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Death for death, life for life!


While developed nations with high literacy rates and embedded social and moral value systems may choose not to ever impose the death penalty, there is growing logic for supporting capital punishment in nations where there is a significant poor and/or illiterate population that is not sociologically mature enough to understand that killing people is wrong. The IIPM Think Tank scrutinizes this radical, yet damningly convincing ideology

Since the last few years, the debate over abolishment or assumption of capital punishment seems to have simply yo-yo’d between the for and against camps, without any convincing closure or resolution in sight. Yet, in recent haste, the debate has been jump-started out of its reverie in the light of the recent Oslo shoot-out in Norway where Anders Behring Breivik took 77 lives at random. For the uninitiated, Norway abolished capital punishment decades ago – as have all other EU states – and thus, Anders may end up merely serving a prison sentence of 30 years or less for the cold-blooded mass murders. And that too may be reduced once and if Berivik applies for clemency after a few years. In other words, the 32 year old murderer may be out of prison jostling with weekend shoppers and children even before he turns 50. And what if he again grabs a gun and shoots dead a few hundred children more to enstrengthen his schizophrenic ‘apolitical’ cause?

Globally, around 95 countries have abolished capital punishment while around 58 nations are still practicing it. According to the Law Commission of India, India has executed around 4,300 criminals since Independence. However, since August 2004, after Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed, many other convicts were sentenced to death but their execution is still pending. Since 1976, the US has seen 1265 executions (46 executed in 2010), with 3092 inmates currently on death row.

Looking at this thematically and sociologically, does it mean that in countries like Norway where capital punishment has been abolished, there is a greater propensity for people to commit murders as finally, one never loses one’s life after committing the murder? And vice versa in countries which practice capital punishment? To answer that question, one has to first understand the legacy of the capital punishment debate.

History is testimony to the fact that poverty and illiteracy have had a direct correlation with incidence of crime. Poor and illiterate people are likelier to commit a crime – and eventually get convicted. According to the Hrabowski and Robbi report, published in 1992, there were over 1.5 million Americans imprisoned in adult correctional facilities. Interestingly, out of all 1.5 million imprisoned Americans, around 49% had not completed their high school education. A study by the Arizona Department of Adult Probation in 1997 proved that “the re-arrest rate of probationers who received literacy training was 35%, whereas those who had not received the training were re-arrested at a rate of 46%.” The same research went on to prove that the re-arrest rate of an ‘educated’ prisoner, who cleared GED (General Educational Development) test, is merely 24% while it was found to be 46% for the not-so-educated ones (those who didn’t clear the GED test).
The intentional homicide rate in Southern African countries including Botswana (poverty rate 31%), Lesotho (43% poor), Namibia (49% poor) and Swaziland (63% poor) is around 37.3 per 100,000 population — much higher as compared to the world average of just 7.6 per 100,000! On an average, the homicide rate in Africa was 20 per 100,000 while it was only 5 per 100,000 in USA, where the poverty rate is relatively lower at 13% and the literacy rate is 99%. Compare the South African and global figure to the intentional homicide rate of Norway, which is a puny 0.60 homicides per 100,000 population. Norway again has a literacy rate of 99% and poverty rate at a stunningly low figure of 0% as per international standards (and 4.4% as per Norway’s own very high definitions of poverty). In the same way, Cuba’s intentional homicide rate is 5.5 per 100,000; literacy rate is 99.8% and poverty rate is close to negligible. Austria, similarly, with literacy rate of 99% has only 6,915 prisoners. It encounters 2 murders, 7 rapes and 3115 thefts per 100,000 population, on an average. Germany and France (with substantially high literacy rates), have homicide rates of 0.84 and 1.7 per 100,000 population respectively. Interestingly, they all abolished capital punishment years back. Countries like Iran (poverty rate of less than 2%) and Pakistan (22.6% poverty rate), have corresponding homicide rates of 2.9 and 6.8 per 100,000 people respectively.

It’s widely seen that criminal activities increase in a nation when capital punishment is abolished. According to data published by the UK Home Office, the homicide rate has doubled since 1965, after UK abolished capital punishment. The total unlawful killings in UK were 300 in 1964 which increased to 565 in 1994 and to 833 in 2004. Murders and assaults saw an increase of 125% during 1965 to 1969 – the same period when Britain abolished death sentence for murder.

Putting things into the right perspective, nations that are still struggling to provide basic amenities like education, health care, employment to their people should use capital punishment as a means to create a sense of fear, which is a deterrent to commit heinous crimes – more because in societies where a significant mass has not evolved sociologically and culturally, and which suffers illiteracy and poverty, the propensity to commit a heinous crime increases when there is no fear of death in return. Thus, while the propensity to commit a murder will not increase in Norway even if the mass murderer Breivik were to be pardoned – as the exquisitely literate society has over decades imbibed deeply embedded moral values and have advanced on the social scale – the reverse is true for poor, illiterate and underdeveloped/developing societies.

The United Nations General Assembly appealed to every country to abolish capital punishment by adopting non-binding resolutions in 2007. Thankfully, developing and underdeveloped nations did not follow this unsolicited piece of advice. Controversial this may be, but it may even help these nations in allowing general public the choice of attending these executions, which should anyway be held quite regularly. The advice may also hold true for India, with a 2.8 intentional homicide rate. Death for death, life for life; the new fundamental.

By:- Akram Haque

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