyond that for more innovative and barbaric punishments.

Don’t they realize that our justice system is flawed at the very beginning instead of the end? We need police reforms, a better handling of cases at the ground level, more accurate registration of crimes and a proper follow up. We need a separation of the investigative arm and the police wing. We require a complete separation of politics and the police force. We need more policemen, more courts, better pay for the men in uniform, and better training. India has one of the worst proportions of police officers and judges to the population in the world. What are we doing about that?

But these are all difficult changes. Far easier to bay for the death penalty which is so ineffective as a deterrent so as to be almost non existent. I don’t know – maybe it fulfills some primal need for vengeance to have the death sentence on the books. There clearly seems to be a huge disconnect between rational people in India – those who recognize that the death penalty is an anachronism – and those who want us to revert to the barbarity and brutality of the middle ages.

The world as a whole is growing more and more intolerant to crime in general. People often forget that compared to the ancient world, we’re living in a period where crime is at an all time low. And we have achieved this despite doing away with barbaric punishments like chopping off people’s hands, hanging them in front of cheering crowds, and with all other kinds of delightfully innovative tortures. Where then is the correlation between brutality by the law and lower crime rates? There is none!

I’ve talked about it several times before – what works is certainty of punishment, and not how barbaric it is. We already have a scalable penalty system involving jail time and money, both of which can be extended indefinitely. It works well enough. The problem India faces is that criminals are not afraid of getting caught in the first place. Rioters burn and damage public property with impunity, secure in the knowledge that their political bosses will protect them. You think any of them give a damn about jail time?

We need deep and systemic reforms in our justice delivery mechanism. Right from the first contact with the police, to appearances in court, as well as the sheer time and effort necessary to pursue even the most trivial of cases. There’s no shortcut, and no getting away from the hard work we need to do. Forget about the death penalty. It’s just an added burden. A distraction. And one which also serves to clog up our justice system.

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