Lately, it seems, we’ve done a lot of calling for the death penalty and imprisonment without parole. It could be that we are just particularly hard on crime and pessimistic about rehabilitation. Or it could be that it is a sign of the times and this is what the times call for. And as we’ve had occasion to point out more than once over the past several weeks, it isn’t just here.
Witness the sentencing in New Delhi, India last Friday of four men to hang for the horrific (again, an adjective we’ve been using a quite a bit) rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a public bus.
And without wanting to appear flippant for so serious a matter, we say, Hooray for Judge Yogesh Khanna.
It is nearly beyond the scope of imagination to grasp that four so-called human beings could do something like this to another human being. In the plainest of terms, the young woman and a male friend were coming home last December from a showing of the movie Life of Pi -a film, by the way, that demonstrates the interrelationship of all living creatures – when these four men lured them onto the bus they were joy-riding around the city. They beat the man senseless, then turned to the woman, taking turns raping her. Then, as if that weren’t enough, they penetrated her with a metal rod, causing the massive internal injuries from which she later died in a hospital.
When Judge Khanna announced the death sentence, 20-year-old Vinay Sharma, the youngest of the defendants, broke down in sobs. We wonder if his sobs were as loud as the sobs of the innocent victim he and the other three thugs tortured to death. We wonder if they were as loud as those of the thousands upon thousands of women who are sexually attacked in India every year in what can only be described as an out of control pandemic.
If any society is serious about law, peaceful order and the life and dignity of its members, there are certain actions that simply cannot be tolerated or condoned, or we lose all moral perspective. Some acts are so horrible and so sadistic and so lacking in any redeeming human quality that their perpetrators must be purged permanently from that society as a statement of moral values.
And if this crime does not meet those standards, nothing does. If that is the case, then we have no standards and we have no society.
Tara Rao, director of Amnesty International India, issued a statement saying, “The rape and murder of the young woman in Delhi last year was a horrific crime, and our deepest sympathy goes out to the victim’s family. Those responsible must be punished, but the death penalty is never the answer.
“There is no evidence that the death penalty is a particular deterrent to crime, and its use will not eradicate violence against women in India.”
As many of our police officers say, it may not deter crime, but the recidivism rate for those executed for murder is very low.
We appreciate the views of those who do not believe in the death penalty under any circumstances, but we respectfully disagree. There is only one response remotely proportionate to a crime like this; only one action that can validate the values of a just society. And the wise and compassionate Judge Yogesh Khanna has let us know what it is.