Mango Man


N.S. Venkataraman for BeyondHeadlines

The recent hanging of Yakub Memon in India for what was judged by the highest judiciary of India  as heinous crime of participating in the terrorist attack in Mumbai resulting  in the death of more than 200  people, has been criticised by section of people and media.  The critics argue that the state has no right to take away the life of any person under any circumstances and punishment by way of hanging is an uncivilised act, amounting to barbarian practice.  Further, the critics argue that the judgments given by the court can be  sometime erroneous and there is grim possibility of an innocent person being hanged. One more argument advanced is that punishment by hanging may not be a deterrent that would prevent other people from indulging in  similar heinous act and , therefore, hanging of a criminal serve no purpose..

A  careful examination of the above view points would make one suspect that the above arguments are academic and may be good enough for a seminar hall but not in practical terms  considering the ground realities.

There cannot be any doubt that guilty persons and criminals must be punished and such punishment should be proportional to the severity of the crime. Such punishments are required to ensure that there would be rule of law in the society and law abiding and honest citizens are protected from the criminals and law breakers. In the absence of punishment, the dishonest and criminal elements will get emboldened and the society will become unliveable for common men.

Those  who argue against the punishment by hanging  do not disagree with the need for imposing other form of punishment. They only appear to say that while severe punishments are in order, punishment by hanging is improper and unethical. One can clearly see the fallacy in this argument, as punishments have to be proportional to the severity of the crime  and hanging is a type of punishment that is awarded  only  in extreme cases and after long deliberation.

If the argument that the punishment would not be a deterrent to wrong doers is accepted for not imposing death penalty, then this stand would be applicable for any sort of punishment including simple imprisonment.

The  other  argument  of the critics is that even the judges sometimes may err in their judgements in awarding death penalty. This argument is also weak, as the judges may err in the case of any punishment imposed and not only in the case of death penalty. This rare possibility can not be a justification for not imposing punishment, particularly since there is no other way of ensuring rule of law.

If taking away of life of a criminal by way of punishment is considered unethical, it can even be argued that taking away the freedom of a criminal by way of punishment can  be considered unethical, as a man without freedom almost amount to a living corpse.

In awarding the type of punishment while delivering judgements, difference have to be certainly observed between those indulging in burglary or money laundering practices or cheating  and those who rape women and even young children and those who kill others.  Punishment by hanging implies that the judges think that person  indulging in crimes such as murder or terrorism do not deserve to live at all and such persons  are inhuman and  barbarians. Elimination of such people from the society  is certainly an unpleasant task for judges but they exercise this option, clearly realising  that  this is a necessary punishment

It is also necessary to keep in view that in  countries like India,  there are many safeguards to ensure that a person would not be hanged unjustifiably.  There are procedures for appeal and even if the highest judiciary of the land would approve the punishment of a person by hanging, the President of India still has the discretion to waive such punishment. The very fact that there are number of persons in India who have already been convicted and  have been awarded  death penalty  without death penalty being executed,  as  their appeals are still pending clearly  indicate the enormous care being taken by the country in awarding death penalty.

Those who kill others certainly have no right to claim that they should not be hanged.

(N.S.Venkataraman is a Chemical Engineer from Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu and Director of Nandini Consultancy Centre. He can be reached at

Most Popular

To Top