Capital punishment is a government-sanctioned punishment in our country. It involves hanging the culprit of one of the few recognised offences, according to the Indian Penal Code, by the neck until death. This is a punishment of the most severe form that is supposed to set an example to the citizens that barbarism of any kind and anti-social actions shall be met with utmost heavy-handedness. None shall be spared for crimes that put a blot on humanity.
The very common examples of such crimes include the brutish acts of terrorism and rape. Such acts are gaining momentum in the world and capital punishment comes as a stringent measure to check the proliferation of such crimes. Humans can only be regarded as homo sapiens or “wise man” till they know how to act without hurting the other.
But crimes such as rape, homicide and genocide push humans below the category of animals. Even the quadrupeds have some social norms which none of them can dare to flout. And here we are, oblivious to laws and norms or even the basic essence of humanity; killing and hurting fellow beings, left, right and centre. Such wilfulness has to be curbed and capital punishments, though used sparingly are the way to do so.
Capital punishments have always been the popular way to dispense justice. This punishment found its highest fame during the time of the French Revolution when guillotines were used liberally, albeit to punish crimes of treason. The public execution of the accused was a spectacle to behold and people from far and wide used to come to a common place where the accused was beheaded.
Many people, including the king and queen of France during the Revolution, met their death in the same manner.
Thus, it is quite clear that such a punishment has been in vogue since long and people have been appreciative of the pain caused by such a penalty that to some extent, if not completely, avenges the pain of their loved ones who have been hurt.
This is indeed a masochist form of punishment. Yet, it finds its roots in the barbarism comprising the baser instincts of humankind. If man can kill, so can he be killed. This is the idea of justice.
Capital Punishment Laws in India
As stated above, this punishment is reserved for the rarest of rare cases. It is only awarded under one of the following conditions:*
- In case of committing or abetting a capital offence(such as treason or murder)
- Declaring war against the Indian Government
- Abetting or engaging in a mutiny within the armed forces
- Giving or fabricating false evidence with an intent to procure the conviction of a capital offence
- Abetting the suicide of a minor
- Aiding or abetting an act of Sati
- Drug trafficking (repeat offenders)
- Rape of a child under 12 years of age
- Dacoity with murder
- Rape which leads to incapacitation of the victim, their death or
- Sale of poisoned alcohol (for Gujarat only)
Thus, India has the given laws for awarding death penalty. However, the proceedings which lead to this sentence are not rushed or fast. The time taken to award this sentence is seems everlasting and aeonian. Justice delayed is justice denied. This is the frequent complaint of the people against the Indian Judicial system.
Examples of Capital Punishment in India
This punishment has been awarded rarely in our system. As of 2017, there have been 371 cases where the death row has been awarded. However, only 4 out of these have been hanged. Out of these one had been convicted of rape and the other three were involved in terrorism.
The biggest reason for the commutation of the death penalty into a more clement life sentence is the delay in the trial, sentence and result of the mercy petition. Thus, serious offenders get away with simpler penalties that end after a definite period whence they can begin their life again. This comes as a serious injustice against the victims who have suffered due to the devilish acts of these accused.
The last example of capital punishment was in 2015. Thus, the death penalty makes the convicts as well as the victims of a crime suffer for extended periods when justice in such cases should be dispensed as soon as possible.
The president of India, borrowing from the Government of India Act 1935, has the power to reprieve and grant pardon in cases where the convict who has been sentenced to death by the apex court appeals against the verdict. This is the convict’s last straw. If the President does not grant pardon or commute the sentence, the sentence shall be followed through and no mercy shall be shown to the convict.
This, however, is a tricky power. The President of India cannot decide their opinion in a day. The President deliberates with the Council Of Ministers and takes their advice into consideration before he/she can come to a conclusion. Also, there is no fixed time to deliver the verdict on a mercy petition.
Thus, in many cases, the convicts are left waiting for more years than the number fixed for life imprisonment and even then they don’t get the result. The wait is excruciating and people keep imploring for justice. However, in many cases, this wait has become the grounds for commuting the death sentence to a life term. Thus, the convicts get to skip death penalty altogether.
The Article 72 of the Indian Constitution which grants the President the power to grant pardons and reprieves has been the reason for delay in justice for a very long time. It is not easy for a person of executive power to decide whether a death row inmate should be pardoned or not.
Hence, the deliberations are long and tedious. The article does not state a fixed time limit for the reply to this petition; however, the Supreme Court has tried its best to expedite the proceedings of such cases. It is not fair on the inmates to suffer in expectancy for an unstated amount of time.
Capital punishment has been a much-avoided and highly controversial topic of debate. At the time of the hanging of Yakub Memon,a dreaded terrorist, several celebrities spoke up against the inhuman nature of such hangings. They stated that he should be given a chance to file his mercy petition before the President.
This was tussle between morality and legal ethics. Innocent victims of the crimes of these anti-social elements demand immediate dispensation of justice. On the other hand, the proper channel of conducting the trial and the rest of the proceedings cannot be escaped in every case.
Apart from the crucial time element, capital punishment has also been regarded as dehumanising for the accused. They wait in prison, unable to expedite the process of their proceedings. The Indian Constitution had provisioned for every person, guilty or innocent, to have their say in court.
This ensured that the wrong person was never convicted. But contrary to the expectations of our idealist Constituent Assembly, reality has witnessed several people rotting away behind prison bars unable to get a chance to prove their innocence. Several years of life are wasted behind bars and no court on earth can return them to an innocent man.
Thus, capital punishment is a dividing topic in our country. Even the people who accept this as a just measure of deterrence see the gross maladministration of the judicial system in handling these punishments.
However, changes are on the way in this country when the latest case of the Kathua rape saw instant justice with immediate trial for the accused. The people wait and pray for the death sentence and very soon, the appropriate sentence shall also be dispensed in the case.
This is a very grave punishment. We have to understand that very nature of this punishment is the testimony to the gruesome acts committed by those sentenced to it. Killing and rape along with treason and mutiny are serious offences and while the brouhaha around one death sentence shall soon subside, these should serve as reminders to the society that disorder shall have unwanted consequences for everyone.
The greater reason behind awarding these death sentences are the examples they set. It is not limited to the people who have suffered and the person(s) who has been sentenced. It is for the entire society to accept that Indian judicial system is not in a slumber. Lacunae and loopholes cannot be the means to gain freedom despite committing heinous crimes.
The blood-chilling feeling that comes with ordering for someone to be executed takes us back to the medieval times when power was misused for personal gains and the powerful were to be feared for such randomly- distributed executions. However, the modern world discourages any such hedonistic pursuits and limits the power of the judges by further granting the route of a mercy petition.
Apart from that, the act of sentencing a man to death is followed by humility before the Creator instead of basking in their position of power. The judge who awards such a verdict subsequently breaks the nib of his/her pen as an act of deference to the powers of creation and destruction exclusive to the Creator.
They hope that they never have to pass such a sentence again. However, until the society is rid of such elements that seek to cause anarchy and bloodshed, the law shall have to continue its job without caring for the position and power of those accused. Apart from a fair trial, the law does not grant any person special privileges and the society shall have to adhere to these laws till the end.