Death Penalty – It Just Couldn’t Get Worse, Could It?

I suddenly find myself confused over the issue of death penalty. I am not talking about the Yakub Memon case, I don’t even know its details ,only that it seems there is hardly enough evidence that he was “guilty” of the crimes he is accused of. So let alone death penalty, probably he should get a fairer trial. What I am interested in is to know why people actually oppose death penalty. I mean I totally understand the disgust with the brutal mentality that makes one seek capital punishment. For instance, I totally sympathize with those who oppose the brigade who say that harshest of punishments should be reserved for the rapists, that they should not just be hanged but their penises should be cut off etc. But my sympathies lie only to the extent that I believe such hate mongering will do humanity no good, wont get us anywhere better than the collective hell we all experience. What I don’t or rather fail to sympathize with [and this I admit is a more recent development] is the passionate denouncing of death penalty per se, as if that is way too inhuman or something. More inhuman than keeping someone jailed [especially considering the conditions in which inmates have to remain in India at present?] for a lifetime? More inhuman than having to come out of the jail and then face social persecution and wrath for the rest of the life?

More about you than the condemned?
Here’s the hierarchy of the logic involved: 1. I don’t want to feel bad about myself. 2. Killing someone is bad, or worse than making someone stay in a miserable condition throughout their lives 3. Not opposing death penalty is therefore going to make me feel bad; as for the misery being faced as an alternative, I am going to turn a blind eye to it or seek some moral justification 4. I end up feeling good.

I think Foucault will be useful here. He speaks of the various ways society has managed to define what is sane and what is not. It seems that death penalty just doesn’t fit into the radical thought world of “sane”. Or “humane”. These are pretty much overlapping categories in the present instance. I would go to the extent of saying that I find all this hoopla over death penalty per se is disproportionate, irrational and a result of lazy thinking. There is no reason why a person who has to face a few seconds of hell before death is facing a more inhuman treatment than someone who has to put up with the rehab or correctional facility crap. What is correctional anyway? Trying to make a person adjust to the shit that society is all about. You know,  governmentality and all that. Get used to all the insanity passed off as sanity son – that’s the best way you can get people to accept you. Or that’s your best bet anyway. Since you can never really leave your past behind. It will continue to stay on with you like a bloody shadow.

Of course one may raise a legitimate objection here – say a person has been rightly convicted of what society considers a heinous crime. Say murder or rape. But the person doesn’t want to be hanged. Then what? Of course the question of agency does come into the picture then. But the funny part is : we seem to draw our lines of giving respect to agency pretty arbitrarily don’t we? I mean it is like we respect the agency of a person who we think has committed a pretty bad crime only to the extent of reliving them of the noose. But it’s not like we will show the same amount of respect for agency of that person if the will of the person is to be allowed to go free! So we set limits, pretty arbitrarily, to our sense of justice and liberalism when it comes to prisoners.

It is also interesting that people who oppose death penalty on principle [an ill defined one at that] will also typically be ones who will be opposed to assisted suicide. Why, I ask? It is like the supporters of abolition of death penalty as well as opponents of euthanasia [say for sufferers of depression] uphold some vague notion of humanity that is to be protected – a sense of humanity that seems to preclude the immediate and continuing well being of the persons in question. What is the point of making a person live against their wishes, I ask? They will inevitably come up with high sounding theories of how social structure is responsible for depression or for leading people to commit crimes, so on and so forth. All that sounds just fine, on paper, but the reality pinches a bit harder.  It’s not like society has an elaborate mechanism in place to deal with the problems that people face [I am talking about the psychological “disorders”]. And it seems perfectly plausible that people may want to end their lives if they are not happy with it? What sort of a libertarian logic actually justifies forcing a person to go on living against their will? Or in the case of a prisoner condemned to a lifelong imprisonment, even if death is against their will, isn’t death penalty better than to just let them rot? In fact, far from the humanitarian claims that these abolitionists make, it seems that such an absolutist position is indeed more sadistic. Or at the very best, it somehow suits their idealistic worldview of what is right, with little concern on their part to actually weigh in balance what the “subjects” with whom they are grappling with have to go through in reality.

Some random thoughts from Kisholoy

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