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Capital Punishment – Few Thoughts

Imagine a situation: An elephant is running amok in a crowded town, it is panicked, and the shouting crowd is not helping the situation either. On its way it tramples a baby girl and an elderly lady into death. A young man tries to capture few photographs of the raging animal, unfortunately he too is crushed to death, and it shows all its rage on the dead body of the young man, turning his body into a fleshy mess. Later when the identity of the young man is revealed, it is come to known that he had just passed country’s top exam to get into civil services.

The elephant is tranquilized, finally captured and sent into a rehabilitation centre.

Imagine another situation: A man rams into a marriage hall, takes out his gun and kills a couple who has just married – both are officers, it was a love marriage and were about to step into a beautiful life ahead. The murderer is captured and given into police custody.

Later, the highest court of the land punishes him with death penalty.

Relatives and many lay people feel happy that the murderer will be put into gallows soon. Parents of the diseased, though can not get back the lives of their children, find some solace in the verdict of the court.

Now let’s come back to the first scenario where elephant kills 3 innocent lives. It is captured and is still alive and treated well in a rehabilitation centre.

Can somebody complain against the elephant? Will the court punish it with death sentence? Do the relatives of people who have been killed by the elephant, demand the death of the elephant?

Probably not. Some may make forest officials accountable, or ask for compensation for the nearest relatives of the victims.

When a man kills man, some states resort to punish the guilty with capital punishment. When a wild animal kills people, it is branded as an accident, and relatives are monetarily compensated by the state.

They don’t claim compensation when an individual is murdered by another.

In the first scenario, where a brilliant guy who was about to start a new phase in life after his accomplishment in the country’s top exam, about which his parents were immensely proud, and which was sure to bring them societal status, is brutally killed by a wild animal. Will his parents demand that the elephant be executed?

Given chance, will they do it themselves?

These are the conflicting situations involved when a person is killed and society seeks justice. The very notion of seeking justice through death is disturbing.

When the court or state executes a criminal, it does so on the belief that it is imparting justice to the victim and eliminating an unwanted person from the society.

A wild animal can not be meted with the same punishment, because it is not a thinking animal – its action is not intentional. Whereas, when a man kills another human being, he is punished for he has by birth accepted the laws of the land. His right to live is conditional.

To put it simply, man is bound by a social contract. His actions should be acceptable by the society at large. When he deviates from the accepted norms, the state intervenes to correct such individuals by means of various penal actions.

But, isn’t killing a criminal murder in itself, a state sponsored one?

If the relatives of the victims are asked to kill the criminal themselves, they will not oblige for such an action. Active participation in the killing of a person, though he is a criminal, is heinous by any standard – so believes an individual who is morally sound. When the state does the same, he finds solace.

In my opinion, state should not kill any person no matter the quantum of crime perpetrated by the individual. Instead, a life sentence and confinement of the person far away from the place of residence of victims should be followed.

Still it is difficult to understand the nature of justice involved here.

The example of elephant killing people was just to illustrate how our definition of crime and how those crimes should be punished end up in paradoxical situations.