Introspection time

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By: Anand Pahuja

The pathological joy among the people and bystanders in anticipation of an imminent execution is a key to the continuation of the death rap in a collectively uncivilised world,” said French existentialist Albert Camus, in ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’. What the great existentialist wrote decades ago is happening exactly with the same gusto in India as the whole nation is eagerly awaiting the imminent executions of four convicts in Nirbhaya rape and murder case that took place on a wintry night in December 2012. Is not this morbid enthusiasm regarding the judicial elimination of four people a macabre sign of the ghastly times we are living in? Very recently, the whole nation rejoiced in the extrajudicial killings of four rapists by Hyderabad police and now the whole country is gloating over the sealed fate of Nirbhaya’s killers. Does capital punishment have a place in a civilised society? Is death rap a deterrent to heinous crimes? These are the pertinent questions that are raising their heads amidst the hullabaloo related to custodial killings and hangings.

Most of the countries in the western hemisphere have abolished death rap. England did away with it in 1965 following an innocent person’s hanging. Only a few states in the US still retain capital punishment. The uncouth Arab and Islamic nations still decapitate the convicts in public. The point is: What purpose does capital punishment serve? Rapes, murders and highway robberies (yes, an armed robbery also deserves capital punishment) are still happening at regular intervals in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that perpetrators are beheaded publicly? Till 1850, Britain publicly hanged culprits for pick-pocketing. Onlookers would throng to see the spectacle of public hanging and they used to be so engrossed and oblivious in watching the horrific and blood-curdling spectacle that they would not know that miscreants among the crowd pick-pocketed them. English Nobel laureate and one of the greatest minds of the last century Sir Bertrand Russell observed that capital punishment actually had a reverse and anti-climax effect on the future criminals and perpetrators. It instigates some of the hardcore criminals for an audacious encore.

Sigmund Freud and his student C V Jung termed this phenomenon as criminal reenactment paving the way for a destined adventurous end. To many hardened criminals, execution is the eventual crimino-orgasmic experience and the ultimate reason to long for. The Execution Diary of the US Federal Court reported in 1974 that in more than hundred instances (precisely, 131) of the ‘judicial’ death by hanging across the world, executed convicts ejaculated when the noose was tightened around their necks. Mind you, they didn’t urinate in fear.   The complex death-wish or Thanatos (criminal harakiri /Thanatos is the god of death in Greek mythology) galvanises them to commit a heinous crime that warrants execution. So, to such humans, in lieu of being a deterrent, capital punishment is a veritable boon or blessing. Human brain works in a very intricate manner. We have not yet been able to understand the modus operandi of human brain comprehensively. In an interview to BBC in 1970, Agatha Christie, the Queen of detective novels, advised the ‘civilised’ world not to continue with the antediluvian practice of capital punishment for, it stoked the basest emotions of both the convicts and the citizens.

Psychology apart, capital punishment has profound ethical and judicial issues. How can a state, supposed to protect its people, ‘officially’ and ‘judicially’, eliminate one or a few of them, however execrable his/their act may have been? Capital punishment satiates the collective desire of the people, who think only in terms of a revenge. They cannot go beyond the immediate vindictiveness of their psyche. The general public only has mono-track access to the act and is not in the know of the concomitant circumstances and the extenuating factors. To them, tit for tat is the order of the day. But the law in a civilised society cannot and should not give any significance to the so-called public conscience as we all saw in the case of Afzal Guru, who was hanged in February 2013 for the attack on Parliament in the wake of public uproar. And what we call justice is actually yet another name of retribution. It is like Qeesas in Arabic jurisprudence: eye for an eye. But if that is applied, will not we render the whole world blind? The revengeful nature of capital punishment is a throwback to our troglodyte past. It reminds us of the savagery of our cave-dwelling existence. There’s a sanguinary streak in all of us. That bloody streak needs regular episodes and doses of bloodletting. An execution, therefore, seems an ideal source of satisfaction for that ingrained proclivity.

Czech writer Milan Kundera summed it up so nicely, “We are all, including our judicial system, law and government, like Romans. We feel contended when a gladiator is gored or impaled on an iron rod or a convict’s limbs are ritualistically dismembered. There is a beast hidden even in the best of us.” That we are awaiting the D-Day of the execution of the four convicts at Tihar jail is a sign that we are collectively happy over something we should actually be feeling sad and sombre about. It is a time for introspection. The ubiquitous media is also intensifying our longings to see them hanged and relegating the whole caboodle to a public carnival of masqueraded mass criminality. This disgusts all sane people. But the question is: are there sane people left on earth? So long as we remain stuck in the mould of revenge and so-called ‘equal’ justice, we will continue to be rejoicing in such brutal punishments and debasing ourselves. INAV

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