Come the wintry morning of February 1, three of the cruellest and most reviled rapist murderers in history will be hanged by the neck on the gallows of Tihar Jail until they are dead. Their execution brings to a close a horror story whose dark echoes have lasted for over seven years. It also raises the ethical dilemma whether the death penalty is state-sponsored murder and an effective deterrent. In 2018, there were 15,498 murders in the US while only 22 inmates were executed in 2019—a very low rate. Had the judges been less merciful, would murders have been fewer? Ethics campaigners ask, should justice be tempered with mercy?
Yes. Like it’s now.
The hanging of the Nirbhaya monsters proves that justice has been merciful. Merciful to a mother in torment waiting for justice to keep its word. And a death so merciful for the convicts that they should rejoice that they were not born a few centuries ago. Answering civil rights Lotus Eaters who argue that death penalty has no place in civilised society, I say hanging the three is pretty civilised.Civilisation is measured by scale and history’s justice. In ancient Greece and Rome, execution and sadism were inseparable: by the Roman poena cullei law, a parricide was thrust into a sack with a dog, a rooster, a viper and an ape and was thrown into water.
The Romans crucified, drowned at sea, buried alive, beat to death and impaled convicts. Male traitors in England (women were only chivalrously burned) were dragged by a horse to the place of public execution, hanged by the neck until almost dead, removed from the scaffold, stomach cut open and intestines and sex organs removed which were burned next to the half-alive man who was eventually beheaded, and the rest of his body hacked into four parts to be displayed on gibbets. Now that, is not civilised. The penalty of boiling to death for not confessing was approved in Britain in 1531 and records show that some unfortunates were boiled for up to two hours. You could be even burned alive for marrying a Jew. By the 1700s, 222 crimes were punishable by death.
The first recorded death sentence in 16 BC Egypt was comparatively civilised; the convict was ordered to swallow poison. The ancient Indian capital punishment “Gunga Rao” mandated the condemned man’s head to be slowly crushed under an elephant’s foot. Of course in India, can the caste factor be avoided in any social code, including capital punishment? Judge (retd) Dr. Gokulesh Sharma quotes the Arthashastra stipulating that a Sudra who approaches a Brahmin woman is to be burnt alive. So as they take their last walk to the gallows, the three Nirbhaya devils should be thankful that they got off easy.
Ironically, the law has
also denied Nirbhaya complete justice. The most sadistic of the violators roams free—having escaped the noose since he was a juvenile while thrusting a rod into her body and scooping out her entrails—as clear and present danger to women. Where is deterrence? Where is the justice in that?