Yakub hanging: India must rethink its capital punishment policy

  • Raj Kalra & Ash Murthy
  • Updated: Aug 05, 2015 03:25 IST

In the early hours of July 30, India, on behalf of all of us, hanged Yakub Memon for abetting a series of bomb blasts that killed over 250 people. But what did we gain by hanging Memon after he spent two decades in solitary confinement?

Did it rid India of all future terrorist attacks?

Of course he had abetted one of the most horrendous crimes in India’s history, but by executing Memon, we have only tilted the scales of our justice system towards retribution, instead of redress.

No matter the crime, the death penalty is the ultimate form of cruel punishment, and has no place in the criminal justice system of any modern democracy.

From the medieval days of sentencing prisoners to gladiator fights to India’s pre-colonial days of elephant-trampling executions, modern societies have tried to make the death penalty appear more civilised than it actually is. Yet, the death penalty is inhumane, regardless of its disguise.

Despite the inherent cruelty of the death penalty, the desire for retribution against hardened criminals may be understandable, if not justified.

Yet, we often forget that justice systems around the world are flawed, and false convictions occur more often that we would like to believe.

A recent study appearing in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that about 4% of capital convictions in the US are false.

In societies riven by poverty and corruption, such as ours, this possibility is likely to be much higher.

Setting aside the philosophical and moral reasons against the death penalty, Memon’s execution is a bad decision for pragmatic reasons.

Many on social media hoped that Memon’s execution would deter further terrorism in the country, but ironically, his execution can instead be a catalyst.

However unjustified the crime, Memon’s hanging has drawn our attention to the original sin that led to the bomb blasts — the demolition of the Babri mosque and the subsequent religious riots that killed over 1,000 people.

Whether or not Memon’s religion played a role in his path to the gallows, the sharp contrast of his fate to those accused of demolishing the mosque and instigating the Gujarat riots will only deepen the communal divide that split India in the past decade.

Unfortunately, this vicious cycle will reinforce feelings of disenchantment toward the Indian judiciary and executive.

The world is divided on the use of the death penalty, with two-thirds of the world having abolished it, de facto or de jure.

It is too late to undo Memon’s hanging, but it is not too late for India to rethink its capital punishment policy.

It is time India joined the right side of the divide by sentencing the death sentence to death.

Raj Kara is a US-based attorney and Ash Murthy is a software engineer and freelance writer
(The views expressed by the authors are personal)

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