Date: 11/22/2005


[The following is posted in the context of the forthcoming Human Rights Day, on December 10, to be observed as Anti-Capital Punishment Day in India./// Any punishment in a civilised society is meant to discharge three functions: deterrent, reformative and retributive./// For self-evident reasons, the capital punishment doesn't have any reformative role./// A comparative study of actual crime/murder rates in countries which have this punishment and which have abolished this and also in individual countries before and after abolition shows no additional deterrence effect of this./// Hence, for all practical purpose, the sole rationale for this measure is to whet retributive passions. /// As over time human civilisation is expected to graduate to higher and higher level, it is also expected that element of compassion will occupy larger and larger space in collective psyche displacing the elements of elemental rage and retribution. Humans must turn more and more humane, and not less. /// As per a recent report of the Amnesty International: * 86 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes;/// * 11 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes;/// * 24 countries can be considered abolitionist in practice: they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions, making a total of 121 countries which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice./// * 75 other countries and territories retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller./// Over 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. They include countries in Africa (recent examples include Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal), the Americas (Canada, Paraguay, Mexico), Asia and the Pacific (Bhutan. Samoa, Turkmenistan) and Europe and the South Caucasus (Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey)./// There are also other reasons why death penalty must be opposed. One, human beings are always fallible and in case of a death penalty erroneously awarded there is no scope for reversal and rectification./// The other reason has been recently highlighted by the Indian President. For very evident reasons, it is (almost) only the poor and the marginalized, who can not arrange proper defence before the law courts and pull strings in the appropriate quarters face the hangman's noose.] /// ========================== /// Hanging as a Spectacle /// Kunal Chattopadhyay /// On 14th August 2004, for the first time in many years, a man was hanged to death in West Bengal. He was a 41 year old ex-securityman convicted of having raped and killed an underage girl named Hetal Parekh in the apartment where he had been engaged as a securityman. Between crime and execution there had been a gap of fourteen years, a fact that was behind many of the human rights groups and individuals who pleaded for transforming the death penalty into a lesser penalty being moved to action. /// The debate over death penalty has many dimensions. In this brief essay, I want to look at how the media in India used the issue. TV channel after TV channel, particularly those in the Bengali language, ran long programmes. These involved inviting the hangman, one Nata Mullick, and turning him into a hero, because despite having done the job on 24 people in the past, neither he nor his son or grandson had been given a full time job by the government. The general tenor of the programmes, with one or two honourable exceptions where a serious discussion on the value of the death penalty and such matters were discussed, had been one of highlighting the sensational, of bringing out all the worst feelings in the human mind. Viewers were invited to watch ghoulishly at re-enactments run by at least two channels. The hangman gave talks on the proper way of tying the knot and on how much clarified butter and banana is needed to grease the rope properly. The printed media was no better. What could be worse than the media portraying, indeed egging on the teachers/authorities of Hetal Parekh’s school, the Welland Goldsmith School, to mobilise young children and teenagers into displays of terrible violence. Who in her/his sane mind will easily forget the picture of 13-14 year olds triumphantly rejoicing when the president turned down the mercy plea of Chatterjee. /// The role played by the media was the role of vultures. The long drawn out death process of Chatterjee had editors licking their chops in joy. Each day the vultures would gather closer, take a peck if they dared, or at least hover over the nearly dead figure, since in this death lay their sustenance. /// And this was being done, not in an unconscious burst, nor because “the public wanted it”, as many journalists and editors would have you believe, but because the mainstream media found this necessary. If we look at the other news, if we look, not at the virtual reality of the stock market but at every day life of the ordinary Indian, we will finds that conditions of life are daily worsening. In the fourth year of the 21st Century, the well being of the Indian economy still depends primarily on a good monsoon. After 14 years when the media have been praising so-called reforms sky-high, we have the following scenario for the salaried worker (including “white-collared” workers) – savings rates are steadily being cut, public retirement benefit schemes (provident fund, public pension fund) are under severe threat, and at the same time, a steady inflation without adequate cost of living allowances (Dearness Allowance in Indian parlance) means that people cannot even maintain their current standards of living let alone save up for the future. The mainstream media as been forced to report on these developments. But it wants to draw attention away from them. /// And so, we have a return to ancient Rome. The urban poor of the big cities were a perennial threat. They could turn into violent mobs. On occasion, radicals like Tiberius Gracchus had turned them into a radical popular force. To stop that, the late republic, and then the emperors, offered the mob bread and circuses. Currently, the market savvy propagandists of neoliberalism are not going to offer any bread. But circuses galore have to be whipped up. The transformation of Dhananjoy Chatterjee’s hanging into a spectacle of the first order was such an effort. For the past week, people have been treated to detailed news by Ananda Bazar Patrika, the largest selling Bengali newspaper. What did Dhananjoy have for tea, what did he do at 2-00 PM, when did he read the Geeta, and so on. It is not surprising that 60 people applied to the prison authorities to watch the hanging. There had been politicians who in a bid to gain popularity, had actually advocated public hanging. /// The media role successfully marginalized human rights activists. Had the media consistently stuck to serious discussions, the views of activists opposing hanging would probably have percolated wider. But the format of reporting turned the activists into a sideshow in the circus. Indeed, while catering to base instincts and practically creating them where they had not existed, the media also aimed at disgusting thinking individuals. The present writer has at least one friend who was not opening emails from known activists, for fear that these would be more requests for petitions, saying he had had enough and could not bear reading about Chatterjee or hanging any more. /// The media has tasted blood. Even today, on 15th August, India’s independence day, the front page of Ananda Bazar Patrika contained almost nothing but the hanging, how Chatterjee behaved, what was done to his body, what people outside were doing, what his family were doing. Now there are a large number of people sentenced to death – as many as 36, according to one report, in the Bhagalpur Jail alone. Spun out at a proper gap, these should provide spectacles in different parts of India for a considerable period. Already, even apparently serious elements are jumping into the fray, with NDTV’s news channel carrying an interview with the murderer of Hannah Foster. As prices rise, as the government carries out the threatened fuel price hikes (@ Rs.4 per month per cylinder of LPG, which means in a year’s time the price will go up by Rs 48 or more than US$ 1), as DA is not raised, as wages steadily fall behind rising prices, as public health care is gutted, as students in “general educational streams’ find no jobs while the cost of education in specialised streams rises to anything between Rs. 35,000 for a six-month course on how to appear for TV programmes to Rs. 4,00,000 for a good law school degree, the reality of life will become ever grimmer for the majority of urban people. [I leave out the rural population, neither because they do not read Ananda Bazar nor because they are rich, but on the contrary, because their conditions of life are already so bad that for them it is not a matter of what will happen in the future] And so, they must be provided with ever more spectacles. Maybe the day is not too far when there will be a serious demand for recording and showing hangings on TV. Or carrying out in print the final interview as the prisoner walks the last yards to the gallows. /// .........======================================== /// PARTITIONED INDIA WILL NOT ABOLISH THE SENTENCE OF HANGING FOR ONE REASON ALONE: THEY HAVE TO HANG ANYONE WHO DARES TO KILL A "GANDHI"./// SEE HOW PROMPTLY THE ASSASSINS OF BAPU MK GANDHI (30 JANUARY 1948), INDIRA GANDHI (HALLOWEEN 1984) AND BOGORS CHOR RAJIV GANDHI (21 MAY 1991) WERE HANGED, OR KILLED!/// THE SENTENCE OF HANGING TO DEATH WILL ONLY BE ABOLISHED IN BAPU GANDHI'S INDIA WHEN CONGRESS (ITALY AND ISLAM) ARE EXTERMINATED BY THE PEOPLE LIKE THE VERMIN./// ............................000000000