On Killing

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 AMNov (Activism, Cinema, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

I was still on my bed and I heard my mother worriedly asking my dad “what happened” and I ran to them realizing something was wrong. My dad had tears in his eyes and a newspaper was lying next to him. I dint know what happened and my mother kept asking repeatedly the same question- what happened?

I took the newspaper and glanced through it and saw a photo of an old lady and a young boy holding each other. The boy was the son of Dhanonjay Chatterjee who was hanged the previous morning!

I still don’t know what is my Dad’s take on capital punishment and on the issue of Dhanonjay but all I know is that he felt bad for his family who were also victimized for no fault of theirs.

This small incident that took place in my house on the morning of 15 August 2004, made me think for the first time in my life about capital punishment and of killing.


George Orwell in his days in Burma once goes to witness a hanging. He has written a very interesting essay about it titled A HANGING. In this essay writing about how the prisoner to be hanged was being brought to the gallows he says:

It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound arms, but quite steadily, with that bobbing gait of the Indian who never straightens his knees. At each step his muscles slid neatly into place, the lock of hair on his scalp danced up and down, his feet printed themselves on the wet gravel. And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.

It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive. All the organs of his body were working —bowels digesting food, skin renewing itself, nails growing, tissues forming—all toiling away in solemn foolery. His nails would still be growing when he stood on the drop, when he was falling through the air with a tenth of a second to live. His eyes saw the yellow gravel and the grey walls, and his brain still remembered, foresaw, reasoned—reasoned even about puddles. He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone—one mind less, one world less.

The man being killed is not dying. He is living and will live if not killed. The desire to live in him hasn’t died but he will be killed.


Robert Enrico’s most celebrated film An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge that is also popularly known as An Incident At Owl Creek, explore the same issue of killing a man.

The film to me raises two points. One- It speaks of the desire of a man to live even when he stands before death. The man being killed hasn’t lost the will or desire to live. So even when he knows that he is being hanged the desire to live flows in full tide.

The song ‘Living Man’ which comes in the film expresses the same desire to live.

A livin’ man
A livin’ man
I want to be
A livin man…

I see rainbow
In each dew drop
Upon a mil’lion
Blades of grass

I see each tree
I read each vein
I hear each bug
Upon each leaf

The buzzing flies
The splashing fish
The move around
This livin’ man

A livin’ man
A livin’ man
I wanna be
A livin’ man

(Lyrics courtesy: The Ways of Film Studies by Gaston Roberge)

The second point it makes is that killing a man is also killing a dream. When the body dies, the dream also comes to an end. The dream of the protagonist to reach home and meet his wife and his kid comes to an end with his life.


History teaches us that killing is an instrument for the system to keep the mouth of truth shut, to stop an alternate voice. The system has killed people who have tried to bring about a change in the world. Socrates and Jesus are the classical examples. Ken Saro Wiwa is my favorite example.

Ken who was fighting for the rights of Ogoni people in Nigeria and against the multinational Shell Oil Company was hanged to death by the then Nigerian regime in the year 1995. What was his crime? He stood for justice and humanity and spoke the truth.

System uses killing as a tool to kill truth and the thoughts. But Ken while being hanged said, “I’ll tell you this, I may be dead but my ideas will not die and I know that I have the moral victory”

It is this thought that the system attempts to kill with the killing of a person. Its also an warning signal sent to the rest of the world as the consequence of having an alternative thought, of speaking the truth, for standing for the common people and for humanity. Killing is an attempt to kill thoughts, truth and the quest for justice too.


Werner Herzog’s film Where The Green Ants Dream has an interesting scene. The conflict between the aboriginals and the mining company is taken to the court. The aboriginals believe that mining disturbs the green ants sleep and that it’s necessary for the green ants to dream to keep the world alive. The mining company finds it foolish and it has its profit in its mind. In the court, once, an aboriginal comes forward and starts speaking, when he is not asked to speak, and the judge goes wild over the ‘misbehavior’ of the man in the court. The Judge tells the man that he is not supposed to speak when he is not asked to. But the aboriginal is unable to follow English, realizing this the Judge asks a local man to communicate the same to the aboriginal and the local fellow says- “Sir he is the last man living from that community. He doesn’t know any other language his and none of us know his language”. With this example Asish Nandy Sir had said- “Think what is that the culture of that community would have contributed to the world! Think what we have lost. We have killed it.”

To borrow the idea and ask- think what the living soul that was killed could have contributed to the world? What is that we have lost?


” Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red “
– Famous Macbeth Quote by William Shakespeare

05 July 2008

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