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'Does capital punishment really act as a deterrent?'

Last updated on: July 12, 2004 16:27 IST

In January 1994, the Calcutta high court sentenced Dhananjay Chatterjee to be hanged until death for raping and then murdering teenager Hetal Parekh on March 5, 1990 in a flat in Kolkata's Bhawanipur area. The Supreme Court later confirmed the sentence.

Ten years after the order was passed, he was to be hanged at the Alipur Central Jail in Kolkata on Friday, June 25, over the objections of human rights groups and prominent personalities who oppose capital punishment.

Now, friends, relatives, even some jail inmates have petitioned President A P J Abdul Kalam pleading that Chatterjee's death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. On the other hand, Hetal's well-wishers are adamant that he be hanged. presents the arguments for and against capital punishment.

Senior Supreme Court advocate Kamini Jaiswal is against capital punishment:

I would like to put it this way: Do we as a State have a right to take someone's life?

I agree that the death sentence is passed in cases where the crimes committed are most horrendous and heinous. Everyone in society is very worked up about the rape and killing of the 14-year-old girl.

I would say that rape of any woman is as dastardly as this particular case. Rape coupled with murder makes it more heinous. But are we really setting an example by taking the life of an individual or by hanging the culprit? Has experience shown that the death sentence acts as a deterrent?

Normally, hanging is the punishment for serial killers, psychopaths or in case of terrorist violence in which a large number of people have died. In cases pertaining to individuals, death sentences are rare.

In case of a serial killer, the man has lost his balance of mind. A normal person would kill another person except out of reasons of animosity, jealousy etc. But if there is no reason, then that person needs treatment.

In case of terrorists, experience has shown that the death sentence has not yielded the desired results. They are not deterred because they kill for a cause.

And what if an innocent person is hanged? Every innocent life lost would produce ten more terrorists.

By executing someone you are not solving the problem because it continues to exist even after the convict has been hanged to death. You are only doing away with the person who committed the crime.

You are not making his life miserable because he is dead and gone. You are making the lives of those left behind miserable. You are, in fact, punishing those who have done nothing wrong while the convict is relieved of his agony.

The need is to change the thinking of the person concerned and the punishment should be life imprisonment without remission.

Also, the convict should be made to work and earn for himself instead of being fed at the expense of the State. Some part of what he earns should be given to his family outside the jail.

Another important factor that should be kept in mind is the quality of our investigations.

We know how our police functions. We know how innocent persons are caught and convicted while the rich and famous get away with murder. We have worse cases where people in power have raped women and murdered them. Why have we not hanged them?

Instead, they are given high positions.

Under the circumstances, the death sentence should not be given to anyone.

Kamini Jaiswal spoke to Onkar Singh in New Delhi

Also Read: Why senior Supreme Court advocate Ashok Arora favours capital punishment

Debate: Capital punishment