India – Opposing death penalty to address the terrible and distressing prevalence of sexual violence in our community

A media statement by a group in India

Opposing death penalty to address the terrible and distressing prevalence of sexual violence in our community

We raise our strong objection to the imminent execution of the four convicts in the 2012 Delhi gang rape case. The court has scheduled the hanging of four out of the six convicts tomorrow at 6 am. The incident had shook the nation when it happened in the capital and while the crime committed by the convicts is inexcusable, punishing them with a death penalty enables a culture of violence. According to the Law Commission report on death penalty in 2015, charging people with death penalty is no stronger a deterrent of crimes than charging them with life imprisonment.

Public opinion in India has consistently been in the favour of death penalty. In November, the case of gang rape from Hyderabad triggered a massive uproar for executing the accused. The aftermath of this incident, where the police in Hyderabad shot the accused in an alleged encounter and received nationwide appreciation showcases how perilous this public opinion can be for the criminal justice system.

Recent trends have shown the courts using the death penalty frequently in cases involving sexual offences against women and children. According to a study conducted by the National Law University Delhi, 52.9% of those charged with death penalty in India were convicted with sexual offences and murder. The response of the judiciary is often motivated by the public outrage against the convicts along with media slander. However, death penalty has not led to a reduction in sexual offences, nor has it resulted in an increase in conviction rates. In fact, the spectacle of death penalty removes public attention from actual legal and social reform that guarantee the safety of women and children.

Among the many flaws of death penalty, perhaps the biggest one is that it is irreversible. In 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was given a death sentence for the rape and murder of a school student. However, several years after his execution, many facts have come to light that hint at the possibility that he might not have been the actual perpetrator of the crime. This case is a gross miscarriage of justice that cannot be reversed. Secondly, the criminal justice system in India is based on the principles of reform rather than punishment. The death penalty assumes that the individual is incapable of reform, moreover, it fundamentally violates the principles of justice. On 28 January, the Supreme Court granted bail to 15 convicts serving life sentences in the Gujarat Riots of 2002 on the condition that they engage themselves in religious and community services. If the apex court can deem the convicts of mob rioting, mass rapes and vandalism capable of reform, any other charges of death penalty can be questioned on constitutional and humanitarian grounds.

According to Amnesty International, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty. There are several international legal instruments that challenge the death penalty on humanitarian principles including the Second optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Death penalty endows excessive power upon the state and judiciary. It is an autocratic decision by the state which can be fatal to the foundations of a democracy. Moreover, particularly in India, the victims of death penalty in India almost always belong to the lower classes, marginalized and vulnerable groups who suffer from a lack of legal, institutional and political support.

At this time, we call to mind the recommendations set out within the Law Commission of India’s study of the death penalty, Report No. 262, in which it is noted that: ‘The notion of “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” has no place in our constitutionally mediated criminal justice system. Capital punishment fails to achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals.’

Therefore, death penalty is an inhuman, cruel and degrading practice that serves no purpose in actually deterring criminals. With due respect to the victim’s family, it is our strong recommendation that the decision of execution is reviewed by the Supreme Court and the convicts are instead sentenced to imprisonment for life. Capital punishment is again a murder of justice.

Kirity Roy
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
National Convenor (PACTI)
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity
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