capital punishment

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: Should it be abolished in India?

Capital punishment, also called death penalty, refers to the execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law and of a criminal offence. It is distinguished from extrajudicial executions carried out without due process of law. In simple terms, capital punishment is the highest degree of punishment sentenced to an individual which involves the legal killing of a person utilizing hanging or shooting, committing serious crimes defined under IPC, like murder after a proper trial. It has been opposed and critiqued on the grounds that it is cruel, inhuman and degrading. The legality and moral bearing of  Capital punishment  have been questioned by human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International. There is also an evident fear among the advocates of human rights that death can be misused and ‘Rights to Life and Liberty’ can be abused by a sovereign body. Frequent instances of such ruthless abuse in countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia has painted a tainted picture for the world leading to the abolishment of the procedure in 106 countries. However, India is yet to take a stance!

Historically, during British rule, the death penalty was used as an unjust tool in the hands of British Judicial imperialists to punish dissenters on their whims for, there have been countless instances of Indians being hanged after the trial or even before it. In  21st century India, the death penalty has been awarded in the rarest of rare cases; yet it is deplorable that such acts do not deter  criminals from committing heinous offences. Also, there is no evidence to support that it is any more effective than “life imprisonment”. In the example of ancient Britain, the death penalty was awarded to “pickpockets”, yet people got easily duped while walking on the streets in daylight. It is argued that “surety” rather than “severity” of the punishment is necessary. Moreover, a serious problem arises when an innocent person gets killed. There is no way to compensate the accused or reverse the consequences. In many cases, prisoners lined on the death rows have been released on grounds of innocence. Moreover, the criminals are kept waiting on death row for a very long time without any parole. This delay points to grave violations of life and liberty and the amount of mental torture the inmates have to face. Errors in the death sentences highlight the motive of vengeance of the party demanding it. It is not justified to sentence the convict with the same punishment that mimics the crime. Nowhere people guilty of assault are not ritually beaten up! The death penalty is not serving as a solution, rather it is legitimising the culture of violence in lieu of violence.  

Findings reveal that the death penalty is error-ridden, arbitrarily imposed and unfairly targets the poor. In the absence of a trial following the procedure established by law, it may be used authoritatively to curb political rivals, evident in the cases of Sudan and Iran. In most of the cases, it has turned out to be discriminatory, in the sense that it targets the socially disadvantaged, ethnic, racial and religious minorities. Minorities in many countries do not get proper representation due to the flawed and skewed judicial systems. Powerlessness and inability to afford a representative make it difficult for them to voice their arguments through competent lawyers. Sometimes there is so much  pressure upon judges by media trial and public opinion that they may unjustifiably sentence a person based on just the facts and circumstantial evidence. 

In the example of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination case, one of the convicts, Perarivalan had been awarded the death penalty in 1991 for his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate PM Rajiv Gandhi. He was charged with providing a 9-volt battery to a co-conspirator for the explosive device that was used to kill Rajiv Gandhi.  The horror-struck the life of Perarivalan, who was an ordinary young man with no significant political background or influence. He did not foresee that he would have to pay dearly for an act of which he was unaware. Later, it was commuted to life imprisonment. The delay in justice for 30 odd years in his case was ‘extraordinary’. His plea for a grant of executive clemency is still being considered. These lacunae in the system coupled with people’s pressing influence for vengeance could land up any innocent person on the death knell (verge of their death) and it would be too late to realize the consequences.

From   a moral perspective, the death penalty is inhumane. No one, not even the sovereign state or a Supreme leader has the right to deprive even one living person of his life, whatever the crime may be. Humans, however qualified they may be, are prone to make legal, factual and moral errors while placing themselves in a higher position. Believers argue that the final authority of judging and measuring a person’s deeds rests solely with the divine and the person will be ultimately paid or punished in full in the afterlife.  The state can only punish to maintain law and order and to make the world a safer and better place, yet it can’t altogether take away the life of a person since humans are mortal creatures by default. They are doomed to die.  The very sights of hanging, electrocution, the gas chamber, firing squad, and lethal injection are horrifying. 

In the light of these considerations, my take on the question of its abolishment is in the affirmative. Amnesty International rightly stated: “The death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.

Tazeen Ahmed is a freshman Law Student at Jamia Millia Islamia from Gurugram, Haryana. She likes to play with words and delve into the reflections of who she truly is. Her appetite is music, poetry, politics and law.

1 comments On CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: Should it be abolished in India?

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