Manifest as a civilisation, the Indian nation is averse to the act of killing. This is reflected strongly not only in its religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and particularly Jainism, even its social order was constructed in a manner that restricted the role of the warrior, giving power and prominence to spiritual power. The code of the warrior was extremely strict and the ancient texts are full of instances where shedding of innocent blood, even inadvertently, by kings often led to a lifetime of karmic suffering. These principles, consciously and inherently, have found their place in the Indian Constitution.
This is what led to the Supreme Court affirming the principle of ‘rarest of rare cases’ in passing the death sentence. While India falls in between the countries that have banned the death sentence altogether and those that execute dozens in a single day, the reluctance being displayed by the system in carrying out the sentence against the Nirbhaya convicts indicates the abhorrence that exists for cold blooded killing. This is why there is any number of people who find reasons to approach the courts on behalf of even the worst kind of criminal. The courts tie themselves in knots, providing openings till the very last for some argument that might weigh in favour of the wrong-doers.
Modern civilisation is advancing to the point where, eventually, all acts of crime will be attributed to mental disease, lack of social development, conditioned response, etc., indicating thereby the possibility of prevention and a ‘cure’. This implies that education and bringing up would better condition people to abjure violence of any kind. In India’s past, there was the concept of ‘pashtachap’ and ‘prayaschit’. There are many incidents in history of those who inflicted suffering on others suffering remorse and then making amends through good deeds. Emperor Ashok is one such example. The environment for such personal spiritual transformation is important, because, while ordinary criminals can be punished by society for their deeds, the kings and powerful people through history too often get away scot free. This is visible even in the present global environment.
These truths should be acknowledged by present day society. So long as hanging is believed to be a deterrent for heinous crimes, it may not be possible to abolish the death sentence. However, it must be explained why in the case of the Nirbhaya killers, no steps were taken to create a sense of genuine remorse in them over the past seven years. They would then have gone to the gallows with an understanding of what they had done and the willingness to accept their punishment as just. That would have been just and dignified closure as small recompense for the sufferings of Nirbhaya.