There is so much debate on television and social networking sites about Death Penalty to rapists and that too execution of rapists in full public glares. According to Wikipedia, United States carries out more executions than any other liberal democracy in the world. The only other countries in the Americas which practice capital punishment are Cuba and St. Kitts and Nevis. And there is legal sanction to Death Penalty in India for murder; instigating a child’s suicide; treason; acts of terrorism; a second conviction for drug trafficking or child trafficking during the production of child pornography.
After 2012’s Delhi gang-rape case, there is a nationwide anger and protest for inclusion of death penalty for the offence of rape & gang-rape. Wily politicians, few of them facing rape charge and crime against women allegations and history-sheeters have objected to this demand and their argument is that the rapist will kill the victim after fulfilling his hunger of lust to erase the evidences and that will create new problems for women and policing. Anyhow let’s see what the unbeatable grand epic Mahabharata says about Death Penalty. Text is reproduced from the book of Vyasa’s Mahabharatam by Bharadvaja Sarma.
Chapter III, Moksha-Dharma Parva, Liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth, Punishment for the guilty – Story of Dyumatsena.
Yudhisthira asked to Bhishma Pitamaha, “How can a king rule and protect his subjects without injuring anybody – without inflicting death sentence on the guilty?” And Bhishma said, “Let me tell you an old story. Once on the orders of King Dyumatsena a number of individuals guilty of some grave offences were brought before his son Satyavan for execution. Stayavan told his father, “Father, quite often righteousness appears to be unfair, and unfairness looks like acts of righteousness.” And Dyumatsena replied, “If the guilty is not punished, if the barbarians are not killed there would be no distinction between righteousness and injustice. Death sentence is necessary to restrain the wicked otherwise vice would flourish and righteousness would not be practised any more. If you have any other means, please tell me about it.” Satyavan then said, “Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras should be placed under the control and surveillance of the Brahmins. If anybody transgresses the law – or the command of the Brahmins the Brahmin would bring the instance of transgression to the notice of the king and the king would pass judgment according to the codes of law. It is unfair to inflict death sentence on anybody. The death of one individual might ultimately be the cause of death of other members of his family. A wicked person, on being shown compassion, could turn on a new leaf and be virtuous and he can have a virtuous son. Capital punishment is destruction of root and branch and it should be avoided by all means punishment for offences can be of other kinds also – such as threat, imprisonment, confiscation of properties, disfigurement. If, for example, an offender seeks protection of a priest and proclaims that he would never commit an offence, he could be forgiven at least for the first offence. A respectable offence should be allowed to go unpunished for the first offence.”
Dyumatsena said, “Yes, it was easier to govern in earlier days. People were truthful, they were milder by nature and they were not so inclined to argue. Just saying “Fie” to them would be enough punishment for them. Later, other kinds of punishment such as stern rebuke – punishing offenders with stern words of chastisement or – by imposing fines or ordering forfeitures of properties came into use. Nowadays, people cannot be restrained without setting the example of death sentence. Even then it is becoming increasingly difficult to govern. It is said that robber is nobody’s relation and that nobody should have anything to do with him. Those who steal clothes and ornaments from the dead people left on the cremation ground, or those who rob people when they are absent-minded or in a dazed state of mind cannot be restrained by reprimands or oaths.” To this Satyavan said, “If it is not possible to turn rouges into honest people by non-violent means, transform or destroy them by performing sacrificial rites. Kings are required to perform austerities so that his subjects may prosper. If it is possible to govern people by threats, recourse to capital punishment – killing people wilfully – would be uncalled for. Punishment is not to be inflicted as retribution. Good kings rule by setting examples of good conduct. People lower in status usually imitate those who occupy superior positions. Those kings who try to restrain his subjects without restraining themselves become objects of ridicule. If necessary, the king should not hesitate to punish his own friends and kinsmen, but the king should always take into consideration the factors of time and place, longevity or capacity of persons involved. Manu, the law-giver who created himself, out of compassion for creatures, prescribed that nobody desirous of earning merit and emancipation should ever abandon the method of teaching by setting examples of good deeds.”