Free essay on Capital punishment in India

In India, in 1814, there were three cases of boys of eight, nine, and eleven years who were hanged. In the Mughal period, torturous methods were used in the execution of condemned criminals.

However, today there are a very few crimes for which death penalty is imposed. Four characteristics of capital punishment may be pointed out or our country: (1) Capital punishment is given only for (selected) seven crimes. (2) Hanging in the presence of public is totally abolished. (3) No painful methods are used in executing death sentence. (4) Capital punishment is awarded only by a governing authority.

The Indian Penal Code recognises capital punishment under eight sections (121, 132, 194, 302, 303, 305, 307, and 396) for different offences. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides that “no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”


On the basis of this article, the constitutional validity of capital punishment has been accepted by our Supreme Court on several occasions, if the procedure adopted is “just, fair, and reasonable” and is not “fanciful, oppressive, or arbitrary”. There was a proposal in mid 1999 from some sources that capital punishment should be awarded to rapists.

However, this view has not been accepted by many. Even the National Commission for Women in its recommendation made in April 2000 did not recommend capital punishment for rape.

This recommendation was made on the basis of opinions expressed by social workers, victims of rape, counselors, psychiatrists, NGOs, etc., in 16 workshops organised by State Women’s Commissions in different parts of the country. Only four workshops recommended capital punishment, 10 were against it and two did not express any specific opinion.

The first successful effort for abolishing capital punishment in India was made in Travancore in 1944 but it was reintroduced in 1950. The number of persons awarded capital punishment by the courts in Travancore was 159 in 1950,168 in 1951 and 170 in 1952.


In 1956, a bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by one Agrawal for abolishing capital punishment but it was rejected by Parliament in 1961. The then Deputy Minister for Home Affairs (Mrs. Violet Alva) intervening in the debate on the resolution had said:

A correct assessment of the situation in the country rather than sentiment should guide our approach to this question. Since the crime situation continues to be serious, the time was not ripe to do away with capital punishment, though principles underlying the demand for its abolition may be accepted (The Hindustan Times, September 10, 1961).

In 1963, the Law Commission was asked to look into the question of abolishing capital punishment. It gave its recommendations in November 1971 and turned down the idea of abolition. In 1980, five judges of the Supreme Court of India discussed its justification. Of these, four were in favour of retaining it, while one was in favour of abolishing it.

At present, capital punishment in India is given for seven crimes. These are: murder, dacoity coupled with murder, war against the state, false evidence which results in capital punishment to an innocent person, instigating a minor or an insane person to commit suicide, and leaking out secrets to other countries.


Though capital punishment is still sanctioned in our country, yet four types of persons are exempted from it: (i) children below 15 years of age, (ii) pregnant women, (iii) mentally deranged persons, and (iv) persons above 70 years of age. There is also a provision for appealing to the President for mercy after the Supreme Court rejects appeals.

The Indian Constitution provides for altering the death sentence into life imprisonment if there was prolonged delay in the execution of death sentence.

Such cases occurred in 1944 (in the case of one Piare Dusadh when he awaited the execution of death sentence for over a year), in 1974 in Andhra Pradesh (in the case of Edigo Anamma who awaited execution for two years), in 1978 in Uttar Pradesh (in the case of Bhagan Bux Singh who awaited execution for two and a half years), in 1978 in Uttar Pradesh , (in the case of Sadhu Singh who awaited execution for three and a half years), in 1983 in Tamil Nadu (in the case of S.M. Fazal Ali who awaited execution for eight years) (Cf. Jaswal and Jaswal, Social Defence, January 1986, 30-35).

However, the Supreme Court also said in one case in 1983 that in every case in which there is a long delay in execution of death sentence, the sentence need not be substituted by sentence of life imprisonment.


Because of two different rulings of the Supreme Court, confusion prevailed for two years in the courts but in 1985 it was again ruled by the Supreme Court that if there was a prolonged delay of two years or more in the execution of death sentence, the accused could invoke the law (Article 21) and get the sentence substituted.

The number of persons admitted with death sentence in India was 843 (830 males and 13 females) in 1959 and 791 (785 males and 6 females) in 1960. However, the actual number of persons executed was 190 (188 males and 2 females) in 1959 and 210 (all males) in 1960. In 1982, 56.4 thousand persons were arrested for 23,339 murders (Crime in India, 1993).

Of these cases, trial was completed only in 14,000 (28%) cases, of which 6,335 (i.e., 45%) were convicted, 200 (i.e., 37%) were given death penalty but only 64 (i.e., 0.3%) were actually hanged.

In 1998, 81,093 persons were arrested (77,649 or 95.8% males and 3,444 or 4.2% females) for 38,653 murders (ibid., 1998: 271).


Of these, trial was completed in 63,974 cases (including pending cases), of which 20,396 were convicted and 134 were awarded capital punishment. But hardly 20 were hanged. Thus, in the last two-three decades, the number of persons actually executed has sharply come down.

A study was conducted in America in 1958 by Elma Rober on attitudes towards capital punishment. He found that 50 per cent respondents were opposed to death penalty, 42 per cent were in favour of death penalty, and 8 per cent expressed no opinion.

In 1972, the Supreme Court of America declared death penalty unconstitutional but in 1976, the Supreme Court heard new arguments and ruled that death penalty was not unconstitutional per se. between 1967 and 1976; there were no legal executions at all in the country. Today, only thirteen states in the United States have retained capital punishment while all others have abolished it.

Since capital punishment is usually associated with the crime of murder, the questions criminologists ask are: why do people commit murder and what type of persons actually kill? David Abrahamsen (1952: 184) is of the opinion that murder is caused by frustration which is caused by financial inadequacy, social inadequacy (long accumulated bitterness), sexual inadequacy, and intellectual inadequacy.


The reasons for committing murders in India are analysed as: personal vendetta or enmity (14.5%), property disputes (10.6%), love affairs (6.9%), dowry (2.8%), gain (4.7%), sexual causes (6.0%), communalism (31.9%) and other motives (22.6%) (1998: 122).

Explaining the type of persons who kill, Barnes and Teeters (1943: 317) have classified murderers into three groups:

(i) Those who suffer from serious physical, mental, and cultural deficiencies that make it possible for them to contemplate murder as a more or less natural form of conduct. Their point of view is so defective, judged by socially approved standards, that the hatred against taking human life, which exists in the normal individual, is more or less absent in their case;

(ii) Those who are relatively normal physically, mentally, culturally but are subjected to difficult or inciting emotional situations which lead them to commit murder, whereas under normal circumstances, they would lead a law-abiding existence;

(iii) The professional gunmen in the matter of taking life bear close resemblance in their mental habits to army personnel.

Their attitude towards the taking of human life is very much like that of the soldier on the battlefield, namely, it is taken as a matter of course not involving any personal responsibility.