Long Live the Luminary
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Published by: Advocate John S.Ralph
The International Citizen-Judge Mr.V.R.Krishna Iyer is celebrating his 99th Birthday this year. At this juncture it is worthwhile to learn about his celebrated judgments on death sentencing policies.
The death sentence being sentenced to death was one of the long cherished visions of the most humanitarian Indian legal luminary and International Jurist Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer. We will be celebrating the 40th Birth day of Ediga Anamma ( 1974 SCC Cri.479 ) on the occasion of the great visionary’s 100th birthday. It was the first classic judgment on the subject from the Apex court of India that knifed the hangman’s ropes. After the judicial sanction given by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of death sentence in Jagmohan Singh’s Case (1973 SCC Cri.169) the courts would have hanged thousands, but for the poetic rendering of Ediga Anamma by Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer. The visionary’s humanitarian views were expressed in its own treasury in 1980 SC 249 in the following words. “A potentially good citizen, being processed into a hardened delinquent. Thanks to the penal illiteracy of the prison system, the court should restore the man.” It is this vision juxtaposed among the crime and the criminal that paved the way for a new school of thought of looking at the matter of death sentences with equal importance to the accused with his potentiality to become a useful citizen, that is being lost sight of by the sentencing chambers of the day. The lack of exercise of the Presidential clemency is also not an exception to this mournfully dangerous blindness. It is so shocking to hear that the Rashtrapathi Bhavan has removed the website on the mercy petitions earlier this year after the clandestine executions of Ajmal Kasab and Afsal Guru that invited worldwide criticism on the manner in which those executive murders were executed in a tactful manner even by excluding the kin to perform the religious rites on the hanged.
When faced with a brutal crime, the society has a tendency to retaliate it with the same brutality in order to satisfy its basic retributive thirst. It is Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer who, through his various pronouncements on the need of considering the criminal , had contributed much to the reformative principles on sentencing. The visionary was not totally against the death sentence and has repeatedly opined that in appropriate cases it can be awarded. Perhaps this was the reason in him to say in Ediga Anamma “ Guilt once established, the punitive dilemma begins. The choice between death penalty and life term has to be made in a situation which is not altogether satisfactory….In any scientific system which turn the focus at the sentencing stage not only the crime, but also the criminal and seeks to personalize the punishment so that the reformatory component is as much operative as the deterrent element, it is essential that the facts of a social and personal nature, sometimes altogether irrelevant if not injurious at the stage of fixing the guilt, may have to be brought to the notice of the court when the actual sentence is determined.”
Unfortunately we don’t have a system that helps the court in determining the quality of the person of the accused, his antecedents, social backgrounds, potentials and most importantly his chance to come back to the society as a potentially good citizen. ‘Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future’. This handicap and lack of machinery of our penal system has caused numerous errors in awarding death sentences even by the Apex court, but being the final court it is in a fiction of infallibility. Justice Robert Jackson of the U.S Supreme Court said “ We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible because we are final” It is on this fallibility, Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer always lamented at.
‘It is always better to err on the safer side.’ His poetical but frightening words in Rajendra Prasad(1979 SCC Cri.749) always shocked us. “ Judge Power uncanalised by clear principles may be equally dangerous when the consequence of his marginal indiscretion may be horrific hanging of a human being until he be dead.”
Indian Judiciary has not seen such a visionary on its bars or benches. His quest to restore the man back to society was always unending, a vision that lacks in our penal system. Thanks to the penal illiteracy and poignant intellectual poverty of our system which is poised to forget Ediga Anamma.
We are centuries away from the British Imperial butchery of Indian uprising when the death sentence was emanated from the vintage mint of Lord Macaulay. The moment India abolishes death sentence , a considerable credit should go to the most celebrated Indian Legal Luminary, Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer. Long live the legend.