The larger debate, of course, is the one about whether death sentences should be on the statute at all
The Supreme Court’s wish to examine all options towards finding a more humane alternative to executing prisoners other than “hanging by the neck until dead” is to be welcomed. This shows a desire on the part of the Chief Justice and his colleague to help society that has for long been searching for ways to execute people without putting them through the agony of a rope that would snap their necks or lethal injections in the arm.
The larger debate, of course, is the one about whether death sentences should be on the statute at all. Many nations have taken the more humane view of imprisoning prisoners guilty of heinous crimes till death while doing away with the death penalty. The top court’s view in searching for alternatives implicitly accepts the need for a death penalty.
In an ideal world, a penalty of life in jail would be punishment enough for those who cross the line. But, in such a conflicted world in which evil comes visiting easily enough in people, what alternative can serve in bringing to justice criminals, say, like Ajmal Kasab who waged war against a nation, mercilessly turning an AK-47 to spray bullets on innocent people? Crimes like terrorism, even treason, call for a rougher and more ready justice.
Humanity has been inured to deal with the complexity of sitting on the horns of the moral dilemma of having to judge a fellow human, even one considered guilty of seriously breaching a rules-based order that should rule civilised society. Data from Amnesty International show 108 countries have done away with the death penalty and another 38 use it most sparingly while 55 others have it on their statute books and have not been averse to using it on occasion against those guilty of the vilest crimes.
An interesting angle introduced by one of the judges is that literature exists to suggest that “hanging is closest to painless.” Considering the US’ struggle with the complexity of lethal injections and the sheer barbarity of firing squads that certain types of regimes rely upon to complete a painful task, the search may have to be long for more humane methods of bringing the worst criminals to justice. Just setting people to think about it is a tribute to liberal thought. It is a good starting point.