Mirror Magazine


Death penalty... To be or not to be?
By Thiruni Kelegama & Ishani Ranasinghe
To kill or not to kill is the question. This seems to be the issue on the minds of many after newspapers showed Interior Minister John Amaratunga examining the gallows at Welikada Prison. In reality, the notion that the death penalty is being reintroduced is misleading. Sri Lanka has never really done away with the death penalty; for it remains in the statute books; it's just a question of whether it will be implemented.

The death penalty has been in abeyance since 1977, because successive presidents declined to sign the death orders. By law, the President is required to sign a special warrant after a court has handed down a conviction in a capital case. Over the years, death sentences have instead been commuted to life imprisonment.

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist society which teaches the sanctity of all life, but the pressure for the return of the death penalty has been mounting over recent years.

Police say the country is suffering from a crime wave after a number of gruesome murders during the last couple of years. This seems to have convinced many that stronger punishment is needed as a deterrent to crime.

What do young people in our society feel about the death penalty? The Mirror Magazine spoke to a cross-section for their views.

There were a few who agreed that imposing death penalty is not the solution to the problem.

Said Tatiana, aged 24, "I feel that those who commit horrendous crimes should suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives than have an instant remedy. Therefore, I feel life imprisonment is far better than the death sentence."

"I am very much against it," says Nalin, a 20-year-old medical student. "We do not have the right to take away a person's life, we should instead focus on rehabilitating them."

Natalie, 24 concurred. "I think it is an inhumane thing to so. It is not right for us to take a person's life," she said. "Some people say that it should be done to deter criminals but I am totally against it. Besides, there is always chance that someone innocent could be killed."

"When a person commits a crime, it could be because of a lot of reasons. It is not always because he wanted to commit the crime," says Shevanthi, 27, taking a more liberal view. "There is a chance that the person was provoked or framed or he could be innocent altogether," she added. "Because of that, I am not for the death penalty being imposed."

"Sentencing someone to death is too final. If there is an error, there is no turning back," says Tharanga, a 24-year-old student. "I think it is not the way to handle the criminal."

But there are also the others who feel that the capital punishment should be implemented.

Kushlani says that she is for the death penalty. "I think we should just hang them. If they take some one else's life, they deserve to lose theirs," is what this 21-year-old felt.

"I think the death penalty should be there, but only for the hardcore criminals," says Sanjay (25). "The punishment should make them realise the gravity of the crimes they committed."

"The crime wave is ever rising here. A single day doesn't go by without there being some sort of a murder reported," says Harshi (26). "This is because these criminals know that the law is not going to come down hard on them. So I think we should re-implement the death penalty."

"If someone does a grave damage they should suffer the consequences. Sentencing them to death might look cruel but it would prevent others from committing crimes," says Gayan, 21.

So the debate goes on. Many think capital punishment is justifiable but is taking another human life acceptable? We live in a country where we strongly advocate forgiveness, compassion and love for all human beings. Then where does the death penalty fit in?

"Now is not the time"
The death penalty is definitely a much-debated issue in recent times. Dr. Nalin Swaris, human rights advocate gave us an insight into why it is so. "The claim that the death penalty has acted as a deterrent does not hold any water," he says. He explains the legal system in the United States of America where 38 states have the death penalty while 12 do not. But there isn't statistical evidence to show that the homicide rates in those 38 states are lower than in the 12 states that do not have the death penalty.

He went on to say that in the case of implementation of the death penalty, it should be discussed in general in relation to the social and political climate of the country.

"With the ceasefire in progress, now is the time for self examination. It is important to realise the social and historic roots of the violence that plagued the country. Now is not the time for the death penalty to be re-implemented."

Dr. Nalin Swaris is a retired senior lecturer in social philosophy at a college of social works in the Netherlands.

Dear Coz
Take heart
Dear Coz,
I'm a 19-year-old girl from Kurunegala. I'm writing to you because I have no one to ask for advice. From my younger days, I have been good in studies. I passed my scholarship exam and O/L exam with flying colours. I sat the A/L exam in 2002 but unfortunately, I didn't qualify for University entrance. I'm studying to re-sit the exam again. Compared with other students, I have a really good level of general knowledge. I watch the news channels and read the papers everyday. In school, I have participated in many quiz competitions. My problem is that I'm sick of having to repeat my subjects all over again. Can't I find a job or programme where I can make use of my general knowledge skills? What kind of fields can make use of my knowledge? Please help.
Fedup Rose

Dear Fedup Rose,
There are countless opportunities for you in the media field and what's more, you can opt to work part-time until you re-sit your examination. I know, studying all over again is agonising but it will be worth it. Don't give up your studies. Do a part-time job while you continue your studies. Compile a file with copies of all your certificates and create a CV with a detailed list of your achievements. Make a list of firms that you want to contact. Call and ask a relevant authority whether they have any vacancies or send in your details by mail. Don't be discouraged if things don't work out at once. They rarely do. Persevere and you'll achieve your goals.

Tell your dad
Dear Coz,
I'm a 20-year-old girl and I've been having a relationship with a 26-year-old man. My sister, his brother and his friends are the only people who know of this. Our biggest fear is that our families might not agree to our relationship, because of the differences in our families. I could go ahead and talk to my father about this but I want my elder siblings to marry before I do. My boyfriend is getting proposal after proposal and he's refusing each and every one. I'm afraid that he might give me up and agree to one of the proposals. I'm also afraid that a marriage between us might create problems between our families. We need each other but there's no one to help us. My father brought a marriage proposal for me but I refused. Everyone in my family will be pleased if I marry the guy my father found. My mother died a long time ago. So there's no one to give any advice. I hope you can help.

Dear Priya,
Your father just brought you a proposal, in other words, he wants you to get settled. If you can speak to him, what's preventing you from confiding in him about your affair? Sooner the better, at least you'll put his mind at rest. Differences such as social status, caste etc. are issues conjured up by society. It only becomes a problem when you make it so. It won't be easy, society has a nasty habit of flinging mud at people. But you can't live your life according to the whims and fancies of others. So make a decision and stick to it. If you want to be together, then do so. Your boyfriend is 26 years old. He's old enough to tell his parents whom he wants to marry. Instead of simply refusing the proposals, it's time he told his parents the truth. Once everyone knows, there might be less pressure to marry you off. It won't be smooth sailing but if you truly love each other, you can work things out.

Make a choice
Dear K.S.S.G (Letter withheld on request),
Well, you've got to make a choice. Suffer in silence or reveal your feelings and accept the consequences. I doubt he has a girl but make a few discreet inquiries all the same. As you say, he may suspect your feelings for him and want to play it safe. If he's scared of his parents, he might never take the initiative. By popping the question you'll only succeed in scaring him off. What's the rush? You have his friendship, why not get to know each other better until he's of an age where he can make his own decisions. Then again, he doesn't seem to be very bold. He might enjoy your friendship but never be bold enough to take the risk of getting into his parents' bad books. So watch out or you'll end up with a broken heart.

Take it slow
Dear Coz,
I'm a 16-year-old boy who is interested in a girl. Ever since she came to school, I have admired her. I have tried everything but haven't been able to get hold of her phone number yet. Please help me Coz, what should I do?

Dear Fowzi,
She's in school. Surely you can think of some excuse to speak to her. Go ahead and make an opportunity to talk to her. You can start off a simple conversation by asking her if she's misplaced something like a book that you happened to find. You can even join the same society or club she's involved in and spend some time getting to know her. Don't rush things and scare her away. Take things slow and steady. All the best!

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