News Briefs | Angle
The Disproportionate Punishment
On Singapore executing an Indian-origin man for trafficking in marijuana
28 Apr, 2023
IT IS INEVITABLE that the consumption of marijuana will eventually be as legal as tobacco or alcohol in many countries in the world. That is the trend, from the US and Canada to a number of European nations that have already set the precedent. It does not mean that the narcotic—and it is a narcotic—is good or beneficial, just that there are certain vices human societies agree they can live with. In India, for instance, it is not legal but widely tolerated in different forms. If you needed to choose between tobacco and weed, then the latter is probably safer. Even Mike Tyson, the former boxing legend, now has a perfectly legitimate business farming marijuana, and it is just another product wherever it is legal. All of which goes to show why the execution of an Indian-origin man in Singapore for trafficking in a kilogramme of marijuana seems to border on the barbaric. It is not something progressive countries do in 2023.
There is a case for capital punishment but the minimum measure of it ought to be someone who has taken another life. Set the bar even lower, then he should at least be an imminent threat that takes lives. If you really want to execute drug traffickers, this could be an argument, but even then, only for hard drugs from which many addicts will see lifespans considerably shortened. Marijuana still doesn’t meet that questionable standard.
In many ways, Tangaraju Suppiah invited his own death. The Singapore government, in its defence, did offer him a plea bargain where he could have spent 12 years in jail but he rejected it, hoping to be held not guilty during the trial. But the manner in which all doors were closed once he had been convicted is of a system with absence of compassion.
What Singapore does is actually not the exception but the rule in history. It has usually been the default option until the modern era to kill criminals for crimes that today would seem trivial. The UK, for example, used to execute pickpockets and people who cut down trees a few centuries ago. What that didn’t do to reduce their crime, social development and increasing wealth did. Singapore is already a First World nation and doesn’t need to correlate death sentences to law and order. Suppiah himself is an example of it because the existence of capital punishment didn’t deter him from getting into the marijuana business, and there will be others who will follow him. Where there is a market—legal or illegal— there will always be entrepreneurs.
Singapore will also give up punishments that don’t belong in the present and, who knows, at some point, even they might legalise marijuana. It is hard to stand against the diktats of time. Suppiah’s tragedy was in being in the wrong country at the wrong time. A little into the future or at a different point in the globe, he would have been a regular businessman. Punishment eventually becomes proportionate to crime but until then, there is the dark hole of fate.
About The Author
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai
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