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Insights into Editorial: Is it time to abolish the death penalty?

Insights into Editorial: Is it time to abolish the death penalty?

Introduction: About Death Penalty:

As a punishment, the death penalty makes no sense: how does killing a person who has killed a person show that killing is wrong?

Most of the civilised world has abolished it. India certainly does not need it as it serves no purpose.

The evidence is all to the contrary. For deterrence to work, the severity of the punishment has to coexist with the certainty and swiftness of the punishment.

The death penalty has not deterred terrorism, murder or even theft.

  • For over a century, stealing attracted the death penalty in England, where spectators at public hangings often had their pockets picked!

No study has shown that the death penalty deters murder more than life imprisonment.


Problems with death penalty:

The death penalty is error-ridden.

  • For Instance, Between January 1, 2000 and June 31, 2015, the Supreme Court imposed 60 death sentences. It subsequently admitted that it had erred in 15 of them (25%).

What is Reality:

The death penalty unfairly targets the poor and marginalised.

Those without capital get the punishment. Penurious prisoners on legal aid get it the most, while others with private lawyers remain untouched.

The death penalty is impossible to administer fairly or rationally. The Supreme Court has repeatedly admitted that it has arbitrarily imposed this most extreme punishment.

Executions occurred in 5.2 cases for every 1 lakh murders. Such a selection cannot but be freakish.


Constitutional, legal and policy issues cannot be determined by the victim’s understandable hunger for revenge without leading to a frenzy where the death penalty is demanded, as it often is, for wholly inappropriate cases (accidental deaths, cheating, etc.).


Supporting Arguments for Death Penalty:

  • The punishment is not arbitrary because, it comes out of a judicial process. To call it arbitrary, one has to necessarily prove the process as flawed.
  • It is being implemented in the “rarest of the rare” cases and the fact is during the last 13 years, only four people have been executed.
  • The hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon strongly affirms India’s commitment to the protection of life.
  • People criticise it on arbitrariness, irreversibility and human rights and these are not valid arguments.
  • Its constitutionality is upheld, even in liberal democracies like U.S. It is not reflection of uncivilised society.


  • India’s neighbourhood is not peaceful, unlike Scandinavia.
  • It is not in a group of countries, like European Union.
  • India has got troubled borders. Several forces are trying to destabilise the very idea of our Nation from across the Border.
  • The sacredness of life can only be seen to be protected, if those who take it away are proportionately punished.


Countering Arguments to abolish Death Penalty:

  • It unfairly targets poor and marginalised, that means, those without money & power.
  • Executions occurred in around five cases for every 1 lakh murders and it looks quite arbitrary. It depends on judges personal beliefs.
  • India’s murder rate has declined continuously since 1991 and at present the lowest, except for 1963.
  • Punishment should not imitate crime.
  • As per the recent Death Penalty India Report by the National Law University, Delhi, the structural flaws in our criminal procedure and criminal justice system are most pronounced in death penalty cases.


  • Most of the civilised world abolished it. Death penalty has not deterred terrorism, murder or even theft.
  • From 200-2015, Supreme Court imposed 60 death sentences and subsequently admitted that it had erred in 15 of them. So, it clearly admitted that it has arbitrarily imposed the most extreme punishment.


  • The Police is not known for its probity or efficiency in our Country.
  • Delays in the Criminal Justice System disproportionately affects those, who suffer the tyranny of the uncertainty of their life.


A safer country than before:

India’s murder rate has declined continuously since 1991 and is at present the lowest in our recorded history except for 1963.

Fearmongering aside, we are safer today than our parents or grandparents ever were. Studies show that a more equal sex ratio has more to do with declining murder rates than killing murderers.

Nobody wants to undergo the trauma of administering the death penalty not the higher courts and not the hapless prison staff who have to see a human being die gasping at the end of a rope.

Governments kill prisoners to show that they are tough on crime. There is nothing muscular or tough about killing a man who is at your mercy.



The Law Commission of India has attempted to analyse the need for the death penalty.

In its 35th Report correctly called for its retention in order to see its impact on a new republic, the more recent 262nd Report could not recommend the punishment’s absolute abolition.

Cases of violent terror are constant reminders of the need to protect national stability by ensuring appropriate responses to such actions, and the death penalty forms part of the national response.

It is in this idea that there exists a moral support for the death penalty. A punishment cannot be judged by its impact on criminals but by its impact on those who are still innocent etc.

In 2015, the Law Commission called for abolition of the death penalty for ordinary crimes, and activists continue to argue for abolishing it altogether. Political will in India is still bound by populism.

However, the provision of hanging to death may be re-considered as “the Constitution of India is an organic and compassionate document which recognises the sanctity of flexibility of law as situations change with the flux of time.”

The fundamental right to life and dignity enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution also means the right to die with dignity.

However, the constitutionality of the death penalty will continue to be challenged and, sooner or later, the Supreme Court will have to answer whether absence of political will is sufficient ground to override the right to life.