This article is written by Muskaan Bangani of Mody University of Science and Technology, Lakshmangarh, Rajasthan and curated by Naman Jain of Bennett University, Greater Noida.
Similar to the two sides of a coin, life imprisonment and capital punishment are the two options before a judge while deciding the fate of a criminal, concerning a heinous act of crime. Capital punishment is also known as death penalty or execution, wherein the judge orders to put an end to the life of the criminal by hanging him/her, by following the due process of law. Life imprisonment means a prison term for his/her entire life span. Capital punishment or life imprisonment – Which of them is better is a pertinent question, and hence, it has been a sensitive and delicate issue of debate for decades. ‘To err is human, but to forgive is divine’. No human being is flawless on this planet, and everyone tends to make some mistake at some point in their lifetime, either knowingly or unknowingly, that could be an offence or a crime in the eyes of the law. So, if a person in a position of authority, forgives a wrongdoer, it creates an opportunity for him to repent for his mistakes and undergo reform. Therefore, the State should allow criminals to reform themselves. It is a widespread belief that fear of death prevents criminals from committing crimes, and the death penalty leads to a positive influence in society. Therefore, the public favours it in the hope that such harsh punishments will act as deterrents and will reduce the crime rate.
India is a democratic country that encourages the death penalty only in the “rarest of the rare case”. The Supreme Court ruled this in the case of Jagmohan Singh V. State of Uttar Pradesh 1979. Later, this ruling was upheld, in the case of Bachan Singh V. State of Punjab 1980. Due to ruling and final decision of the highest court, the fear of death in criminals has reduced manifold, and as a result, horrific crimes like murder and rape are carried out in the most brutal manner. The effect of such grisly crimes being committed frequently is that ordinary citizens support the death penalty. As per the recent report of the United Nations based on the project ‘Goal 16’ for sustainable development goals, life imprisonment is the world’s most used forms of punishment, mainly because most of the courts around the world believe in awarding life sentence to a criminal rather than capital punishment, as the very nature of the punishment is revocable. Hence, life imprisonment as a punishment is favoured among the courts of justice. Every citizen has the right to life, and in life imprisonment, the accused gets a chance to live and reform, and also has the option of keeping in touch with his/her loved ones who in turn motivate him/her to become a better person. A criminal who is awarded this sentence in the early stages of life, i.e. in his twenties will have an opportunity to recognize his blunder and take corrective action to improve his character or behaviour. There has always been a misconception amongst people that a criminal will always remain a criminal, and that he/she will not change no matter what. However, this mentality of the people should change because criminals are also humans, and it is a need to give them a chance to reform. Secondly, capital punishment is not supported because it does not serve the purpose of punishing the criminal and instead provides him within a tranquil escape from all his wrongdoings, through the simple as well as easy punishment of death.
Furthermore, various legal researchers have also stated that life imprisonment without parole or remission is considered to be an equivalent punishment to capital punishment, which allows the state to punish the wrongdoer, without taking away the life of such criminal, who has committed a barbaric crime.
It seems right to punish the wrongdoer with capital punishment, but do the means justify the end? If we are against murder, it would not be right to commit the act ourselves by condemning someone for doing it, because we are contradicting ourselves in this manner by supporting capital punishment. So, which is the better one; capital punishment or life imprisonment is still an important question. However, many would choose capital punishment, though one should always opine that it is better to lock someone away for the rest of his/her life rather than ending his/her very existence. In prison, they receive three square meals a day, and the food served is quite awful and hardly edible. They share their cells with other murderers, rapists, and child molesters. Would not this harsh life be a better justice, where they can repent all their life for the ghastly crime they committed? It is undoubtedly better than becoming a murderer by awarding them the death sentence.
An eye for an eye would make the whole world blind