Relooking at Death Penalty in India

The biggest democracy of the world-India has recently seen death penalty as a punishment handed to the culprits of the 8 years old Nirbhaya gang rape case. After the culprits had exhausted their curative petitions in order to stay away from the gallows, they were finally hanged on 20th March, 2020 at around 5:30 am.  Although the demand for very long-awaited justice, carried as a movement by Nirbhaya’s family and the people of India, was finally fulfilled in the form of early morning execution, but it raises a question here.  Does handing out death penalty to someone really help in reducing crimes or it is just a violation of human rights?

Death Penalty can be briefly summed up as a state sponsored activity that is given to the culprit who has done any crime that is against the nature of the society and is against the rule of law. Although there are many forms of death penalties that are given in different countries but death by hanging or firing squad are the most common forms practiced in majority of the countries. Some countries like Saudi Arabia carry out capital punishment by dismembering body parts or by beheading. But are these forms morally and, logically correct? Have they reduced the number of crimes in their respective states?

In recent years, death penalty is seen as a violation of Human Rights. Activists across the globe have been protesting against the act and have been successful in pressuring several states to abandon this form of punishment. They argue that human rights are basically those rights that human beings are entitled to since their birth and by virtue of being a human. Right to life is one of the basic rights of humans. The mere values and characteristics of human rights are that they are inalienable in nature i.e. no one can take this right away from anyone. These rights are termed as universal as they can be enjoyed by everyone irrespective of their age, caste, colour, sex, class, place of origin, race etc. Responsibility towards others is also one of the values associated with the human rights. And thus, death penalty, as the name suggests itself, is contrary to basic ethics of Human rights.

The world has seen two deadly wars that have taken a huge toll on the life of people whether at the battlefields or due to dropping of nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. People on both the sides of the war have lost their lives which led to a huge loss in human resource. At the international platform the creation of United Nations was a move towards establishing peace and stability in the global order in order to prevent such a loss in the future. Human Rights are one of the key foundations of this organization. There have been many conventions, treaties, protocol etc. that have been signed to promote observance of human rights.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that came into existence on 10 December 1948 was established in order to guarantee rights to every individual. International organizations such as Amnesty International are working towards abolishment of the death penalty by majority of the countries in order to provide a just environment for every individual.

Backed by the UN and other organisations, several steps have been taken to abolish death penalty as it is against Human Rights. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ensures political and civil privileges of the people by providing them with a free environment where they can be safe to live despite committing a criminal offence. International Court of Justice also supports abolition of Death Penalty.

In the global scenario, there are two distinct opposites when it comes to death penalty. The United States of America has seen a growth in Death Penalty in the last five years. On the other hand, the countries in the Europe have abolished capital punishment after all the states signed the European Union Convention. India as a nation is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. According to the Indian legal system, death penalty is awarded only in the ‘rarest of the rare’ cases.  In other words, a person who is guilty of indulging in crimes which are heinous in nature and is against the law and order of the state. Since 1995, eight people have been sent to the gallows, out the total of thirty executions that have taken place in the last three decade. The latest are the Nirbhaya convicts who were hanged on 20th March 2020. According to Amnesty International figures, at least 100 people in 2007, 40 in 2006, 77 in 2005, 23 in 2002, and 33 in 2001 were sentenced to death (but not executed). Out of these, approximately two dozen mercy petitions are lying with the President.

The main argument against death penalty is not only that it is against the Right to live but that it does not decrease the crime rate in the country. There is no substantial decrease in the percentage of murder or rape in India despite hanging four culprits recently in 2020. Certain cases like the hanging of Dhanonjoy have also raised questions about how the legal system can be manipulated by wrong statements being provided which can lead to an innocent person going to the gallows. On the other hand, certain cases like the case of Balwant Singh Rajaona the execution has been put on hold since 2012 due to International pressure. He was a member of Babbar Khalsa and was found guilty for having involvement in the assassination of the Chief Minister of Punjab Beant Singh.

Thus, it is important that India should rethink about its legal structures related to Capital punishment. Till date, there has been no co-relation that has been established between carrying out dealth penalty and the overall crime rate. This brings forth the question: Then Why Death Penalty?

Note: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the Political Chronicler.

Anusha Arya

Anusha Arya is a Graduate Student at Department Of Political Science, School of Liberal Education, Galgotias University. Her specialisation is on 'Human Rights.'

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