August 31, 2012

Conflating the Death Punishment Debate

I am against death punishment too. But I am in favor of death punishment for gargantuan-sized criminals such as Kasab, Raja, and Kalmadi.
Let me see if I can explain that.
Death punishment for Kasab seems to be such a no-brainer that no one would really give it a second thought nor would there be any need for writing columns about it.
The usual homilies would be paid about the due process of law being followed and that would be it. That was my impression.
And in due course, India being India, Kasab’s case would go to President Pranab and then perhaps the Congress Party will try to do Muslim pandering as it habitually does and Kasab’s fate might be left hanging like that of so many others’. And on each 26/11 anniversary, we would see the usual debates on the TV channels about why Kasab is still alive and blah blah.
But no. That’s not how this has panned out. The against-death-punishment brigade has come out! Now THIS is something that I had not expected.
I am not opposed to freedom of speech. So if Mint chooses to publish a couple of articles in support of abolishing death sentence … NO MATTER WHAT … well, so be it. They’re well within their rights.
Salil Tripathi talks of the killer in Norway who didn’t get death despite single-handedly killing 77. And if you consider the tiny population of Norway (5 million), it’s in some way equivalent to one man killing 18470 people in India.
So we in India are exhorted to do as Norway does. India is the land of the omnipresent child labor and countless murders of female fetuses. Norway is the country where the government might take away your kids if you are a “bad” parent. It’s a country where majority of the people are enlightened enough not to believe in spurious, silly, and laughable concepts such as god.

I believe we in India are nowhere near being as rich and enlightened as the Norwegians. Norway, I’m sure, doesn’t have child laborers and rickshaw pullers and millions of people who plant rice saplings in paddy fields during the monsoons.
Norway and the other Scandinavian nations with total populations of less than 10 million each have near 100% literacy. Finland with a population of 5 million people is the home country of Nokia.
Norway and Finland do not have avaricious politicians indulging in 2G scams and Commonwealth scams.
Scandinavian nations do not see 300 people dying on the streets EVERY DAY in road accidents. India leads the world in this domain with more than 100,000 fatalities per year.
When people in India say it’s OKAY for there to be child laborers, that destroys the lives of all those millions of kids. We seem to be more or less resigned to that reality that THERE WILL BE child labor. Hell, if you visit police stations, probably kids will be supplying tea to the policemen and policewomen!
We are more or less okay with the preponderance of dowry-related madness in arranged marriages which BTW still constitute the overwhelming majority of marriages in India. And women committing suicide because of dowry-related torture has not completely disappeared either.
Is it that uncommon to see young girls employed as permanent household help by rich people? No, in my experience. We seem to be okay with that as well.
Think of financial scams perpetrated by various men in power who misuse their positions for personal gain.
We have built a system where it’s customary and commonplace and universally prevalent for every government servant to take bribes, to hinder the public as they please, to NOT serve them. We have a very real situation of competitive corruption where all and sundry will secretly envy a retired IAS officer who smartly leveraged his power while an officer to build up a bank balance of perhaps a 100 crores not to mention a high paying job in the private sector post-retirement.
The IAS guy or judge who happened to be honest meanwhile faces many tribulations while doing his or her job including threats to their lives. Their colleagues and/or family might ridicule or resent such cussedness in being scrupulously honest. In our time, honesty truly does not pay.
Think of the hundreds of thousands of young people – if not millions – who are frenetically preparing for the few public sector job opportunities for which recruitment occurs every year. What is the fall back option for these candidates? What sort of Plan B do they have?
And just looking at the sheer ratio of applicants vs. no. of job vacancies in any of these recruitment processes makes you realize that it’s sheer lunacy. For example, if 2 million candidates apply for some 200 positions of Income Tax inspectors with the Government of India, how in hell are you going to formulate a test plan which will let you find out the best 200 out of all those candidates? In my opinion, just conducting a lottery and selecting 200 persons at random will be no worse a selection process. I completely fail to understand the psychology behind appearing in such a test with such a ratio of jobs vs. candidates. Isn’t it like buying a lottery ticket if you look at it from the perspective of the candidate? Do we worry about the lives of all the candidates who appear in these tests and do not go through? How many hundreds of thousands of young men and women have spent countless hours "preparing" for these tests. What about the folks who probably got short-listed in the initial rounds ... may be 10,000 of them. Clearly only a few out of them will finally land the job. What do the rest end up doing? Lower paying jobs? Struggling for the rest of their lives? May be they consider suicide too if they happen to be from poor families with very weak financial circumstances.
And what happens when all these millions of candidates fail to get that IT inspector or Excise inspector or bank P.O. or bank clerical job? How deeply does that impact the trajectory of their lives? What of the sacrifices that their parents might have made?
So what’s wrong with being an “against-the-death-penalty” proponent in India? Well, the ‘wrong’ is this: when you choose to feel the pain of the guy who is going to get killed by the government, you choose to ignore the pain of millions of others and for some inexplicable, and insane reason, choose to focus on the pain of one individual who is going to be hanged or electrocuted on an electric chair or be injected with some poison which will kill him or her.
Why the hypocrisy, dear activist/author?
Do you want to argue that I am completely insane and talking about completely unrelated matters? That’s exactly the thing. That’s how we humans operate, isn’t it? That’s what enables the prevalence of such utter disparities in the world around us.
We do not care so long as it’s some random old lady who sleeps on the rail over-bridge footpath. She ain’t our grandmother. We do not care if it’s some random kid who’s running that tea stall or is the shoe shine boy. The kid is not my relation!
The Norwegians – I would have said “may God bless them” but oops … I’m a staunch atheist – too make choices. They deal with tenderness with killers but they choose to ignore world poverty. Clearly it’s not the fault of the Scandinavian nations or the people living there if the people of India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh choose to be so fertile.
People talk about how the wrong folks often get the death sentence in the United States. Something tells me that it’s also wrong that six-year-old kids sometimes die in mindless shootouts that occasionally happen in the U.S. and which I think are likely to increase in frequency as the media grows ever more omnipresent and economic challenges persist in the U.S. along with an easy availability of guns of all sorts to all types of people.
Even in the U.S., the death penalty is a hotly contested issue – some states have it; others don’t. So people everywhere and all the time are making choices – trying to be as good as they possibly can under the circumstances they are faced with.
America is a geographically vast nation and relatively wealthy – hence making car ownership commonplace. The factory shop floor guy who assembles cars can also buy them. At least, this applies to the averagely priced sedan, if not to the pricey supercars. We do not hear calls in the U.S. that Ferraris, Mustangs, Hummers or Rolls Royces be available to EVERYONE in the U.S. That would be considered a bit crazy, right?
What about suggesting that everyone in INDIA have access to – by which I mean ‘own’ – cars as well? Well, if not quite Mercs and BMWs, what about at least a Suzuki for all? Why not?
The debate in America is about how much money should be spent on space exploration. Because they are a nation who landed men on the Moon in 1969, they want to put a man (or a woman) on Mars now. That’s the proper debate for America and Europe.
We in India are not talking about sending robotic explorers to the seas of the satellites orbiting Jupiter and Saturn. Let’s talk about sending an Indian to Alpha Centauri. What prevents that?
I would definitely love to see India transformed into Norway. But the reality of the moment is that this country has a majority of people who worship monkeys. So let’s stop daydreaming.
Real people are suffering. Real tragedies are occurring. Kids working, females facing torture, etc., road accidents killing hundreds of thousands of people … these are the real human tragedies. Then the financial skullduggery and avariciousness of some powerful people which generate needless suffering … these need to be tackled on a war footing.
The death sentence will work as a deterrent for “well-planned” financial crimes. I believe Kalmadi and Raja won’t have indulged in their shameless chicanery if the death penalty was on the statute books for financial criminals.
So let’s increase the death penalty; not decrease it. Some people will even be hanged who are not guilty. Hey, life ain’t fair. The guy who dies in a road accident is not “guilty” either, is he?
We in India have become so inured to these accidents that when three or four dozen humans die in a bus accident when a bus falls several hundred feet on those scary mountain roads of Himachal Pradesh, we do not even notice! When hundreds die in those boat accidents in India or Bangladesh, again, we barely notice. Same with rail accidents.
So we have to make choices. We can choose to eliminate the death penalty. Of course we know how good and law-abiding the average Indian citizen is. We can try to take the moral high ground and try and compete with Scandinavian nations.
I suggest an amendment to the constitution making the ownership of Rolls Royce limousines a “fundamental right” of every Indian citizen. After all, what’s the harm with aiming high?
I also dream of those child labor kids going on holiday trips to the Grand Canyon in private jets. May be the Government of India will be able to spare those Boeing Business Jets.
Or, we could go for indigenization – ask DRDO to develop indigenous versions of Rolls Royce cars and private planes.
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