Thursday, December 20, 2007

Remembering the days when Travancore did not have the death penalty

The Colosseum swathed in golden light

Rome’s Colosseum was swathed in golden light twice during the week as the city celebrated two events: the abolition of the death penalty by the state of New Jersey in the United States and the adoption of a resolution, calling upon the nations of the world to do away with the death penalty, by the General Assembly of the United Nations..

Italy abolished the capital punishment in 1948. The Colosseum, built in the first century AD, was the scene of a series of demonstrations against the death penalty in 2000. Since then, as a gesture against the death penalty, local authorities of Rome change the colour of the Colosseum's night time illumination from white to gold whenever a person condemned to the death penalty anywhere in the world gets the sentence commuted or is released. Also, when there is a significant advance in the cause of abolition of the death penalty anywhere on earth.

The UN General Assembly Tuesday voted 104-54 with 29 abstentions in favour of a resolution declaring a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. Though non-binding, supporters of the resolution believe international opinion against capital punishment is growing. The US voted against the resolution, joining with India, Syria, Iran, China and other nations against Israel, the European Union and other anti-death penalty states.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the vote as "a bold step by the international community."

Amnesty International and anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain also welcomed the news of the resolution's passage.

The erstwhile princely state of Travancore, which lost its identity progressively in the State of Travancore-Cochin (1948) and Kerala (1956), has the distinction of being the only part of India where there was no death penalty for a short period in living memory.

The Maharaja of Travancore had abolished the capital punishment by a proclamation in 1946. Four years later the death penalty came back with the introduction of the Constitution of India. Even so, courts in the region refrained from applying the ultimate penalty for a few years. Researchers have established that there was no increase in the incidence of crime when there was no capital punishment.

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