Capital Punishment in India

Capital punishment or the death penalty is a punishment given to the cruelest of criminals whose crimes are heinous and unforgivable. There is a list of crimes specified in the Indian Penal Code, which can receive this penalty. It is, thereby, a legal penalty for these particular crimes. However, the nation is divided in its opinion on the validity and humanity of this punishment. To get a better understanding of the situation, it is important to understand what capital punishment stands for in India.

What is Capital Punishment?

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a sentence given to offenders who have committed horrible crimes, which are specified in the Indian Penal Code. It is the highest degree of punishment that can be awarded to any individual or group of offenders. The term ‘capital punishment’ has been derived from the Latin word ‘Caputalis’ or ‘caput’, which means ‘head’ or ‘of the head’. By virtue of its name, it is usually carried out by beheading and breaking of the neck by hanging. The first case where capital punishment was used was in September of 1947. Since 2000, a total of eight executions have been carried out by the death penalty. Currently, there are around 403 prisoners on the death row. The last time the death penalty was used for execution was in March 2020, when the four people accused in the Delhi Gang rape case of 2012 were sentenced to be executed. Before that, it was in 2015 that a terrorist, Yakub Memon, was given the death penalty. Earlier, there were two modes of execution allowed, death by hanging and death by shooting. Death by hanging is the only form of the death penalty that is allowed in India in civilian court and law matters, and an offender is only sentenced to death by hanging in the rarest of rare cases. Death by shooting was and is used by army marshals and police officers as per their own special Army Act. Some of the cases where death by hanging is the penalty include murder, kidnapping for ransom and rape. Traditionally, the death penalty was the usual punishment, and life imprisonment was only allowed after a written statement stating the reason for the exception by the court’s presiding judge. Gradually, this changed to no reason or written statement required for a penalty of awarding life imprisonment. In such a case, the sentence depends on the judge’s decision. The judge could decide based on the court proceedings and the gravity of the matter in hand whether it deserves life imprisonment or the death penalty. After a few cases where many concerns and objections regarding this capital punishment were raised, the life imprisonment was the sentence given usually, and the death penalty was given rarely. However, even after this, many citizens had concerns regarding why the existence of a sentence with such severity was acceptable.

What were the concerns regarding capital punishment?

Capital punishment means that the person will be sentenced to be on death row and will be hanged on a pre-decided future date decided by the court. It also means that by deciding on the death of the sentenced, the court has taken away the right to life that every person inherently has from birth, given by the Constitution of India. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution explains the right to life of every natural human born in India. It states that every human has the right to life, and hence, they cannot be deprived of this right in any case except according to procedures established by law. It is possible in any case that the person sentenced to be executed has been wrongly accused, and the death penalty can result in an innocent person being put to death, thereby robbing them of their right to live. Many also argue that the right to take a life does not lie with anybody, and therefore the penalty is not upstanding. However, many people feel that the punishment is deserved by those who are guilty and who have committed worse crimes, and therefore it should continue being used as a legal sentence. The punishment should be of the severity of the crime, or else there would be no fear of law or consequence.

Both sides believe in justice, but the extremity of the punishments differs according to different opinions. The thing that is common is the feeling that the guilty should not be left without consequences.