A death sentence represents the gravest and most severe punishment that a court of law can impose on an individual in humane societies. Typically reserved for offenders who have committed heinous crimes against humanity, such as murder, the death sentence is still enforced in India’s courts, reflecting the gravity of the offense.

Surprisingly, within this context, tradition finds a place. Since the era of British rule, judges in India have followed the custom of breaking the nib of their pens after signing a death sentence.

According to research conducted by the National Law University in Delhi in 2018, India has executed 1,414 individuals since gaining independence. While this figure may appear relatively low seed to other countries, it is a testament to the fact that Indian judges strive to minimize the use of death sentences. Such decisions are infrequent and weigh heavily on the judges involved.

This cautious approach can be attributed, in part, to India’s fundamental legal principle, which states, “It is better for a hundred guilty individuals to go cheap than for one innocent person to suffer.”

But why do judges engage in the custom of breaking the pen’s nib? Several theories shed light on this practice.

One theory suggests that the act of destroying the nib after signing a death warrant is intended to ensure that the pen used to seal another person’s fate is never used again. It symbolizes the pen’s association with an “unholy” act and signifies that it should never be employed for any other purpose.

In this interpretation, breaking the nib serves as a symbolic gesture, allowing judges to distance themselves from the judgment and guilt associated with their decision, no matter how justified it may be. Given India’s religious inclination and belief in reincarnation held by some citizens, this practice aligns with their cultural and spiritual values.

The second theory proposes a more functional reason behind the custom: silencing any doubts or questioning of the verdict. By breaking the nib, judges aim to prevent themselves and others from challenging their decision. Given the weight of awarding a death sentence, the resulting guilt may tempt a judge to reverse their decision, thus undermining their credibility and public respect. Once the nib is broken, only the superior court holds the power to override the sentence.

Lastly, a theory suggests that judges break the nib out of a sense of guilt, acknowledging that only a higher power, such as God, possesses the authority to take another person’s life. Through this act, judges affirm that they are fulfilling their sworn duty for the greater good of society.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Who would have thought that breaking a pen’s nib could carry such significance?

Ultimately, it doesn’t require expertise to understand that a death sentence is a monumental decision with far-reaching consequences for everyone involved. If breaking a pen’s nib brings some measure of solace to those involved in the process, let it be a custom they continue to uphold.