In one of the episodes of popular American drama series, Boston Legal, a Democrat lawyer (Alan Shore) takes a dig at his Republican colleague (Denny Crane) for his stand on capital punishment, "On one hand, you Republicans favour capital punishment and on the other hand, you call yourselves pro-life."
For those who are unable to comprehend this amusing statement, pro-life campaigners are the ones who favour criminalisation of abortion, as against the pro-choice campaigners who argue for the reproductive rights of the woman, i.e. her right to continue or terminate a pregnancy.
Curiously, while the Republicans view the foetuses and embryos as a person, hence argue for their right to life, they also argue for the continuance of capital punishment, which the Democrats find violative of the right to life of a person.
This is the paradoxy that I'll try to understand here and see where do I stand in these two debates.
If I try to see from the Republican perspective, somehow I can reconcile this paradoxy. The embryo and the foetus form the initial stages in the evolution of a human being, the starting point of the life. Embryo comes into the existence due to the act of someone else. So why should it be deprived of the opportunity to come out of the womb, into the world because of no fault of his/her! On the other hand, capital punishment is granted for an act committed by a person which has resulted in some serious loss to someone else. So, the culprit is liable for his/her grievous action.
I am a liberal, so how come I am upholding the conservative stand of Republicans! The truth is, there are no strict divisions on the two questions. The different viewpoints lie somewhere on an axis, where the so-called Republican and Democratic stands are the two ends. The question is of the degree.
I remember taking part in an extempore some years back where I had to speak in favour of the capital punishment. Luckily, my personal stand was in coherence to the task at stake and I emphatically declared, "If a person can take away someone's life, the State has the right to take away his/her life". Even today, I am pro-capital punishment but as it exists in India. According to the Indian Supreme Court ruling, capital punishment is reserved for the rarest of the rare cases.
On the other hand, I am against the use of capital pinishment as it exists in countries like China and Saudi Arabia where it has been employed as an instrument in the hands of the Communist Party and the Monarchy, respectively to quell any kind of resistance, hence leading to major human rights violations.
However, even in India, a lot of ambiguity lies in the usage of the term 'rarest of the rare', hence leading to different interpretations at different times. There is a need to form a stronger concensus on the types of cases that might fall under it and the types of safeguards that need to be employed to ensure consistency as well as prevent any innocent from being deprived of his/her right to life.
I can understand to some extent, the argument of those against capital punishment that a life-long imprisonment in jail is a harsher punishment for repenting a heinous crime like say, rape and murder of a minor, committed by someone than an instant punishment of death.
However, in Indian scenario, capital punishment is a must to handle issues like terrorism. Keeping the dreaded terrorists in jail for longer periods can act as an incentive for their accomplices to re-enact Kandahar like hijackings or other such operations.
While the issue of capital punishment has been there in debates in India for long, the abortion rights came into limelight just a year ago with the Niketa Mehta case in the Mumbai High Court.
Again the question is of degree. While the Indian law permits an abortion of a foetus upto 20 weeks old; in some western countries, its allowed upto 26 weeks. This upper limit has been decided keeping in mind the concern for the health of both the pregnant woman and the foetus. So, here one of the conflict is based upon deciding this upper limit.
In the immediate case, the foetus was 25 weeks old but had been diagnosed with congenital heart problem. Niketa Mehta moved the court for termination of her pregnancy. However, the court ruled against it exactly an year ago on Aug 4, 2008. Incidentally, she had a miscarriage soon after.
In such a case, where it is known, the child once born will be forced to lead a painful life, one may argue for the right of the mother to decide upon carrying the foetus or not, but in the Indian context, abortion is related to a major social problem of female foeticide too. Today states like Punjab and Haryana are having skewed sex ratios due to the misuse of ultrasound tests and selective gender abortions. Though such tests have been outlawed for long but still the misuse is on.
Hence, it is not easy to take any particular stand without looking at all these aspects. One cannot blindly adhere to pro-life or pro-choice perspective, nor can one totally discard or accept the capital punishment.
As, I say so often, things are not always black or white. Its important to identify the different shades of grey that lie within. However, a person must strive to recognise his distinct shade of grey rather than hopping from one blurry grey to another all the time. This post was an attempt to find my distinct shade of grey. Though I failed in this endeavour, I find myself closer to it. So while I keep trying, you too give it a thought!
The image relating to abortion might look insensitive to some of the readers. I'll like to apologise to them for the same.
Don't miss my latest review and recommendation of Frost/Nixon
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