Death penalty debate in India

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

The International Court of Jurists condemn the execution of four men who were convicted of raping and murdering a 23-year-old student in December 2012 while stating that the execution of the perpetrators was an “affront to rule of law and does not improve access to justice for women”

The International Commission judicially pronounces the execution of four men for the punishment and denounces the executions and instigates to Indian Government to abolish the death penalty. ICJ called the Government to introduce systematic changes to the legal system that would prevent violence and improve access to justice for women

The International Court of Justice opposes capital punishment in all cases except as a violation of the right to life and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

The International Court of Justice, sometimes called the world court, is the principal organ of the United Nation.

“State-sanctioned executions are little more public theatre that risk celebrating and perpetuating violence at the expense of the rule of law. As heinous as these crimes were, the imposition of the death penalty- the deterrent effect of which has been widely debunked- does nothing to improve the lives of women”.

Evolution of death penalty

After the Constitution was made death penalty was the normal punishment for murder when the first five-year plan was introduced. “If a person commits murder then the person will be awarded death sentence or death penalty is said to a murder”. But the practice of giving the death penalty is changed in 1955 basis on the discretion of the session judge. The session judge gives a discretionary power either in two- Capital punishment or Life imprisonment. Slowly and gradually in the year, the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure was amended. By amending the proviso of CRPC parliament made it mandatorily that the session judge awarding capital punishment to a person who has committed murder; he has to show the reasons why he or she the judge has to show the special reasons while life imprisonment or while death sentence is awarded.

The famous case while stating for the death penalty in India:-

 In  Bachan Singh case- The Supreme Court ruled out that the death penalty could be imposed in only Rarest of Rare case, a judge or a court can impose i.e. alternative sentences of life is untestable for closed.

In Mache Singh vs. State of Punjab case- The case provides some exemptions to an earlier judgment of the court.

If the murder is committed in a brutal manner.

If the murder is committed by a motive.

If the crime is enormous in proportion.

Protections guaranteed under Constitution:-

Article 21- A person can be deprived not only of his life even under capital punishment.

Article 72- The president can pardon the death sentence while the governor cannot in a state to pardon.

Scope of judicial review- It can be conducted when presidential decision not to pardon the death sentence is arbitrary irrational and discriminatory

Article 134- It is a right of appeal from the High Court verdict to the Supreme Court and this is applicable anywhere when capital punishment is imposed in an acquittal order.

Global trend regarding death penalty

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT- This punishment was very common until the late 18th century. It includes flogging, branding, mutilation, chaining, and pillory.

FLOGGING- in India whipping was recognized as a mode of punishment under the Whipping Act, 1864 which was repealed and replaced by a similar act in 1909. The instruments and methods of flogging however differed from country to country. Some of them used straps and whips with a single lash while others used short pieces of rubber hose.

MUTILATION- It was also a common form of corporal punishment. It was known to have been in practice in ancient India during the Hindu period. In case of theft one or both, the hands of the offender were chopped off and in case of sex-offense his private part cut-off.

BRANDING- It is a mode of punishment that was commonly used in oriental and classical societies. Roman criminal law supported this mode of punishment and criminals were branded with an appropriate mark on their forehead so that they could be easily identified and permanently subjected to public ridicule.

CHAINING- The offenders together was also commonly used as a mode of punishment. Their liberty and mobility were thus completely restricted. The hands and legs of criminals were tied with iron rods and chained together.

PILLORY- This type of punishment was also called poetic punishment through it was more often used in fiction than in poetry. The offender was brought in public place for the execution of the sentence. He could even be publically stoned if offense was of a serious offense.

 Reason behind death penalty in India:-

 The existence of execution in India came into force by Justice JS Verma Panel

The report led to severe changes through the Legal code Amendment Act, 2013.

A report had suggested that seeking such a punishment would be a regressive step within the field of sentencing and reformation.

The committee has criticized the lack of reformatory and rehabilitation policies in jails and juvenile homes.

The committee had argued instead for rigorous punishment of a convict of life.

Critical analysis

  • The death penalty is error-ridden
  • The execution is unfair targets the poor and marginalized
  • Those without capital get the punishment
  • It is being implemented within the “rarest of the rare” cases
  • Its constitutionally is upheld even in liberal democracies like the U.S
  • The hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon strongly affirms India’s commitment to prevention of terrorism
  • Tougher punishments act as a deterrent for others to commit the identical.


The hanging of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya Gang Rape and murder case has come as closure for not just her family but also the police officials who investigated the barbaric case. However the need of the hour is to know and check what we can moderate or can we changed into the legal system without any delay of execution in condemning to death Justice is delayed but not the most what we can say is justice will ultimately prevail but it took a long time. And we can hope or pray that various victims who have suffered by this type of heinous crime should be delivered through justice by the legal system.

Author: Neha .M. George from ITM University, Raipur.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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