Graphic by Tejal Kawachi

All souls leave their bodies and possessions behind to move to another abode, an undisclosed and equally mysterious location whose whereabouts are restricted only to the human mind’s imagination. No one knows for certain what death will bring to a person; it will leave chaos in the dearly departed’s aftermath or a strange tranquillity. Certainly we humans are no divine beings to decide whether a person has the right to live or die, but a strange silence casts a shadow over us when the crime committed by the accused is so heinous and barbaric that words fail to justify.We have to step into their shoes for a moment and really ponder over whether this person really deserves their life to be cut short. Can they change if given proper guidance? It also puts the common man in doldrums on whether we have the right to transform the lifecycle of another human being and in doing so, ultimately playing with God’s decisions. 

Death penalty also known as capital punishment, deals with the execution of the guilty on the orders of the State and Judiciary. In the past few years, Amnesty International recorded 483 executions in 18 countries last year only and in 2019, 657 executions, a staggering 26% increase. In the USA, the support of death penalty has only increased in the recent years, Pew Research Center recorded 60% of USA adults favouring death penalty and only 15% strongly opposing it. The number of executions in the USA were 17 for the year 2020 and an increased 22 for the year 2020. The no. of death penalty was increased under the Trump administration where the President campaigned for “Death Penalty all the way” as his campaign promise during elections and indeed fulfilled it as his last months in office saw a rush of federal death sentences and many of his critics calling it a cruel death rampage to please his voter bank.

The history of death penalty goes back to pre-modern times where the Greek philosopher, Plato, saw it as nothing more than a means of purification where sinners deserved what they got as a result of defiling the society. During the 20th Century, in the First World War, capital punishments were used on soldiers deemed as cowards or lesser men and were incapable of fighting on the battlefield or deserted in the middle of the war. Most of the soldiers on death row were usually under the age of eighteen suffering from mental health issues like PTSD, shell shock, and neuralgia. To prevent other soldiers from following their lead in this regard, an example was made out of them.Executions were considered a common practice to make soldiers more masculine. The practice continued during the second world war where allied powers executed individuals accused of being spies, traitors and collaborators with occupying Nazi powers.

However, by the 1960s, European countries were the first to raise a red flag against such judgement and consequenytly, death penalty was banned in Norway, Sweden, Denmark 

But at the same time, perceptions of people have changed quite significantly since the 21st century. Starting with France, after the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, support for death penalty almost doubled where one in two French citizens supported the legalisation of such judgements. Death penalty was also used as an election agenda in the campaign of then Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, who argued death penalty is important for the safety and security of its citizens. In the USA alone, death penalty varies from state to state with Texas and Oklahoma having the most executions in the 2020 with 513 and 118 in the year 2019.

Supporters claim that some crimes are so heinous that if the accused is on the loose, it will be equivalent  to jeopardising the lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens. In a just and fair world, each and every person should suffer for their wrongdoings and crimes. They argue with the statement of an eye to eye where the victim would be honoured and will serve as a reminder to perpetrators indulging in such crimes in the future. Death penalty would also impact the taxpayer’s money and the state’s treasury and divert them into maintenance of prisoners where such money could have been diverted to public welfare

The opponents, however, state that death penalty is in no way helping reduce the crimes as the accused is giving up their  life with the same belief while committing the crime and not realising the extent of the harm done to others through their actions, i.e. virtually indifferent. Putting an inmate’s life on death row will be equivalent to ignoring the worth of an individual’s life which is similar to what the guilty did in the first place. Some people also question its efficiency, pointing fingers at the justice system to be biased against people of different races and colours.

Death penalty in India is followed in the rarest of the rare cases with only eight executions taking place since the year 2000 with its support increasing after the 2012 Delhi gang rape incident. The 4 accused were granted death sentence after 8 years with almost 90% so states favoring death penalty in this particular case. Similarly, in the last three decades around 60% of Americans are in favor of keeping death penalty. Retaining death penalty might depend on public opinion, but the most affected by such decisions are the victim’s family, and the accused. There have been concerns over the effectiveness of death penalty and many innocents who are the victims of an unjust law system who are unethically put on death row. There is a need to have a balance on both sides where the victim gets justice as well as the accused.

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