That Maharashtra was among the top four states that included some of the country’s most economically deprived states with poor governance records is a bit of a surprise, says Venkatesh Nayak of CHRI. “The death penalty is in stark contrast with the philosophy of human rights. The state cannot give itself the power to take away a person’s life. That amounts to legitimising murder,” says Nayak.
The report points to the fact that India is amongst the few countries that has retained capital punishment.
Between 1998 and 2013, 2,052 people were awarded capital punishment in India, an average of 128 a year. However, during this 16-year period, only three people were actually executed, one each in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi.
“Those who have been executed are dead and gone, whereas the suffering is far worse for those who are on the death row and have not been pardoned. They live with a Damocles sword hanging over their heads. Every moment is uncertain for them; the order for their execution could come any moment, while they’re asleep or awake. It is not fair for any human being to be put through such torture. Is the purpose of punishment retribution or reform? Is it society’s collective desire for revenge?” asks Nayak.
He points out that the system of jurisprudence itself is uneven on such matters. “In some cases, the circumstances of the murderer and the crime are looked into. At other times, only the circumstances of the crime are looked into,” he adds.
The highest number of death sentences in a given year, 186, were handed down in 2007. The least number of death sentences, 55, were awarded in 1998. Over 1,600 death penalties were awarded in the first 13 years of the new millennium. Interestingly, 4,497 death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment during these 13 years.
The North-East accounts for the least number of death sentences. Assam accounted for the largest proportion of death penalties awarded by the North-Eastern states.
“It is also interesting to note that the states which have a long history of conflict between government forces and militant groups have not seen any kind of spurt in the number of death sentences being awarded,” says the report.