By Vimukthi Caldera –
As the government takes attempts to redress the claims of the previous regime in terms of Human Rights concerns at the international Council, our general public have been wreaking havoc trying to bring “justice” to Seya by re-introducing the death penalty. Even more interesting is that the strongest advocates for it are the very religious groups of Buddhists. I wonder if anyone saw the irony in seeing the girls in lama saree at the petitions. On the one hand the nation gives the outlook of being the “Great Buddhist Nation” or the “Dharma Rajya” while on the other hand, the general public demands the death of criminals. Those protesting for the punishment can hopefully take this time to actually go through criminal record statistics of the last few years across the country. Seya’s case is not new – we have just been ignorant as a whole. Within the week of Seya’s case alone, there were 6 other cases reported within the news media. And those were incidents that were actually reported.
The biggest argument for the death penalty considers how “research” has proven that it acts as a deterrent on criminal minded personnel. To be honest, depending on how one looks at it, there are statistics to both prove and disprove this statement. The first question we should ask then is whether a rapist while kidnapping an individual will actually stop to think “Oh my gosh now if I get caught I will surely face the death penalty”. It does not work that way. Deterrence does not come easy.
However, since the general public is bent on using Seya’s case to argue for it, let me elaborate why it provides the perfect justification not to. There are several problems associated with her case. As much as the situation is tragic and heartbreaking to hear or even think about, the first problem in the whole scenario lies with the fact that her parents had space for neglect. The “kondaya’s” (criminal’s) confession stated that he simply walked through an unlocked door, despite having seen that the open window (which did not have reinforcing metal bars) provided easy access to the house. While we sit around blaming the criminal, we did not think about the fault of the parents. You would assume that in today’s world, parents would take extra measures to take care of their children. Yet, not over a week after Seya’s death, I came across a child with a group of Policemen trying to locate the mother, at the Colombo Book Fair. I could not guess the age of the kid but I guess he was not much older than Seya herself because the mother was breastfeeding her son as soon as she collected him from the Police.
The second main problem with the case lies in how the general public did not think about the criminal’s situation at least for the sake of it. Print media did a great job of plastering the case like it was some Agatha Christie novel. When the background and details of the kondaya were investigated his mother was reported to have said that he had not been to school in his entire life. This is very frightening for several reasons. 1. We boast a free education and 98% literacy rate. The question then arises how, even after receiving cloth for uniforms, free books and access to free education as a whole, this single mother was unable to send her son to school. 2. This was in Gampaha. What then are we to say about kids living in Angunukolapalassa or Eppawala? 3. Kondaya is 32 years old and is part of the current labour force – a group of individuals who are the backbone of the country. This is a very recent case and it is extremely worrying, for we just generally assume that every child across the country goes to school. So if we were to actually take measures towards deterrence, then we should be considering ways of fixing up our education system. Providing access to free education doesn’t solve everything.
The third problem lies with the fickle nature of the general public. We were so worried about Seya that we forgot about her sibling(s) who will need measures to be settled into a normal childhood. The trauma of being her sibling and the fear, sorrow, anger and confusion they will grow up with must not be things any child should worry about. If we were so compassionate about our children we would be concerned about the therapy and rehabilitation projects needed. Additionally we were quick to dismiss kondaya as the criminal while the 17 year old “suspect” underwent much harsher treatment and embarrassment. The Police also easily dismissed the fact that the “suspects’” faces were released on mass media as a matter of circumstance and not error. The true level of compassion was visible when citizens “shared” the image of the dead infant widely on Facebook – so much for respect for the dead.
The last main problem appears from the human rights perspective. Every human being has a right to life – the ability to continue living rather than dying. This includes criminals. There are various other punishments that we can endorse to correct the wrongs of these individuals and the death penalty is not one. Kondaya, for example, could actually benefit from a life sentence without parole.
To be honest, there are a host of activities we can undertake to seek justice for Seya and other kids alike. Killing to prove that killing is bad is flawed logic in itself. Several errors and issues had to collide in order for kondaya to be able to commit the crime. The door being unlocked, the mother having fallen asleep out of fatigue, the window not being secured, the father having to work till late, the single mother not being able to send her son to school three decades ago were all issues surrounding the case. Economic hardships must have been quite large for her father to be working late in the night while the mother also works as hard – so much so that it leads to the neglect of her child. These are not recent problems neither are they only ones. They have been lying around for quite a while and culminated to produce the unwanted result. Before we even begin speaking of the death penalty we must start to think about and fix these surrounding issues of society first. It is easy to assign the death penalty to someone but it is not the solution.
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the wise cannot see all ends.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)