Gopalkrishna Gandhi: Death penalty won't curb terrorism, ensure women's safety

Lamat R Hasan @LamatAyub | First published: 1 December 2016, 16:31 IST
Gopalkrishna Gandhi: Death penalty won't curb terrorism, ensure women's safety
Arya Sharma/CatchNews

When a man kills he breaks the law. When the state punishes by death it upholds the law.

This opening line from former civil servant and diplomat Gopalkrishna Gandhi's newest book Abolishing the Death Penalty: Why India Should Say No to Capital Punishment (Aleph Books) is rather inviting irrespective of which side of the fence you are sitting on or how much legalese you can digest.

Gandhi, who takes his famous surname from his paternal grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, even though he would rather not think or talk about it, throws one fundamental question after another - making a case for the abolition of the death penalty.

"You can't match crime with a crime, violence with violence. There has to be a slightly more elevated attitude to reasoning," he tells Catch.

He argues that there will not be a drop in terrorism or in crimes against women by awarding more death penalties.

"...I have been increasingly conscious of the criminal investigation system's attitude to the body and mind of the accused which reflects how the state regards the accused, which in my view is very backward and associated with medieval times."

Gandhi believes that along with working on the abolition of the death penalty the state also needs to reboot the investigative and prison systems.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

LH: What was Gandhiji's take on death penalty?

GG: Gandhiji saw it at two levels. One was the level of spiritual intelligence, in which he said that only the one who has the right to give life has the right to take it away, meaning God.

But at a more practical level, as a lawyer he was against death penalty because it is a penalty that cannot be reversed. There is no rectification possible. It is an irremediable, irretrievable and irreversible punishment.

Gandhiji was against it, so were quite a few other political thinkers, including Dr Ambedkar who said that the death penalty should go.

LH: What was Nehru's position on this?

GG: I have not come across Nehru's views on death penalty. But I do know that in the 1931 session of the Indian National Congress (INC) they passed a resolution against death penalty and Nehru was completely with the resolution. Sardar Patel was the President of the Congress then, and Pandit Nehru was very active in this...