Delhi court order to Delhi gang-rape convicts revives debate on death penalty

A Delhi court’s order issuing black warrants to hang the four men convicted for the rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student in the national capital seven years ago has revived the debate on whether death penalty should be retained as a punishment for murder under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

While there has been an outrage and a call to punish the men who brutally sexually assaulted the woman, causing her death days after the attack, there have been some who believe death penalty is unwarranted and that a state should not take a life.

Political parties have so far steered clear from the debate and have by-and-large gone with the popular sentiment, though individual leaders have expressed personal views on it. Like CPI(M) and DMK, which have publicly sought abolition of death penalty.

Decribing executions as “inhuman”, CPI(M) has on several occasions said it stands for abolition of death penalty in the country as it is “arbitrarily implemented” and advocated imprisonment till death in rarest of the rare cases.

For DMK, party MP Kanimozhi has called “death penalty” as “illogical and inhumane”. “DMK has opposed death penalty in all cases and favours the immediate abolition of this practice. The party’s 2014 conference in Tiruchi resolved to abolish death penalty as did the manifesto for Lok Sabha elections that year. We will work towards removing death penalty from statute books,” she had said soon after Yakub Memon’s execution in 2015.

As for the government, it is still to take a stand on the issue. Responding to a private member’s bill moved in Rajya Sabha to abolish death sentence, Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy had in July last said the government was examining the issue and was yet to take a final call.

“Around 140 countries have abolished capital punishment around the globe. There are only 53 countries which currently award death penalties. Most of these countries do not have democratic governments,” Congress leader Pradeep Tamta had said in his bill.

Reddy had then also informed the House that 90 per cent of the states supported death penalty. Citing the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the minister said that capital punishment was given to only one person each in 2012 and 2013 respectively, while it was zero in 2014 and one in 2015. “The President of India has received 135 mercy petitions, in which 34 was dismissed, 91 were allowed and one file is still pending,” he had told the House.

Harshvardhan Singh Dungarpur (BJP) of BJP opposed the bill. Chhaya Verma of Congress and Vishambhar Prasad Nishad (SP) supported the bill. But AAP leader Sanjay Singh cited Kathua rape case and demanded death penalty for perpetrators of “such heinous crimes”.