Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Abolish-Death-Penalty Movement – Spanner in the Works

The death penalty activists – by that I mean those who are against abolishing death penalty – got a boost for their cause from an unexpected source, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa. The thing is the encouragement came in a roundabout way, so roundabout indeed that the other side of the debate is not even aware that its position is being undermined.
Though I belong to them I do not speak for those who are opposed to death penalty. Beyond the stark matter of capital punishment, there may be differences among them about treating those who would have been murdered through state sanction had there been a provision in law. At one extreme there may be those who seek the release of such prisoners, for whatever reasons. I am not one of them.
By arguing for, demanding and taking action towards release of killers of Rajiv Gandhi, Jayalalithaa has brushed all activists against death penalty with one broad brush – they want no incarceration of those who have committed capital crime, at least beyond a certain number of years. This is not my position.
It now becomes difficult for people like me to argue against death penalty but arguing for life-term incarceration without the possibility of parole. The last proviso acknowledges the phase change between all other crimes and capital crime (one for which the punishment of death is inflicted) of certain level and nature.
But because of the TN Chief Minister’s position, I am clubbed with those who are far extreme towards leniency in the spectrum than I am. I rebel against others putting words into my mouth.
Did the whole thing start with Jayalalithaa? I do not know. Perhaps including “remission” in the judgment delivered by the three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India was the thin end of the wedge. Here too, I am not sure. But, whatever the case maybe, I want it to be known that I am immutably against death penalty and I am far less lenient towards those who would have committed capital crime and who have been saved from the gallows for any reason, including the absence of the penalty in the statute books or inordinate delay in deciding on the mercy petition.
Lest there be a misunderstanding of my position, I call what Jayalalithaa is doing as putting a spanner in the advocacy of people like me.
Raghuram Ekambaram

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