Dr JNYANANDRA NATH VARMA
(This original perspective on capital punishment is the essence of an explanation given to me by my Guru, Yogini SHUBH VEER).
As a first reaction to any horrible incident, be it involving our close ones or others, thoughts of revenge and retribution are but natural. It’s an emotional reaction at the most basic level of our consciousness. However upon further thought we come to realize that such hasty reaction is not always in order. Let’s forget those who, to gain some credit or otherwise, always find ways to jump on any passing bandwagon.
The need of the day is a dispassionate analysis about the purpose of law, punishment and the legal system. What are the principles of punishment? Is our legal system providing a just and equitable structure where the rights of the victim and/or family are being met, without forgetting that the ‘criminal’ too is a member of society? The legal system should be acting in fairness towards the victim and the public. Additionally, if there isn’t the perception that the system is acting in fairness towards the punished too, the legitimacy of the legal system risks being questioned.
The primary purpose of any sentence is punishment. Punishment is meant to achieve something positive. It is assumed to eventually reduce crime in society. But experience worldwide shows the contrary. Crime has kept on increasing in spite of harsher sentencing.
Ideally, the punished should be made aware of the reason for punishment and given all opportunity for remorse and rehabilitation. Or else, feelings of resentment against society will increase in the mind of the punished. More so in capital punishment, where the only option is a scheduled death. It will not give rise to rehabilitation or act as deterrent.
No impact on public safety
Punishment has the final aim of reducing crime by reforming and rehabilitating offenders. At the same time it is supposed to protect the public and make reparations to those affected by the offense. Injustice is being meted out instead of justice if the system is unable to fulfill these conditions. The legal system is supposed to represent the public at large. Any flaw therein means that society is being unfair towards the punished.
Death sentencing has become the burning issue these days. Throughout history the death penalty has been used in an attempt to maintain justice. Punishing violent criminals in the severest way ensures that person won’t kill again. But it has shown no impact on public safety. Furthermore, there is no evidence that death penalty is a greater deterrent than a prison term. In fact, facts reveal the opposite. Since abolishing the death penalty, in many countries such as Canada and European states, murder rate has kept declining steadily over the years.
Most murders are not committed in cold blood. They are the result of sudden, spontaneous impulsive action. Thus, most cases would not warrant such extreme punishment. Even though there may be some hardened criminals who think they won’t get caught, this is a minority.
Death penalty risks being used to permanently silence opponents as in some countries. In China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the number of executions is very high. The North Korean state is notorious for utilizing the death penalty against high level ‘criminals’ and those suspected of committing ‘grave’ offenses!
A pertinent concern is the irreversible nature of an execution. There have been many cases where innocents had been executed, their innocence proved years later by advances in forensic methods. This irreversibility cannot be accepted. The innocent isn’t supposed to be punished along with the guilty when the system goes wrong.
We should also consider the negative consequences an execution has on those closely involved in the process and on their families and immediate environment. Several testimonies from former wardens, guards and execution team members have revealed severe damage to their mental and physical health because of the stress of participation in executions.
The death penalty is an old-fashioned, outdated, harmful practice, and it must never be brought back in our country! Other issues need to be addressed, such as the root causes of crime and building stronger family and community. We need to focus on creating a culture of healing and support for the victims and families of homicide and violence.
Studies show that capital punishment does not bring comfort to victims’ families. In fact, it has been shown to make victims feel worse, being forced to think about the incident and the offender during the years of court cases. It proves difficult for victims’ families to heal. For many victims, feelings of pain and loss may never shy away!
With the evolution of society and a larger proportion of the population having access to basic facilities as education etc, we should be expecting a decrease in crime. But the facts show otherwise! Violent crime seems to be on the increase worldwide. What might be the deep-seated reasons behind this dismal situation? We may have to find a plausible answer elsewhere.
The concept of karma
The concept of karma is well understood the world over. And being accepted by more and more of the great thinking minds. The doctrine of karma and reincarnation appear to be the most logical answer to many of the world’s apparent disparities and controversies. It might provide an answer to the present situation.
The most fundamental of rights, the right to life means that basically no one has the right to kill anyone else. Life is a gift of God and as such exceptionally precious. A natural death is the legitimate right of every being. No one has the right to willfully terminate it for whatever reasons. By executing a person we are in fact doing worse because we are performing a cold-blooded murder. The criminal might have done his act it in a moment of fury or madness!
The person who has had a death sentence is sent on death row, isolated from other prisoners. In some countries it may be a matter of decades before execution. One can imagine the amount of fear and frustration being accumulated in that person’s mind! The legal system doesn’t provide for any condemned person to be explained and made to understand the need for punishment. Thus, the sentenced usually feel they are being unfairly treated. With the ever-present finality of death, there is probably no room left for feelings of repentance. That person is then executed with all these negativities.
It is said that a person’s last thoughts at the time of death determine his mental makeup in a future life. One can only imagine what potential such a desperate person undergoing the terror of execution is likely to be reborn with. All these accumulated negativities, fear and horror, terror and despair, hatred and desire for revenge are carried into a future incarnation. They will attract similar circumstances, a continuation of the present karmic conditions. They are bound to resurface in some subsequent life. All odds for yet other cold-blooded sadistic murders, much worse than in the present birth!
We have to break this vicious cycle somewhere for the sake of humanity. Brutal methods of execution like hanging, shooting and beheading violate the right to life. They continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence and do not alleviate pain already suffered. All the past executed are most probably reincarnating, the reason why day by day violence and murder is increasing in spite of so called ‘evolution’ of society! All such prisoners should be incarcerated for life without any chance of reprieve or of ever being released. Rehabilitation methods need be reviewed and upgraded for the sentenced to repent sincerely.
Only then the main goals of the sentencing process: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, reform and rehabilitation might be fulfilled. Death sentence has one critical flaw. There is no chance of reform and rehabilitation.