Nandita Das

Hang Death Penalty

  • March 1, 2013

There are a few things for which I am willing to be pushed to taking definitive sides—for or against. Not because I do not have strong views, which I do on most matters, but because I feel even more strongly that real inquiry is not in defending one’s position, but in exploring beyond. Today I want to share one such debate and I know which side I am on. I am surely and squarely against death penalty. 

Reading the last line some will choose to close the magazine. I say this with some certainty, as I was subjected to a fair amount of hate mails for signing an online petition against Kasab’s hanging. With no ambiguity about his crime, no one disagreed on the harshest punishment he deserved. But when it came to hanging, it not only seemed pointless to be so bloodthirsty, feeding into our vengeful and violent side, but posed a larger moral question about the need for death penalty, per se. 

My instinctive opposition comes from the basic aversion to violence. All across the world, from diverse cultures, religions and regions, more and more societies are understanding that this is a barbaric practice and has no place in the modern justice system. More than two-third countries in the world have abolished it. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, North Korea and the United States are some of the world’s most prolific executioners. But many in their own country are protesting against it, as it is not just cruel, irrevocable and futile but also destructive, causing, in fact, a cycle of revenge and more violence. 

It is sad that India has chosen to be a part of the minority community that supports death penalty. How will we decide which crime is the ‘rarest of rare’? Who deserves it more—the beasts who raped and killed the three minor sisters, or Veerappan’s aides who have smuggled sandalwood and killed 22 cops, or the one who killed a national leader, or the man who raped his little daughter for seven long years, scarring her forever. These are just to name a few. Every single day, at least one criminal makes a headline, deserving the harshest punishment, in someone’s view. 

Moreover research proves that the common perception of it being deterrent is false. In our country, where the conviction rate is so low, where those who suffer abuse are unable to even file an FIR, either due to social stigma or lack of police cooperation, where delayed justice is often no justice, wouldn’t hanging a few people only be tokenism? For instance, wouldn’t it be skewed justice to hang Nirbhay’s rapists and not even convict most of the other offenders? How will it make me and other women feel any safer? How will it ensure that no incidents of rape occur thereafter? 

Abolishing death penalty doesn’t mean that the culprits will not get the severest punishment. Isn’t living your entire life in solitary confinement of a prison, much worse? But more importantly, the fundamental moral instinct of a society must realize that violence only begets violence. I say this with full awareness that I might one day be on the receiving end of a ghastly crime. As a woman, as a citizen of today’s violent world, I know I am vulnerable and can never rule out such a possibility. But if we want to address the real issues and find real solutions for wrong doings, then the answer doesn’t lie in capital punishment.

Finally, if we want to leave a more compassionate world behind for our children, we have to curb our instinct for bloody retribution. When I look at my little son, I know that I don’t want him to learn to be revengeful, aggressive or violent. But if he grows up in a world that is bereft of mercy and compassion, how will I tell him that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11