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Should death penalty be abolished?
According to a media report Law Commission of India (LCI) is considering reviewing the death penalty. While commuting death sentence of 19 persons to life after their petition for mercy was rejected by the honorable President of India, the apex court of India observed that "perhaps the LCI can resolve the issue by examining whether death penalty is a deterrent punishment, or is it retributive justice or serves an incapitative goal."
The LCI observed that "people have begun to speculate about the end goal of keeping a penalty such as death sentence on the statute book. In recent years, the Supreme Court has admitted that the question of death penalty is not free from the subjective element and is sometimes unduly influenced by public opinion. In this context it is imperative that a deeper study be conducted to highlight whether the process of awarding capital sentence is fraught with subjectivity and caprice."

Let's first analyse literally the observations made by the honorable apex court of India and by the venerable LCI. First of all the capital punishment is not a deterrent punishment. All kinds of people live in India and they do all kinds of things. The fact is that Indians think in the most diverse ways than probably any other countrymen, all around the globe.

Right from the most humanist acts to the most horrific crimes against the humanity take place in India, regularly and frequently. There are pending issues about hunger, poverty and illiteracy as well. So people will commit all sorts of crimes with or without the death penalty.

The fact is that the death sentence may act as a retributive justice but this is mostly confined to individuals and their families who are directly affected. Indian state has no reason to either celebrate or mourn a death sentence unless some specific national interests are involved.

Sure, capital sentence serves the purpose of state only when the accused has acted against the state. But then for certain crimes, particularly for some diabolical and dastardly social ones, the death penalty may serve as an antidote for the victims and their families too.

Now in India subjective opinions cannot be factors while deciding and dictating the state's behaviors and its laws. People think in all possible ways in India with the widest possible distributions. It cannot be left to subjective interpretations in India or else people may not arrive at a conclusion with cogency.

Mind you, the Indian Constitution does not permit the state holding a referendum or a plebiscite. Therefore, the state cannot directly seek opinion of public; opinion poll may not serve the purpose, and anyway, the government cannot act on the results of such polls.

But sure, India is a modern, dynamic, free, and evolving society and it dreams big about its role in the global matters. The fact is that Indians like to compare themselves with the Westerners. In the US the capital punishment is a norm but not so in the European Union, particularly in the UK.

So if India wants to integrate with the Western world it may partially borrow its liberalism, at least on paper. Many people may argue and urge India to eliminate death sentence altogether in order to garner greater global support to become a permanent member of the expanded UNSC.

I know this may not apply on all aspiring states but still India is a big ambitious country seeking entry into the elite institution and therefore, it may like to conform to the European standards and project itself like one of them, despite of many inherent contradictions.

Other argument may be to get rid of criticism of various human rights organizations. The fact is that Indian society faces a lot of demographic conflicts, including feudalism based on regionalism and caste system and also communalism. Therefore, this could be a tricky bait to end capital punishment to get more acceptability on rights records.

But then India has its own problems, both microscopic and macroscopic, which may prohibit or minimally restrict, progressive decision to abolish the death penalty altogether. Also, there is a continuing debate in India about whether the death penalty relieves accused of all his and her crimes. But then there is a balancing factor about spending by the state on criminals accused of the most heinous crimes.

Microscopically, it involves heinous crimes against women and children, particularly those about violating females' modesty and sexually abusing children. Now death sentence does not and cannot deter a potential rapist from raping a woman or a pedophile from sexually abusing young children.

But then if the maximum punishment for the rape and sexual abuse is a death sentence then removing the penalty would only increase the crimes against females and children. Therefore, while the death sentence does not deter a rapist and a pedophile, the fact is that continuing it may help females and families of victims of child abuse a bit.

Macroscopically, Indian state faces a host of problems, like terrorism, naxalism and deadly human and drug trafficking. As in the case of rape and sexual abuse the fact is that maximum death penalty does not serve as a deterrent to all those who act against Indian state or spoil Indian society by drugs or by getting involved in human trade. But removing death penalty may encourage anti-nationals and ultra anti-social elements to continue acting against the Indian state and the society.

Therefore, the issue needs to be quantified properly, objectively and rationally. While in the cases of rape, sexual abuse, manslaughter and man-eating, terrorism, naxalism and human and drug trafficking, the death sentence may have legitimacy in other cases the state can undo the maximum penalty. It should use its discretion but under no circumstances it should promote vulgarity, abuse and violence.

For normal social crimes, like murder of few by an individual or group of individuals, dowry death, deaths during social strife and circumstances-driven social crimes etc. the provision of death sentence should be removed unless in those circumstances where such acts are very offending to the state and the society.

The fact is that despite of enormous contradictions, great anomalies, continuing feudalism, and many other problems, the Indian state is rarely cruel; not even for its lowest strata, for most of the time. In fact, in relative sense Indian state is a positive state. Thus it does not get any pleasure by making people hanged till death. Therefore, capital punishment can be undone by the state except in the case of the most heinous crimes.

But then all should understand that India is not like any advanced European Union member. However, the fact is that rationalized polarization centered around the Center is the best policy for Indian state. It can embrace Western liberalism but only after localizing and after taking utmost care.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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