It is the most inviolate of all rights, the right to life. This is why the death penalty raises such extreme emotions in those opposed to it. The penalty itself is a violation of Article 3 and 5 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘Everyone has the right to life’ and the right to not be subject to ‘torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.
While the death penalty is yet to be abolished in India and is awarded only in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases, the Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a landmark verdict which can be seen as moving a step closer to abolishing it. The apex court, while commuting the sentences of 15 death row prisoners to life imprisonment, said the “inordinate and inexplicable” delay in executing the sentences was akin to “torture” of the prisoner and was in violation of Article 21. The three-judge Bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh has also done a signal service in overruling the court’s earlier decision in the Devinderpal Singh Bhullar case that a delay on deciding on a mercy petition was not a ground on which a death sentence could be commuted. The apex court verdict, which makes it mandatory to give a gap of 14 days between the rejection of the mercy petition and execution, is definitely a welcome step as it will help the convict and the family to prepare for the final act.
That the gallows are no deterrent to preventing crimes is proven fact if one looks at the nations that still resort to this medieval form of justice year after year. China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and even the United States, with 39 in 2013 alone, have a high number of executions per year and yet there is little evidence to prove that it is acting as a deterrent. Given that there is a possibility of executing people who have been wrongly convicted, the cry for abolishing capital punishment is on the rise. Experts are of the opinion that given the cost involved and the amount of resources required for the process, it is wiser and much more effective if the State focuses on the prevention of crime.
Taking the life of a person with the sanction of the State, no matter the method of execution, is a reminder of how the system has failed. If India wants to grow and mature as a strong democracy, it should take befitting actions that earn it the respect of other nations. It is quite natural that the largest democracy in the world would seek more humane methods of preventing or punishing crime and set an example for others.