Gopalkrishna Gandhi Opposes Death Penalty

New Delhi
Gopalkrishna Gandhi Opposes Death Penalty

Opposing death sentence, former Governor Gopalkrishan Gandhi today demanded that government appoint a high-level commission comprising former Chief Justices and eminent personalities outside law to examine its utility as a deterrent and validity as a punishment.

"Rather than look at the death sentence the presence of which has avenged the Parliament House attack and 26/11, I think we should look at it as something the absence of which would have given Bhagat Singh to a grateful India till well beyond 1947.

"An irrational but not responsible thought tells me that had Shaheed Bhagat Singh not been snatched from us by the noose, this Maulana Azad memorial lecture could well have been given today in Lahore with you Dr Karan Singh in the chair," he said.

Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was giving the lecture on "Last Words As Those at Death's Door Speak" organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

He said only good would result if the President of India were to appoint a truly high-level Commission comprising former justices and eminent personages from outside the law to examine with reference to the world trends the utility of death sentence as a deterrent and its validity as a punishment as distinct from revenge.

"Last words of those who were hanged could be the first words for such a Commission to study," he said. 

Peppered with references to personalities spanning ages and historical periods, Gandhi, with the help of a slide projector displaying pictures and photographers, spoke about the dying words of personalities ranging former US President Robert Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstien and Laurel of the Laurel and Hardy comedian fame, Sarojini Naidu and Mohammed Ali Jinnah among others.

"States executing people for individual crimes can, with a little twist, execute people with intentions that go beyond the ends of criminal justice," Gandhi said.

The Indian scaffold lies on the parapet of the Executive and the Judiciary, said Gandhi who pointed out that the President can address the appeal for clemency aided and advised by the Council of Ministers.

"The Indian state is an enlightened state but principles are based on theory not incumbency, tendency or contingency," he said.

Gandhi said he regarded the death sentence to be barbaric but "as long as it on our stature book, it is lawful."

He said death sentence was generally viewed not as an example to dread but to given a high dose of primitive revenge and vendatta very often to satisfy not the ends of justice as much as a orgasm of spite.

"I have no illusions about the diabolical nature of violent deeds committed with criminal intent. Their perpetrators are, as individuals, loathesome people, as deserving of contempt as of revulsion.

"But to compete with murder by matching it in kind is to pursue a mindless computer game like thrill with rewind and forward buttons," Gandhi said.

Gandhi said it was notable that Ramdas Gandhi, the Mahatma's third son, appealed to save Bapu's assassins Godse and Apte from death sentence.

"I believe the position of the kin of late Rajiv Gandhi in the matter of the death sentence against the former Prime Minister's assassin is like Ramdas Gandhi's 1948 intervention, compassionate and civilisationally advanced," he said.

Moving on from the earlier times when death sentences meant death by torture, Gandhi said "we no longer amputate, maim or blind convicts before executing them" and "it only follows that the civilising trend should only culminate in the ending of judicial murder as a means of punishment."

"In this movement towards a more humane penology, the last words of dying men can act as a great signpost..." said Gandhi.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former administrator, diplomat and Governor, spoke about the last wishes of people.

Gandhi recounted the conversation of Jinnah, with India's High Commissioner to Pakistan Sri Prakasa, who had been requested by Jawaharlal Nehru to inquire about the monthly rent that the Pakistan's Governor General expected for his house in Mumbai.

"Sri Prakasa, please tell Jawaharlal not to break my heart. You do not know how much I love Bombay. It is still my desire to return to that city and live in my bungalow there."

Responding to Gandhi, Karan Singh, President of ICCR, said Jinnah's home in Mumbai is with ICCR which he had proposed "to be used as a cultural centre but the matter is in courts now."

In the early part of the lecture, Gandhi spoke about the dying words of mythical monkey king Bali and kingly vulture Jatayu from Ramayana apart from referring to Gautam Buddha, Socrates and Jesus Christ.

"Socrates and Jesus Christ are about the earliest known victims of the death penalty inflicted for political reasons. The two can be said to have inaugurated the genre of last words on the scaffold, the gallows, the guillotine, the electric chair, facing a firing squad or through some other form of execution," Gandhi said.

Gandhi also spoke of Sufi mystic Sarmad, a friend of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's brother Dara Sukoh, who was executed for not saying Allah's name.

Gandhi said Bapu was anguished upon hearing about the plight of the refugees following Partition and had "no will left to remain alive".

"Bapu expected to be slain and had almost begun to wish for such an end with Rama's name in his thoughts and lips."

Prior to his last words, Bapu had said in Gujarati to Abha Gandhi and Manu Gandhi: "I hate being late."

Gandhi said he found "this ordinary comment had been raised to metaphoric height by Italian philosopher Lanza del Vasto who imagines Bapu looking at his assassin in the eye and saying, 'Brother, you are late.'"

Gandhi also displayed a "hazy painting" of the Bapu's killing executed by a Polish painter much before the actual assassination.

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