|Demand of the question|
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. Arguments for and against death penalty.
Conclusion. Way forward.
A nationwide outrage over the series of incidents of sexual assaults of women has led to increased voice for capital punishment against the criminals. In colonial India, death was prescribed as one of the punishments in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). It remained in effect after independence in 1947. Since then 52 people have been executed in India till date according to Government of India Statistics. Whether capital punishment provides justice or act as deterrence against crime needs proper examination.
Arguments in Favour of capital punishment:
- Retributive justice honours the victim, helps console grieving families and guarantees that the perpetrator never has an opportunity to cause future tragedy.
- The judgment of the Supreme Court of India in Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980) made held that Capital punishment in India can be given in rarest of rare cases.
- The idea of deterrence relies on fact that severe punishments like death penalty will deter the larger public from committing the crime.
- A guilty must be punished with respect to the severity of the crime. Murder and rape are very severe crimes, death penalty must be imposed on such crimes.
- The death penalty is needed in law books to contain terrorism. It forms part of the national response against terrorist activities.
- It prevents recommitting of crimes by repetitive offenders. Convicts of brutal rape and grotesque crimes are capable of repeating the crime after their prison term. Terrorists like Masood Azhar, who had to be released in a flight hijack situation went on to become the mastermind behind the terror attack against Parliament of India in 2001.
Arguments against capital punishment:
- There are 3 major objectives of punishment i.e., retribution, reformation, and deterrence. The theory of reformation is based on the obligation of society to reform a convicted person. But this objective will be entirely defeated in case of capital punishment since the offender does not continue to live.
- The report of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee said that capital punishment is a regressive step and may not provide deterrence. The committee recommended the life sentence for the most grievous of crimes.
- It gives arbitrary power to the government for taking a human life is a violation of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution.
- It aggravates social injustices by targeting people who cannot afford good lawyers.
- Lifetime jail sentences are more severe and less expensive punishment than death.
- Human rights activists argue that it is inhumane and barbaric to sentence the criminals with the death penalty.
- As the death sentence is irrevocable, an innocent person can also be wrongly executed. There is no uniform and fair principle on the execution of convicts on death row.
- There is no sufficient evidence to prove that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than imprisonment. Notably, Brutal rapes in India have not decreased despite the enforcement of the Criminal law (Amendment) Act, 2013 which prescribes the death penalty and life imprisonment for sexual assaults that result in the victim dead or being reduced to a persistent vegetative state.
- It reduces the chances of survival of the victim. For example, the death penalty would motivate rapists to do more harm to the victims.
- Unwarranted delay by police in filing missing person complaints and registering written complaints of sexual assault survivors is one of the major factors for the rising number of crimes without any deterrence.
- Many sexual harassment cases tend to come under the media spotlight only in extreme cases, such as the one where a child, after being sexually assaulted and left bleeding, was kept waiting for hours at a civil hospital in March 2018.
- It is the main reason that contributes to the culpability of rapists and nurtures the growing impunity with which sexual crimes are committed. This reality is well captured in National Crime. Records Bureau data that unveils high figures of repeat sexual offenders.
- India’s growing rape culture is best reversed by improving conviction rates via reforms in the police and judicial systems, and by increasing measures to rehabilitate and empower rape survivors. The government should allocate more resources towards establishing fast-track courts, more one-stop crisis centres, proper witness protection, more expansive compensation for rape survivors and the overhaul of current child protection services.
If the experience of the past century is taken as a guide, it is clear that death penalty as a measure to end sexual violence has completely failed. Today, over two-thirds of countries have given up on capital punishment either in law or in practice. The standards by which nations conduct themselves have evolved.