History confuses the present with contrast. The Bible says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13). It also says, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” (Matthew 5:38). The Manusmriti is clearer on crime, deeming that abducting and raping a woman is punishable by death. In his Life of Alexander, Greek historian Plutarch recalls a singular event in the career of one of the most brutal conquerors in history. Alexander’s army would slaughter, loot and rape as they moved from conquest to conquest. In one such incident, Greek soldiers raped Timocleia, a noblewoman of Thebes. Afterwards, they wanted her to reveal the place where the family gold was hidden. She pointed out a well in the garden to their leader. When he went to take a look, she pushed him in and killed him by throwing rocks on his head. The soldiers tied her up and brought her to Alexander, seeking her execution. Hearing her tragic story, the king, whose conquests had caused the deaths of millions, let her go free and ordered her rapists to be executed instead.
Centuries later, in 1996, notorious rapist and murderer Westley Allan Dodd declared in court: “I must be executed before I have an opportunity to escape or kill someone within the prison. If I do escape, I promise you I will kill prison guards if I have to and rape and enjoy every minute of it.” If he managed to escape from jail, he promised to continue “killing and raping kids”. John Frederick Thanos taunted relatives of his victims who had come to witness his execution, “Their cries bring laughter from the darkest caverns of my soul. I don’t believe I could satisfy my thirst yet in this matter unless I was to be able to dig these brats’ bones up out of their graves right now and beat them into powder and urinate on them and then stir it into a murky yellowish elixir and serve it up to those loved ones.”
Do these men deserve to be given the death sentence or not? You decide.
Hectoring cries crowded social media against the death sentence awarded to the four rapist-murderers who tortured and raped the young paramedic on December 16 and discarded her on the road, bleeding and unconscious. The advocates of conscience preached with Shakespearean passion that the quality of mercy is not strained. They questioned the civilisation quotient of a society that allowed capital punishment. This leads us to presume that the juvenile—the most brutal murderer of the five, who violated the girl using an iron rod and is spending a life of comparative ease in a reform home, even granted the services of a tutor to teach him to read and write—also doesn’t deserve the death penalty. Presumably, these voices of ‘conscience’, who fortunately have not experienced similar tragedies themselves, are champions of ‘civilising’ our judicial system. The system has indeed been civilised over centuries. Criminals are no longer executed by the breaking wheel, boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, disembowelment, crucifixion, impalement, crushing, execution by burning, dismemberment, sawing, decapitation, scaphism and blowing from a gun which were once standard punishments. Once stealing and homosexuality invited execution; now death is awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. A murderer or a rapist becomes his own nemesis by committing the crime.
Activists, however, say that capital punishment is not a deterrent. Of course it isn’t. But deterrence is not the purpose behind capital punishment. Justice is. The law is not always about justice, as is evident in the case of the juvenile rapist. The ephemerally noble concept called justice is the taproot of society’s survival. Few repent. The criminal’s victims also include those who have loved the subject of the crime. Justice helps them attain closure. Justice and closure are what the mother of the December 16 victim sought when the four were sentenced to hang. Denying her bewildered, anguished heart is a greater crime than hanging her daughter’s murderers.