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INDIA: MAHATMA GANDHI’S GRANDSON CALLS FOR ABOLITION OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

December 1, 2016: Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, said capital punishment should be removed from the country’s statutes.
“The world is moving towards abolition of the death penalty... but the countries that have retained this penalty are those which have the largest populations. So, the majority of the world is still under the death penalty,” Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, a former Bengal Governor, told IANS in an interview ahead of the formal release of his book, “Abolishing the Death Penalty: Why India Should Say No to Capital Punishment” (Aleph).
“It is curious that the countries that have retained death penalty are those which have a certain punishment mentality like USA, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. So we are in the company of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. What are our compulsions? Why are we retaining it?”
“Some argue that terrorism is the reason. Death penalty does not deter murder. Does death penalty deter terror? We cannot say. But terror has continued. The bizarre thing about terrorism is that the terrorists are prepared to die in the act of terror itself. They are in a fitoor (craze), in which maut (death) is regarded as a shahadat (martyrdom). So will it deter them?” asked Gandhi, who has served as Secretary to President K.R. Narayanan and as High Commissioner to South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Gandhi’s book asks fundamental questions about the ultimate legal punishment awarded to those accused of major crimes.
“My emphasis is not just on the death penalty but on the entire mentality of punishment, which includes the criminal investigation system where violence is a known fact. Many of those under trial may or may not be innocent, but most of them are subjected to violence. So my book is about the Indian attitude to punishment.
“Human evolution is towards the abolition of death penalty. But the states which have given up on death penalty are also the states which are somewhat reforming their criminal investigation system. In India there has been a lot of reforms – our jails today are not what they were 50 years ago, certainly not what they were in medieval times, when anybody who was taken in prison was bound to be beaten to pulp if not to death – we are not in medieval times, we live in a modern and civilised world,” he added.
“Our jails are now called correctional homes and there have been a lot of improvement in our criminal investigation system. But we are still keeping the death penalty because the state does not want to lose its power over life. The state thinks of itself as a kind of demigod, which it is not,” he said.
“Even if the society is in favour of severe punishment and is shutting its eyes to torture, does it mean that the state should also do that? Or, should the state be one step ahead of the society? Should the state only reflect what the society wants or should it lead? I think the state should lead. Our constitution is not a mirror; it is a benchmark that inspires all kinds of development, particularly moral development,” Gandhi contended.
“Today a majority of Indians, in my opinion, are not against death penalty. It does not mean that we are a blood-thirsty society, no we are not. We are a very peace-loving society.
“There has not been much of a discourse on death penalty at the public level, which is why I think people should talk about and deliberate on the issue. This is not going to happen very fast but we are moving towards abolition,” Gandhi hoped. (Sources: IANS, 01/12/2016)

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