Stories of Dharma – My Take On Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment Graph

There is a raging debate in the country today about capital punishment. India is not a Scandanavian country, her neighbors and demography has made her prone to frequent terrorists attacks, so capital punishment is unavoidable in India.

Our society is like a functional living organism, and every human being in that society is like a cell. When our own cells become cancerous it is important to remove them surgically. If you don’t kill the cancer cells, those few cancer cells can kill the entire organism. No law or act is perfect, but when it comes to greater good, capital punishment becomes inevitable. If there is no capital punishment, then it encourages the terrorists, which in turn might result in more loss of human life. Why are we ignoring the right of life of general population? Capital punishment should be seen as a deterrent and not as justice or revenge.

Using force as a deterrent to violence is ahimsa. Hitler, Churchill and Stalin killed millions, the death of Hitler and Stalin directly and indirectly saved millions of lives. We don’t need any ideology or values here, we cannot survive in this world without killing (be it plants or animals), perfect ahimsa is impossible. However we can minimize himsa, capital punishment is one such act. It is definitely not about justice or revenge, it is about ahimsa. If Pakistan is invading India, retaliating and killing their soldiers is not himsa, as the army in turn is protecting millions of civilians. What would be the call of these human rights activists be, if they were the commander in chief of our army? To hit back and kill the invading soldiers or forgive them and let them ransack our country and kill civilians? This is precisely what Dharma is all about.. Showing mercy can be the biggest act of adharma, and killing can be a great act of dharma based on the context of events.

To explain this in detail, Krishna (some times credited to Bheesma) narrates a couple of stories in Mahabharata. The first story goes like this..

A sage lived in the outskirts of a village. He had never spoken a lie, killed an animal or used harsh words. He was meditating under a huge banyan tree, a wealthy family came running his way. They told him that some thugs are chasing them to rob their jewels and they wanted to hide behind the banyan tree. They also asked him not to reveal their hiding spot. This sage has never spoken a lie, so when the thugs came and inquired, he revealed the hiding spot. The thugs grabbed the family, killed them all and took away the jewels. The sage’s is an act of adharma, and he earned immense bad karma for that act.

In another story, a hunter lived in the banks of a huge lake besides a forest. His profession is to kill the animals coming to the lake for water. He has done nothing but kill animals his entire life for food and livelihood. One day a group of traders travelling to another city put up their tent on the banks of the lake to spend their night. Two thugs, who target travelling traders spotted them, they pulled all the traders out of the tent and was about to kill them. The hunter seeing this fought with those two thugs and managed to kill them. It was a twin murder, but it was an act of dharma.

Killing is neither dharma or adharma, the context and volition of that act decides if it is dharmic or not. The human rights activists’ misguided sense of morality may result in more deaths and violence that capital punishment.


At the same time I am against using capital punishment to silence the voices of dissent, like it is happening in a few countries like China, even here it is not the action (capital punishment), but how it is used matters.