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Controversy on death penalty hangs fire


By Kanika Rangray

Described in the most basic terms, death penalty is the killing of a convict who deserves it as per the law. Also called capital punishment, the death penalty has been a prominent feature in history. It is practiced by most societies as a punishment for not just criminals, but also political and religious dissidents.

316137-beat-to-deathHistorical records place the death penalty as part of the justice system. In ancient history, capital punishment included torture and most executions were public. But over the time, the tools to carry out death penalty have changed in order to rescue the culprit from enduring any torture on “humanitarian” grounds.

Death penalty was carried out in several gruesome ways in history which included being crushed under an elephant, fed upon by animals, being sawed in half, and even being boiled, burnt or flayed alive.

However, the world has moved on to “less painful” and more “humane” methods of executions such as the lethal injection, the electric chair and the gas chamber. But do these “humane” methods spell justice for the victims of the criminals committing heinous acts?

The humanitarian question:

During the 20th century, which witnessed violence and bloodshed in extreme forms, various authoritarian states used the death penalty as a means of political oppression. This led to more aggressive efforts by civil rights organisations to emphasise the issue of human rights and appeal for the abolishment of death penalty as a punishment in any circumstances.

It is from this point on that a trend pushing the abolishment of death penalty started with vigour and many countries abolished capital punishment in law and in practice. However, some countries regained the practice, and some abolished death penalty only partially, denoting it as a punishment to be given only in the “rarest of rare cases” or only in some particular criminal acts.

More than half the countries in the world retain death penalty in one form or the other; so, the United Nations (UN) has put some strict guidelines regarding the use of death penalty, restricting it to the “most serious crimes.”

What encompasses of “a serious crime” is a very subjective and vague topic. A resolution of the Economic and Security Council in the 1980’s endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 1984, and updated in 1999 says that “capital punishment may be imposed for only the most serious crimes, it being understood that their scope should not go beyond intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences.”

But the controversy starts when countries start to decipher their own definition of a “serious crime”. Those who oppose the death penalty regard it as inhumane and criticise it for its irreversibility. There have been incidents where convicts who were given the death penalty later proved to be innocent.

According to Amnesty International, an organisation campaigning to protect human rights, 130 people sentenced to death in the USA have been found innocent since 1973 and released from death row. Where capital punishment is used, such mistakes cannot be put right.

Advocates of capital punishment claim that death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime. They claim that the fear of the hanging sabre of the death penalty ensures that the convicted do not step out of the norms of the law again; and it is just a penalty for atrocious crimes—who and on what grounds decides the definition.

Abolishing death penalty—fruitful or not?

death penalty

Criminologists claim of no concrete evidence to show that a death penalty deters crime. Rather, the declining murder rate of North Carolina after executions were stopped in the state might justify the abolishment of capital punishment.

In India, the government and the law commission are at loggerheads on the issue of abolishing death penalty. Whereas the government wants to retain capital punishment, the law commission seeks to abolish it.

The Law Commission of India submitted a report to the Ministry of Law and Justice on 31st August, 2015 saying that the administration of death penalty in India is fallible, vulnerable to misapplication, and disproportionately used against socially and economically marginalised people.

“The death penalty therefore remains an irreversible punishment in an imperfect, fragile and fallible system,” said the report. The Commission recommended that capital punishment be abolished for all crimes except “terrorism related offenses and waging war,” but also pointed out that “there is no evidence of a link between fighting insurgency, terror or violent crime, and the need for death penalty.”

Dr. Versha Vahini, Assistant Professor of Law, National Law School of India University, Bangalore, said there are two sides to the issue. On one hand, you could say that because the gruesome nature of the crime committee, the criminal should not be given the right to live; but on the other, the state cannot be compared with an individual. Capital punishment is nothing but state sponsored killing.

There are other arguments also, “if you can’t give life, then you can’t take life” and also it is not certain that death penalty can act as a deterrent to crime, she added. Dr. Vahini also told NewsGram that the death penalty should be carried out in a more humanitarian manner. “Death penalties should be given out within a specific time span. You cannot keep a person in any uncertainty regarding his life. That in itself is a very cruel act.”

With valid arguments from both sides, the question arises: Is India ready for the abolishment of death penalty or should it be retained for the “rarest of rare crimes”?

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Bengali Film ‘Dhananjoy’ Sparks a Fresh Debate on the Social Dilemma of Capital Punishment

Arindam Sil's 'Dhananjoy' revolves around the capital punishment of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a security guard

Death Penalty
Arindam Sil's Bengali film 'Dhananjoy. Facebook
  • ‘Dhananjoy’ is a Bengali film directed by Arindam Sil
  • The film premiered theatres on August 11, 2017
  • Talking about capital punishments and death penalty, the movie has sparked a new debate on the social issue

August 19, 2017: Arindam Sil’s new direction, titled ‘Dhananjoy’ hit the screens on 11th August. The Bengali film since its release has sparked a fresh debate on the social dilemma of capital punishment.

Capital punishment by no means is a simple debate topic. The United Nations Organization has passed various resolutions urging governments of various nations to abolish the legality of the death penalty, however, these resolutions have been non-binding.

Also Read: Why the society needs capital punishment

There are 56 nations that hold death penalty legal. In fact, 60% of the global population resides in countries where the death penalty is held valid. Some of these nations are India, US, China, Indonesia among more.

Arindam Sil’s ‘Dhananjoy’ revolves around the capital punishment of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a security guard. The film comes at the time of the 13th anniversary of his hanging.

Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed by the state on 14th August 2004 for the rape and murder of a young girl, Hetal Parekh, in a residential complex. Aged 39, Dhananjoy was mercilessly punished leaving behind old parents, a wife and a brother.

The Bengali film has run along the lines of the 2016 published book, ‘Adalat-Media-Samaj Ebong Dhananjoyer Fansi’. The book portrays that Dhananjoy may have been wrongly committed the crimes he did not do. It was Hetal’s mother who was the culprit and got away. Dhananjoy was a scapegoat.

Sil shows in the movie that it was unfair for Dhananjoy if the judiciary or police in any way would have caused an unintentional error. Dhanonjoy spent 14 years in the prison, during which he kept claiming that he was innocent. He also kept saying that he was tired of being poor. Dhananjoy had little money, and his poverty was the reason behind him being put as the scapegoat. His lawyers with the little fees had lost interest in the case.

This theory by Sil clearly raised debates regarding the fairness of capital punishment and death penalty. The film Dhananjoy is sure to raise dinner table debates with family after watching the movie.

William Douglas, American Supreme Court Judge, once said: “Capital Punishment was for those without the capital.”

The United Nations conducted a survey in the year 1988. From the responses, they concluded that the fact “death penalty is more of a deterrent than life imprisonment” is absolutely baseless. Furthermore, the statistics extracted from countries who abolished the practice supports the conclusion of the survey.

If capital punishment is not abolished, the risk that an innocent could be hanged and killed lurks in the environment. Judiciary systems are not perfect systems.

In India, the judiciary is in worse conditions. With the lack of personnel, pending cases and archaic laws coupled with caste and communal hierarchic setup, capital punishment should be much researched in the country.

– Prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

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Tough Anti-Hijacking Law comes into Force in India

The historic 1982 law has been replaced by a stricter 2016 anti-hijacking law which permits trial for death penalty

Anti-Hijacking Law
The 2016 Anti-Hijacking Law has now been enforced in India. Wikimedia
  • India has just reformed its anti-hijacking legislation which introduces death penalty
  • The old law of 1982 has been substituted for the 2016 anti-hijacking law 
  • The new law has now come into force which prescribes capital punishment under certain scenarios 

July 07, 2017: India has taken a strict and firm step to substitute its old vintage law designed in 1982 to a more impactful and stringent 2016 anti-hijacking law. The new law introduces and validated capital punishment in the event of the death of any person.

Previously, according to the 1982 formulated law, capital punishment could only be raised in the event of the death of a hostage which included flight crew, passengers, and security personal.

The new law has widened its definition to a broad category of the death of any hostage, including security personnel on board and ground staff members as well. In other cases, the guilty can potentially be punished for life imprisonment and fined, combined with the confiscation of movable and immovable property held.

Also Read: Fake Caste Certificates Invalid for Employment, says Supreme Court

The law also includes numerous acts in the definition of hijacking, such as making a threat, attempts, and abetment to commit the offense.

The law which comes into force 5th July 2017 onwards also adds that organizing or invoking someone directly to carry out hijacking will also be included in the offense under the new law.

The central government is to have the power of investigation, arrests, and prosecution. The stricter and reformed bill comes after Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi introduced a bill in Rajya Sabha to repeal the 1982 Anti-Hijacking Act in 2014. The new bill was passed on 4th May 2016 by the Upper House.

– prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394 

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India opposes UN Resolution for Moratorium on Death Penalty, says it goes against Indian Law

In the last 12 years only three executions - all of them of terrorists - have been carried out in the nation of 1.2 billion

Death penalty (representational Image), Source: Benar News

November 19, 2016: India has opposed a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, saying it goes against Indian law and the sovereign right of countries to determine their own laws and penalties.

“The resolution before us sought to promote a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty,” Mayank Joshi, a counsellor at India’s UN Mission said on Thursday. “My delegation, therefore, has voted against the resolution as a whole as it goes against Indian statutory law.”

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The resolution, however, was adopted by the General Assembly’s committee dealing with humanitarian affairs by 115 votes to 38 with 31 abstentions after an acrimonious debate and the adoption of an amendment to recognise the sovereign rights of nations to determine their own laws, which virtually nullified it.

India supported the amendment and Joshi told the committee: “Every State has the sovereign right to determine its own legal system and appropriate legal penalties.”

The amendment passed by a vote of 76 to 72 with 26 abstentions. However, it did not mollify India, which voted against the amended resolution.

Explaining New Delhi’s position on capital punishment, Joshi said, “In India, the death penalty is exercised in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases, where the crime committed is so heinous as to shock the conscience of society.”

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In the last 12 years only three executions – all of them of terrorists – have been carried out in the nation of 1.2 billion.

Last year Yakub Memon, who financed the 1993 Mumbai bombings, was executed. Muhammad Afzal, convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament, was hanged in 2013 and Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, one of the terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack was executed in 2012.

An independent judiciary hears the cases where death penalty can be imposed and appeals are permitted at several levels, Joshi said. Moreover, the Supreme Court has decreed that “poverty, socio-economic, psychic compulsions, undeserved adversities in life” should be considered as mitigating factors in imposing the death penalty, he added.

The amendment about the sovereign right of nations to have their own legal systems was introduced by Singapore. Its delegate said that the original resolution was one-sided and tried to impose the values of one group of countries upon others.

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New Zealand, echoing the sentiments of several other countries, said that sovereignty did not absolve nations from complying with international norms of human rights and the death penalty violated it.

The United States also opposed the resolution saying that capital punishment was legal under international law and dealing with it was a domestic matter. (IANS)