Is it time to end the death penalty in India?

May 20, 2010

Special Prosecuter Ujjwal Nikam holds up a document, with a cover showing Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, at Arthur Road Jail where Kasab's trial was held, in Mumbai May 6, 2010. REUTERS/Arko Datta

Suddenly, everyone in India is talking about executions.

Grim hangings are a topic of animated conversation at water coolers, cocktail parties and chat shows. Everyone seems to favour them, the quicker the better.

Just weeks ago, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani gunman convicted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was sentenced to death by hanging.

Everywhere in Mumbai, where 166 people were gunned down by Kasab and his accomplices, people cheered and fought to express their joy to newspapers and TV channels.

But Kasab, who has the right to appeal his sentence at a higher court, is in queue. Ahead of him is Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.

Guru had filed a mercy petition, which is doing the rounds between ministries in Delhi.

Everyone, it seems, wants him hanged quickly so Kasab can be hanged quickly.

Except Farooq Abdullah, the minister for renewable energy and a lone dissenting political voice, who said he was not in favour of death for Guru as it would make a hero of him for generations of misguided youth.

That is the argument being made in some quarters against death for Kasab, as well.

More than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in death or practice, according to Amnesty International.

China tops the list in terms of numbers executed, well above 1,000 in 2009, Amnesty says. At number five was the United States, where one can still opt for the gas chamber or the firing squad in some states.

The death penalty in India is only handed down in the “rarest of rare” cases. Those that are convicted have the option to appeal to a higher court, going up to the supreme court and also file a mercy petition with the president.

That is not enough, say human rights activists who want to do away with the death penalty altogether.

The state should not have the right over someone’s life and India’s criminal justice system cannot be trusted to be fair, they say. The world’s largest democracy ought to show humane leadership, they argue. Sentencing someone to life – that is, for as long as they live — is just as severe a punishment, they say.

The families of victims disagree. Punishment must be equal to the crime and only the death penalty would dissuade potential militants and other criminals, they say.

In the 21st century, we are finding new ways to create life and prolong life. But we still can’t make up our minds about whether it is right, ethical or good to take someone’s life, even when it is dignified by a court of law.

12 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I think this is the time to send a strong message to prepetrators that you terrorise India, you’ll end up dead and the punishment should be severe and swift.

Hope our lawma(brea)kers are listening.

Posted by snk1980 | Report as abusive

Dear Sir,
Attacks on terrorists by security forces is similar to the death penality given by court. Also for such a terrorist activities there should not be trial but they should be treated in the same manner as they are treating innocent people by hitting them by bulets and bombs. Also think that why we have hanged President of Iraq?

Either all killings should be stopped or should continue to control law and order effectively.

Posted by akshukla | Report as abusive

I think it is high time to speed-up all in line for death penalty. I also think that it is high time to renovate the penalty system. Intentional act of violence leading to death should get the D-Penalty, killing of minors should get the D-Penalty.
Law is there – speed up and act fast.

Posted by marap | Report as abusive

If we consider taking of life by someone as a crime, then legally taking the culprit’s life is also illegal. We can’t have a crime become legal because a judge deems it so and a crime if someone else does the same thing.

That being said, personally, I have always been in two minds about this. I may profess to be against the death penalty, but there are times when, for example, I read about a child being raped and then murdered that my first reaction is that this person ‘does not deserve to live.’ In the case of taking innocent lives, as happens with terrorist attacks, my opinion is the same. Human Rights activists are quick to make calls about the culprit’s human rights but they often forget that the victims too had rights which were ruthlessly trampled on by the perpetrators.

So though I accept the logic of judicial killings being illogical, I also feel that in the rarest of rare cases death could be justified. I know this sounds a contradiction but it is really a matter of head and heart being in conflict.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

i personally don’t believe in death penalty being awarded to any one.
1.it doesn’t solve anything, it does not serve justice to the ones who have been wronged against however their loved ones might feel better
2.studies have shown that it does not serve as a deterrent as most of the crimes which involve death penalty are usually committed in the heat of the moment.
3. their have been several cases in which death row or life term serving inmates have been found to be innocent and have been honourably acquitted by the courts. india does not have a good record of justice system where poor people due to inadequate legal representation get convicted more easily. i won’t be surprised if mostly the poor are hanged as the neither media nor people fight for the poor.
frankly speaking i don’t care if afzal guru is hanged or incarcerated for the rest of his life, but the thing with these kind of crimes is that neither i nor most of the readers here can possibly imagine the horror of losing a loved one to a crime of this severity. it makes us feels better to lash out at someone and make someone pay for our loss. In Kasab’s case,keeping in mind the magnitude of his crime and the number of people affected, it would be justified to give death penalty..as it is a RAREST OF RARE case. its okay where there is glaring evidence of one’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
i feel nowadays people find death penalty as an answer to all the miseries. we are becoming more and more intolerant in our views..taking a human life is suddenly becoming socially acceptable. i find it very disturbing when people celebrate the death of a human being, and it doesn’t make it any more conscionable if it is done as a reprisal to a heinous crime. i see people lose their sense of humanity and yield in to hatred and violence and this voice is getting louder and louder.

Posted by proshanto | Report as abusive

“Sentencing someone to life – that is, for as long as they live — is just as severe a punishment, they say.”
WHO WILL BEAR THE COST OF THESE CREATURES LIVING?
AS A TAXPAYER WHY SHOULD I LET SOME CREATURES LIVE IN MY EARNING WHO HAS MERCYLESSLY KILLED INNOCENT PEOPLE?

Posted by amma | Report as abusive

As in heat of the moment i myself will choose death penalty for the rarest of rare case like Md. Kasab. The very basic reason is our judiciary don’t have any single judgment which came out on time and with fare judgment. Majority of cases win by richer party or the person having political nexus.
But my argument is why only the one victim is rewarded death penalty.One man can’t execute such heinous crime.The whole system and the channels which he surpassed,is culprit for the same. They all have the equal share is executing such a crime. Where are the intelligence, coastal security, inter city cops when terrorist were entering Mumbai. How can we easily forget our persons negligence.By awarding death penalty to one we can not get for which judiciary system is meant for.
We can hang Kasab, Afjal, but there are many in Que who have been planning to committing much much bigger crime.We have negligence and weaker system whether it is security, intelligence,safety, police officials attitude, politics and many others..everywhere is our totally system failures.
We can have one thing in our control for bursting out our frustration – Hang the criminal, appeal for death penalty..nothing else

Posted by DAJU | Report as abusive

No death penality means more Kasabs and Afzhals……Kill or get killed in the process…..what do we choose?

Death penality – YES

Posted by turist | Report as abusive

When the evidence is 100% waterproof, it could be an option
in some extreme rare cases.
Fact is that the evidence is almost never 100% waterproof.

Posted by microhousehold | Report as abusive

i feel death penalty wont scare off future kasabs or afzal gurus. people like them are already willing to die, think of the suicide bombers…u can’t scare them off simply by hanging a kasab..
it doesn’t work that way…what needs to be done is to catch them before they are brainwashed..not going too far from the topic-death penalty does not ensure no kasabs in the future..but no breeding grounds and no training camps definitely does. better intelligence definitely does..we can’t turn towards talibanisque way of justice with kangaroo courts..the law i feel is strong enough but the execution is weak..we don’t want guantanamo bay or abu graib kind of measures or the patriot act kind of draconian laws…
having said that i would like to clarify that i still support death penalty in rarest of rare cases like kasab’s or afzal’s…I repeat rarest of rare cases where there is glaring evidence of guilt..

Posted by proshanto | Report as abusive

It is fear of Death which prevent people from committing Sins. The sinners like Kasab and Afzal know that Indian judiciary will take decades to give them D-penalty and hence their fear of death subside. The in the interest of Humankind these inhumane creatures should be executed as soon as possible.

Posted by Kusaan | Report as abusive

No human being has the right to kill other(s). Even killing animals are considered a sin, except for livelihood or in self-defense.

The sinner(s), if not today, shall regret and repent for his wrong-deeds.

Give every sinner his right for penance (Sanskrit-Prayaschit).

Greatest justice is forgiveness and must not been seen as act of weakness.

“Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness.”
— `Abdu’l-Bahá.

Posted by Abhi1980 | Report as abusive