“The death penalty is a macabre folly that swings between tragedy and idiocy. Its continuance is not just imaginary evil, but sovereignly stupid, its termination will not just be nobly clement but wholely and supremely and incontestably intelligent,” observes ‘Gopalkrishna Gandhi’ in his compact, but absorbing work, “Abolishing the Death Penalty”, and he goes to elaborate his theory in six well documented chapters.
In the first chapter, which he opens by saying that murder holds the interest of everyone, both in fiction and real life, he makes a detailed scrutiny of world famous murder cases and concludes, “Birth being the commencement and death the conclusion of life, its foreshortening by a fellow human agency is seen as an abomination”.
The second chapter, ‘Treason’ goes through the instances of death penalty awarded for propagating theories unacceptable to the state or the church or both. Of course, not all cases were innocuous. He cites the instance of seven Talibani gunmen who killed 132 innocent children in a Peshavar School in Pakistan in 2014. Their hanging by the Pakistani government, mentions the author, had ‘brought seeming retributive comfort’ to the hundreds bereaved.
In actuality, the so called enemies of people are in reality the enemies of the ruling power. Retribution, though seems to be soothing at first, leads to a chain of similar acts. “Retribution eats itself, check itself. It defeats itself.” The third chapter goes through the trials, among others, of the abominable cases of Abraham Lincon, Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi and shows in all these cases, there was at least one person who did not deserve to be hanged. He makes a study of Presidents from C. Rajagopalachari to Pranab Mukherjee who had to deal with mercy petitions and shows how their decision was coloured by their own predilections regarding the so called foulness of murder.
In one of the following chapters the author shows that ‘Abolition has been a strong sentiment, powerfully articulated by people of influence and authority’. He goes on to show, by the study of a number of cases, how judicial opinion crystallized into the need on the part for judge for exercising utmost caution and reticence before awarding death penalty, irrespective of the outward appearances regarding the nature of the crime.
All the same, public sentiment in India is becoming more and more death penalty minded, than it ever was. It is now triggered by emotions like anti-terrorism and anti-rapism.
The author repeatedly avers that in the case of death penalty, the intervention of death gives the one penalized no means of knowing he has been punished. The penalty only gratifies primitive sense of vengeance. This is a sense that has to be abhorred.
At one point the author says that though he is out and out an abolitionist, his intention is to go thoroughly into the issue and analyse all sides of it. And he does it admirably well in this presentation and his study of well known cases starting from that of Socrates and going up Indira Gandhi – adds to the readability of the work and enables the reader to think for himself.
All those interested in the abolition or retention of death penalty may do well to give this remarkable work, written in a captivating style, a reading.
– Leslie Amarson.