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Ironically, the philosophy that India relies upon for not abolishing death penalty is completely foundation less and tenuous. India believes that the punishment should be according to the severity of the crime committed. This philosophy completely holds true for itself but in case of death penalty is it really so? Capital punishment is inhumane and barbaric. It is ridiculous argument that by killing a criminal with less pains sufferings in humanitarian thing. The lions in the zoo are not at all dangerous to men, they do not harm anyone, similarly, the hardened criminals, who are kept in prisons for years together, lose their temper, anger, cruelty, sadism, etc. the person’s life changes to cause repentance in his mind.[1]

The convicts after conviction have the right to file a mercy petition to the president. Sadly, this process takes so long that the convicts who have been awarded death penalty are put in a situation where they feel there is a knife on their neck and any moment it will scratch through. For example, Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who was convicted for terrorist activities[2] had been waiting for 12 years to get the response for his mercy petition. This means everyday you get up in the morning and think that today is my last day and I may not see the new tomorrow and this continues for 12 long years; after such a thing no person is in a normal state of mind to be hanged. Justice K.T. Thomas, who headed the three member bench in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, has said that “executing Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan, convicted and sentenced to death in the case, would amount to punishing them twice for the same offence, as they had already spent 22 years in jail, the equivalent of life imprisonment.”In a nutshell, the anticipatory suffering of the criminal, who may be kept on death row for many years, makes the punishment more severe than just depriving the criminal of life. In State of Bihar v. Pashupati Singh[3], the Supreme Court held that “if there has been a long interval between the date of the offence and the consideration of the appeal by the Supreme Court, the capital sentence for the commission of an offence under section 302, IPC for which the accused has undergone a long period of mental agony, may not be executed.”

The delay factor in execution of death sentence is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India[4]. The Supreme Court further said that undue delay in execution of death sentence due to delay in disposal of mercy petition by the President would certainly cause mental torture to the condemned prisoner and therefore would be violative of Article 21. The Court at times considers the delay factor in the light of the circumstances of the case and in appropriate cases commute death sentence to life imprisonment.

Capital punishment reinforces the idea of retributive justice a medieval concept that must be have no place in the civilized society. It is argued that a person who has committed a heinous crime, such as murder must be likewise deprived of life. Does this mean that a rapist must be raped or that a torturer must be tortured?

India believes that death penalty acts as a deterrence effect to would-be criminals. But, Evidence from around the world has shown that the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect on crime. Many people have argued that abolishing the death penalty leads to higher crime rates, but studies in the USA and Canada, for instance, do not back this up. In 2003 in Canada, 27 years after the country abolished the death penalty the murder rate had fallen by 44 per cent since 1975, when capital punishment was still enforced.[5] Data shows that states that do not practice death penalty have lower murder rates compared to states having death penalty.[6]

On the other hand, though no execution had been carried out since the execution of DhananjoyChatterjee on 14 August 2004, the number of murder cases have been reducing. According to the National Crimes Record Bureau, in 2001 a total of 36,202 murder cases were registered in India. Though the population of India increased from 1.028 billion in 2001 to 1.21 billion in 2011, the murder cases indeed reduced to 34,305 in 2011.

Thousands of murders are committed each year and to check murders, national interest demands that the guilty persons should not escape justice. The best deterrent sentence would be one of life imprisonments,[7] and that should mean imprisonment practically for life, and not just 14 or 20 years as at present.[8] Perhaps the knowledge that a murder would make one spend their whole life in prison would act as a sufficient deterrent.

Taking the recent example of 26/11 Mumbai attacks terrorist Ajmal Kasab, he said in his confession[9] to the police that he had carried this mass killing so that his family could get money after his death and he wanted to die in the name of Allah and be epitome of sacrifice to his fellow terrorists. Now by awarding death penalty we are actually serving his incomplete task and cultivating more Ajmal kasabs. This example also shows that the main purpose of death penalty has not only lost its importance but is now giving birth to more terrorists so that they can set examples and become famous and India certainly does not want this!

According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, a total of 1,455 convicts or an average of 132.27 convicts per year were given death penalty during 2001 to 2011. This also implies that on average on less than every third day, one convict is awarded death penalty in India. Death penalty therefore is not awarded in the rarest of rare cases but in most cases. During the same period, sentences for 4,060 convicts were commuted from death penalty to life imprisonment. This indicates that thousands of convicts remain on death row at any given point of time.

India also gambles upon the testament that Individuals are less likely to commit violent crimes, including murder, if they know they will face punishment by execution. But certainly this is not the true picture.This argument supposes that criminals study and anticipate the consequencesof getting caught, and decide that a long term of imprisonment is acceptable, whereas execution is not. Many crimes are committed on the spur-of-themoment. Taking the same example of Ajmal Kasab, he mentioned in his confession that he did this for money and would do the same for Indian Government, where ever they wished if they paid him the moneyand gave him regular meals.[10]Hencethere is no stopping for people like these and no punishment, known to man could ever stop these misanthropic people.

It is often argued that the death penalty provides closure for victims' families. This is a rather flimsy argument, because every family reacts differently. As some families do not feel that another death will provide closure, the argument doesn't provide a justification for capital punishment as a whole.Also there is a notion that executions provide the most cost-effective solution to violent crime. A society cannot condone violence and sacrifice human rights as a cost-cutting measure. The decision to take a human life should not rest on financial motives. Using the death penalty to reduce prison populations is futile. Study after study has found that the death penalty is much more expensive than life in prison.[11] The high costs of the death penalty are for the complicated legal process, with the largest costs at the pre-trial and trial stages. The execution process is to be done as per the jail manuals which is different for every state. Research shows that there are number of formalities to be taken care of and there is a great need of monetary as well as human resources. The simple argument is whether we are ready for killing a person based on a myth that it will lead to fewer expenses to the state and is money above justice and good conscience?

“Justice is meant for reform. Death penalty denies the opportunity to reform.”


[1]MALIK, Supra 12 at p.4.

[2]Bhullar was prosecuted for the 1993 New Delhi car bombing.

[3] (1974) 1 SCR 742

[4]Triveniben Vs. State of Gujarat, AIR 1989 SC 467

[5]Amnesty International, Death Penalty the ultimate punishment.

[7]State of Madhya Pradesh Vs. Ratan Singh, AIR 1976 SC 1552

[8]K.NKatju, Life imprisonment should replace death penalty, Northern India Patrika, 10 February, 1963

[9]Mumbai Terrorist Wanted to Kill and Die and Become Famous, ABC News, 3 December 2008. Also available at http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/Story?id=6385015&page=2. (Accessed on 9 May 2014)

[10]ibid

[11]Information available at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty (Accessed on 11 May 2014)

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