Should India abolish the death penalty?

Rope India allows the death penalty for the 'rarest of rare' crimes

Should India abolish the death penalty?

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the death penalty of Pakistani national Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving gunman of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, has opened the debate once again.

Predictably, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been quick to demand Qasab's swift execution "as those who wage war against the country and kill innocents deserve no mercy".

Qasab can still appeal to the highest court to review the verdict; and his last hope lies with a plea for clemency to the president.

His appalling crime of gunning down innocents surely qualifies as a "rarest of the rare crime", a condition for handing out the death penalty in India.

But, as critics of capital punishment say, there's no evidence to show that the death penalty deters crime.

Two-thirds of the world's countries have done away with the death penalty in law or in practice. Last year, according to Amnesty International, death sentences were imposed in 63 countries, but only 21 countries actually carried out executions.

India has shied away from executing people for many years now.

There have been only two hangings in the country in the past 12 years and the majority of convicts on death row can expect their sentences to be commuted to life. Former president Pratibha Patil commuted the death sentences of 35 convicts midway through her five-year term.

Clemency pleas of 29 prisoners on death row in India are pending before the president. They include Afzal Guru, who was convicted for carrying out an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. The Supreme Court upheld his death sentence as long ago as 2004.

Then there is a serious practical problem: there are only one or two hangmen available in India. Two years ago, I met one in a Calcutta prison who had been employed as a hangman-cum-sweeper, and was still waiting to carry out his first execution.

Recently, 14 retired Indian judges wrote to the president asking him to commute the death sentences of 13 inmates being held in prisons across the country. And the Supreme Court itself recently admitted that some death penalties it had upheld were erroneous.

"Public opinion in India can no longer ignore the global movement in favour of abolition of the death penalty," says AP Shah, the former chief justice of the Delhi High Court in an interview in today's The Times of India.

What do you think?

Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

How Cyclone Hudhud got its name

India's new cyclone is named after a bird, but thinking up these names has not been an easy process. The BBC's Soutik Biswas explains.

Read full article


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    As we all agree that security and intelligence infrastructure in India is weak. Hence Ajmal may pose a serious risk to the country even if he languishes in jail. Attempts lik hijack or holding people for ransom cannot be ruled out by radical organisations in order to get him freed. In the larger interest of the country it is safer to hang him even if it may not be everyones desire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Yes, India should join the rank of other mature democracies in the world by doing so. Two wrongs don't make one right. Let us support abolishing death penalty in India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    As long as anyone murder innocent people, they should be executed. Anders Breivik and this Ajmal Amir Qasab should be among of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    So what else do you do with a monster like Qasab? Ask the Indian taxpayer to pay for his upkeep for the entirety of his life sentence? I wonder what the families of the victims will make of that. Shall India ask Pakistan to fund for his welfare in an Indian jail? Perhaps Amnesty can do a 'Sponsor a terrorist' fund raiser? Qasab's crimes and punishment are truly proportional and exceptional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    If India wants to have the death penalty then that's their choice,
    I should be brought back in Britain too, I am fed up with the paltry sentences that people get these days, murderers and child abuse should be given the death penalty We need stronger detterents, like chopping off shoplifters hands, it sounds extreme but crime in the UK would fall drastically.


Comments 5 of 93



  • PlanesTest of nerve

    WW1 fighter pilots who navigated using a school atlas

  • Pauline Borghese What the butler saw

    Scandalous tales from the British embassy in Paris

  • A baby holds an adult's fingerSmall Data

    The time when the average age of death was zero

  • League of LegendsBattle for glory

    On the ground at League of Legends World Championship's final

  • Vinyl record pressing in AustraliaVinyl vibe

    Getting into the groove with Australia's last record maker

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.