A raging debate erupted much before the stage was finalised for Yakub Memon's hanging for his role in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts on Thursday.
"...in rarest of the rare cases when collective conscience of the community is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining death penalty..." says a 2008 Supreme Court ruling reiterating precedents set in 1980, 1983 and other previous decisions on death penalty. (http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgs1.aspx?filename=31069)
While a mere death penalty verdict can invoke arguments both for and against it, an actual execution, like that of Memon's, heightens the emotions of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
So some wanted captured Pakistan terrorist Ajmal Kasab and the juvenile in 2012 December gangrape to be hanged; there were reams written against the death penalty after 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru's hanging.
People will continue to argue whether Memon's hanging can bring about any change in the society on all imagined platforms --- on social media to newspaper editorials and drawing rooms to the street-side tea stalls --- it is important to analyse how many of those facing the gallows were actually executed. It is also imperative to ask where does India stand in carrying out the executions globally.
According to the statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, for every execution carried out 1,250 death sentences were commuted in India between 2004 and 2013.
In the 10-year period, a total of 1,303 capital punishment verdicts were pronounced, 3,751 previous death penalties were commuted to life imprisonment and only three were executed.
The three executions were those of Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004, who was convicted for the rape and murder of a teenage girl in Kolkata, Kasab for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and Guru for the 2001 Parliament attack.
Here is a graph showing death penalty verdicts, number of sentences commuted and total executions between 2004 and 2013.
Global state of affairs
According to a United Nations report, about 160 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice and 98 of those have
abolished it altogether. But India remains one of the 58 countries which still hands out the death penalty.
Here is an interactive map from Amnesty International which shows the number of death sentences and executions from 2007-2014.
To put things in perspective, let us plot the number of 'death penalty verdicts' vs 'number actually executed' in a linear bar graph of some of the countries.
The graph shows that Indian courts may have pronounced a large number of death penalty verdicts like other countries, it executed the least number of people among nations which have retained it.
India may not have abolished death penalty entirely but as it can be seen from the data available, it has exercised enough caution before proceeding with the actual execution.