Abolish Death Penalty

Two specialists in children’s literature – an eminent writer Yeshwant Mehta and a well known poet Yoseph Macwan – were travelling with me in my car. I was driving. Yeshwantbhai asked me a question first and then to Yoseph. “Father Varghese, do you believe in death penalty?” “Yosephbhai, do you uphold death penalty?” Yeshwantbhai was happy with our negative replies and our opposition to death penalty.

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Then, Yeshwantbhai told us that he himself is opposed to death penalty and that he has written a series of articles in his weekly column in a Gujarati daily “Gujarat Today”. In his column entitled “Sahachintan” (Thinking together) he has written continuously for nine weeks about different aspects of death penalty.

A few days after that discussion on death penalty Yosephbhai and I went to Yeshwantbhai’s house to greet him on his birthday. To give Yeshwantbhai a surprise we reached his house very early in the morning with rose flowers in our hands. But that day Yeshwantbhai surprised us with his gift of his small book entitled “Death Penalty – A Discussion”. We were delighted to see the beautiful booklet published by Yagna Publications, Vadodara.

The cover page was very attractive with a picture of hangman’s rope and illustrated colourful letters of the title. In the eight-chapter booklet Yeshwantbhai has treated all aspects of executing death penalty in different ways like hanging and electric chair punishment, etc.

The first chapter on wide spread discussions on death penalty Yeshwantbhai says that there have been wide spread discussions on death by hanging. On the one side the saffron brigade was putting pressure on the government to hang terrorists. On the other hand the people like rationalists, humanists and activists of social justice were opposing death penalty and hanging. In their arguments they present historical examples of innocent people wrongly punished with death penalty.

In the second chapter entitled “The Terrible Punishment” Yeshwantbhai says clearly: “The death penalty and hanging is a cruel, coolly calculated and knowingly imposed shuddering way of ending a life.” The punishment of death by hanging is terribly shocking. So the author asked pardon from the readers while describing it and says: “Our purpose is only this: to create a strong aversion to this terrible custom of death penalty.” (p.12)

The third chapter about “140 Countries have no Death Penalty” says that there has been no death penalty given during the last 20 years in 30 countries out of 58 countries where death penalty still exists. Death penalty has been exiled from the vast majority of the countries in the world. Then, the writer adds: “It is sad that a country India, which claims great culture with long cultured traditions, the death penalty has still not abolished!” (p.16)

Yeshwantbhai writes in the chapter on “Death Punishment for Rape” that there is widespread demand for punishment by hanging after the cruel rape of “Nirabhya”. In the context of this case there are appropriate and humane reasons to oppose the demand of death punishment for rape. (p.20)

The fifth chapter “Many Ways of Robbing Human Life” is very informative. There are much information about different ways of punishing a criminal with death penalty in various countries. Finally, the writer concludes that, “Death penalty itself is an inhuman thing.” (p.26)

As the title of sixth chapter indicates, Yeshwantbhai with lucid examples and cogent arguments proves that, “A nation which cannot give life cannot take away life” (p.27). The writer says that there are humane reasons in favour of opposing death penalty against those who argue for it.

I feel that chapter on “Two Murders Equal to Zero Murder” must be read by everyone who advocates for abolition of death penalty. In the chapter Yeshwantbhai has given the opinion of the political leaders such as Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Jayprakash Narayan, philosophers like Caesar Beckeria of Italy, Arthur Koestler and experts in Jurisprudence like Jethmalani, Yeshwantrao V. Chandrachud and V. R. Krishna Ayer In the light of these opinions Yeshwantbhai says that instead of punishing with death penalty those criminals, who commits cruel crimes, should be given very many years of life imprisonment that they repent and pay for their crime for a very long time. (p.35)

In the last chapter entitled “The Fun to See the Game of Death” Yeshwantbhai has given a story entitled “The Question asked by My Son” from the Creative Writer Alfred Hitchcock’s collected stories. At the end of the story and the booklet the writer has given in one sentence the essence of his booklet “It is the demand of humanness to abolish death penalty.”

I am sure that Yeshwantbhai’s booklet “Death Penalty – A Discussion” can bring about a certain kind of changes in readers mind with the author’s simple and lucid style and inspiring presentation with appropriate arguments and examples. Those who advocate death penalty are persuaded to examine his/her values and attitudes and may experience a change to become people opposing death penalty. Similarly those already opposing death penalty may experience transformation to become ever more stronger in their conviction and bring others to their point of view.

In short, death penalty is such a punishment which does not suit a cultured nation, India. I believe that it is high time to abolish death penalty not only from India but also from the entire world.

Today there is an urgent need to launching a movement to abolish death penalty from India and the whole world. Yeshwantbhai’s booklet will certainly be an inspiration and an impetus to those in the movement to abolish death penalty.

Last changed: 1 November 2015

Next Change: 16 November2015

©Fr Varghese Paul, SJ