- Capital punishment should not be an option in Pakistan
A just society is one in which citizens fully comprehend the result of committing an offence; in which citizens know that if they break the law they will be apprehended and punished. Yet crime happens.
In a place like Pakistan where committing an offence is almost unavoidable and it is easy to avoid apprehension and punishment, crime is rampant. Here not only do real offenders escape being caught and punished, those who do get caught and punished are often innocent.
Fraud and forgery are strong industries in Pakistan, and bribery and misrepresentation a daily occurrence in almost everyone’s life. Fake documents (think driver’s licenses, for example) are nearly more common than genuine. An AFP report says that the system in Pakistan allows people with money or power to rise above the law. And that is scary. One of the basic tenets of the law is that no one should be above it. When segments of society are above the law, law enforcement and justice cannot function. In this scenario innocents suffer and criminals live the good life.
Following the recent dreadful case of the rape of the lady on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway– and in front of her small children, the country has seen strident calls for the rapists to be apprehended and punished as they definitely should be. What is debatable is whether capital punishment should apply. And what is very difficult to understand is the clamour in support of a public hanging and castration. Even the PM has added his voice, for what it’s worth, in support of the call for public hanging or chemical castration.
Whether or not capital punishment is effective is a moot point, and not under discussion here. The point of this column is to question whether capital punishment should be allowed in Pakistan, a country where people with influence are above the law, where officials are easily bribed, where false documentation and false testimony are rife. If a capital punishment is handed out despite this, and later found to be false, a dead person will not come back to life. His or her family members will have lived with the pain of wrongly losing a loved one and that stigma and suffering will never be lifted. This is not justice.
In case of a false conviction, if the person is eventually pronounced innocent, at least he or she can still be freed, in many cases, and the shadow cast over his/her entire family can still be lifted, albeit after much suffering. A dead person cannot be brought back to life and whatever is lost cannot be replaced. Choose
The same argument applies against castration.
The further call for the hanging to be public, to “Let everyone know what happens to those who commit such crimes” is impossible to understand. No one seems to make a move to make repercussions so explicit when each and every day innocents suffer and criminals go free. Why then this sudden baying for blood when in today’s age of newspapers and televisions, when even the poorest man possesses a cell phone and a TV, the public know well what happens without people being hung on their doorstep. Do the people of Pakistan need to witness the image and stink of such violence? Do they lack such images in their lives? Do they lack the tendency towards violence that they should witness more?
Should our children see such images? Should they grow up to accept such sights as part of their lives?
If there were any sort of guarantees that the men caught for committing such crimes are really guilty, that their conviction is not the result of revenge or wrongful arrest based on fake evidence then capital punishment is open to discussion, but public hanging never.
It is my conviction however that because there can be no such guarantee in Pakistan, the idea of capital punishment in this country should never be entertained. Based on very common precedent there is no guarantee whatsoever of the real criminal being caught, in fact a good chance of the opposite.
There are those who say that religion calls for this. That is not so. You can only hand out punishments when the conditions are such that the punishment is likely to be just, and there is little justice in this country.
Pakistani society is as much to blame for crime as the criminals, as are the governments who have failed to check corruption, and law enforcing authorities who have failed to check crime. In the particular case that took place on the motorway the police did not turn up when called. If there was a shortage of officers this should have been made clear to anyone using the motorway and alternative arrangements provided.
So if there is to be no capital punishment, what then?
We need a complete overhaul of law enforcement. Officials should know as much as any rapist that they will be held accountable for neglecting the security of the citizens of the country, accepting bribes and giving in to pressure.
It is the government’s job to ensure that pressure does not come to bear on those who enforce the law. It is most often government officers and the rich segment of society which provide such pressure, and get away with it every time.
Punishment is not the only deterrent. Attempts should also be made to change the conditions that encourage crime, to prevent crime from occurring. We need jobs, education and security in this country. And just as important we need to change the deeply entrenched attitude against women as a result of which it is considered acceptable to harass women, to commit crimes against them and to hold the victims themselves responsible. It is the attitude we saw reflected in the CCPO’s statement where he held the victim responsible for being raped. Such reprimands are not his job. His job is to ensure security and this he entirely failed to do.
The criminals must definitely be apprehended and punished. One has no sympathy for people who commit such crimes. But as we all expect in our own cases, there must be a proper investigation free from bribery, sloth or self-interest. The rapists must face time in jail.
To take a life and to cut off body parts is neither a solution nor a deterrent. Those who have the wherewithal still know that they can get away with rape, murder and fraud, and they are as much a part of this society as anyone else. Is one segment to be deterred and not the other?
In case of a false conviction, if the person is eventually pronounced innocent, at least he or she can still be freed, in many cases, and the shadow cast over his/her entire family can still be lifted, albeit after much suffering. A dead person cannot be brought back to life and whatever is lost cannot be replaced. Choose.