By Riju Chowdhury
The death sentence has existed in nearly every country from time immemorial. Although intellectuals such as Plato believed it should only be granted in the most extreme of circumstances, which we now know as the rarest of rare doctrine. Few crimes are so horrible that even the death penalty does not seem sufficient. Criminals are hanged publicly in authoritarian nations, or put to death by mob pelting stone, or shot dead, among other techniques, but these tactics are not permitted in a country like India, which teaches democratic principles. Life is a person's most valuable asset, and taking away someone's life is the worst punishment imaginable. Many social activists, political groups, and ordinary individuals demand the death sentence for violent crimes. The death penalty is the worst punishment a criminal may get.
Capital punishment in India
In India, the death penalty has been a source of discussion and contention for decades. The death penalty is a legacy of colonial authority that has persisted since independence. After being accused of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were the first to be hanged. It has always been in use and has served as a focus point for scholars and lawmakers, but no consensus or conclusion has been reached. The actual number of executions in India is unknown. The statistics stated by professionals and scholars differ significantly from government data. According to government statistics, the number of individuals executed to date is in the double digits, but non-governmental groups and research organisations say that around 1500 people were executed between 1953 and 1963 alone. There are no solid data, although the numbers are likely to be on the high side of statistics. Over the years, India has made it plain that it does not support the abolition of the death penalty, as evidenced by its voting against the United Nations General Assembly's request for a moratorium on capital punishment in 2007, and then sticking to its position in 2012. Many international human rights organisations, like Amnesty International, the European Centre for Human Rights, and others, urge for the death sentence to be abolished, but India refuses to accept this assertion. To mention a few, being a member of a criminal conspiracy to commit a capital offence, waging war against the country, abetting rebellion among the Indian Armed Forces, murder, encouraging a juvenile to commit suicide, abduction, drug trafficking, and rape charges can all result in the death penalty in India.
Earlier to the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act of 1955, the death penalty was the law in our nation, with life imprisonment as an exception in capital offences under the old Cr.PC (1898). Furthermore, the courts were required to provide a rationale for giving a lesser sentence for capital offences than death. Following the 1955 amendment, judges were free to sentence anyone to death or life in prison. Now, under Section 354 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, a life sentence is the rule and the death penalty is an exception in capital cases. In addition, judges must provide written justifications for granting the maximum sentence. The death sentence is intended to serve as a deterrent. The Indian Penal Code allows offenders to be sentenced to death as an alternative punishment. Despite these changes, the Indian judicial system continues to be hesitant to impose the death penalty. It only deals with the rarest of instances. The interpretation of which is left up to the court's discretion. This result sparked debate over whether it was correct or incorrect. Many experts applauded the move, while almost the same numbers were against it. The question was whether this choice would be able to offer deterrence, and if so, how much deterrence would be sufficient. The problem in the legislation is that the measures that carry it out are not flawless; the purpose may be good, but the law of imposing the death sentence never provided the necessary deterrence, instead forcing crime to rise.
Deterrent measures are the cornerstone of the Indian judicial system. Rather than penalising those who have already been convicted, the goal is to prevent others from doing the same thing in the future and to safeguard society as a whole. In terms of criminal deterrence, the death sentence has not been proven to be effective. Of course, for some offenders, it has instilled dread in them, preventing them from performing the crime. Murder is a crime that carries the death penalty, yet the severity of the penalty has a significant deterrent effect. In India, the murder rate has been steadily rising and showing no signs of abating. It drops and then rises again, resulting in a pace that is more or less consistent. Hundreds of offenders have been sentenced to death. They were sentenced to be hung till death, but this did not seem to discourage them. It would be unfair to say that it had not brought about any change since, according to the data; we may argue that the death sentence is a factor, which cannot be ignored even if it is not the primary factor. Improved law and order circumstances might also be a factor.
If we focus on rape cases, the Nirbhaya Rape Case is the most sought for rape case in India. On the night of December 16, 2013, six vermin dressed as men brutally raped her, removed her intestines, and abandoned her on the side of the road to die. It would be inaccurate to refer to them as humans; they were a disgrace to mankind. Four of the six prisoners were recently hung by their necks till they died. Since the day of the rape, there has been a strong desire for their execution. Ram Singh had died previously. The important point to remember here is that the person who raped her twice, inserted an iron into her organs, and ripped her intestines out was a kid who served three years in a juvenile detention centre before being released. We know that following the Nirbhaya Rape Case in 2013, the government introduced a provision for sexual offenders to be sentenced to death if the offence results in death. Following an increase in the number of rape cases from 8541 in 2012 to 19765 in 2016, we saw a substantial modification to legislation relating to the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences (POCSO).
The number of instances does not appear to be decreasing. Any law's implementation in the country is a major issue. Even though there are stringent laws in favour of victims, many people are still raped and do not report it. When a girl is raped in some regions of rural India, she is forced to marry the rapist. Our civilization is strict in this way. As a result, there is no rational reason for the criminals to be afraid. A victim's life is put in jeopardy when they are sentenced to death. The perpetrators would never leave the victim alive. Without a victim, there is no one to testify against the criminals. According to a former Supreme Court Judge, the criminal would try to avoid the law in every manner imaginable. The Law Commission of India also urged that the death sentence be abolished, noting the fact that it is ineffective as a deterrent. Furthermore, the death sentence is an affront to the right to life. It's a terrible, heinous, and inhumane act. It goes against the fundamental ideals of human rights.
Author: Riju Chowdhury
Course: B.A. LLB, 2nd Year
Collage: Amity University Kolkata