The execution of Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon on Thursday sparked a debate over death penalty with prominent opposition leaders joining activists in calling for a ban and the government saying it cannot afford to take the leap at present.
The chorus was led by Congress parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor who said "State-sponsored killing" reduces citizens to murderers.
"There is no evidence that death penalty serves as a deterrent: to the contrary in fact. All it does is exact retribution: unworthy of a Govt," Tharoor tweeted.
The Kerala MP said he was not commenting on the merits of the Yakub Memon sentence but on "death penalty in principle and practice".
Congress in general welcomed the hanging of Memon, but Tharoor got support from party colleague and Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar who said: "India is a democracy. We set very high standards when it comes to human rights. Why are we then not abolishing the death sentence? What benefit are we getting from it?"
DMK parliamentarian Kanimozhi Karunanidhi vowed to move a private member's bill in the Rajya Sabha to abolish death sentences.
"India has witnessed three executions in three years. A lengthy legal process and executive clemency could not prevent the government from taking the life of its own citizens," she said.
Left parties, the CPI( M) and CPI, reiterated their stand against capital punishment. "India should say no to capital punishment. In this regard I am moving a private member resolution in the Rajya Sabha," CPI leader D Raja said.
Union minister Arun Jaitley called the debate “legitimate” but made it clear there was no way India could afford to take the leap at present due to concerns over internal security and cross-border terrorism.
“We are not in a position to abolish death penalty,” Jaitley said, adding that the BJP’s ideology was against showing leniency to those who butcher innocents.
More than 160 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice and 98 of those have abolished it altogether. India is one of the 58 countries which still hands out the death penalty, according to a UN reports.
The international voices against Yakub Memon's hanging was led by UN secretary general Ban ki moon who emphasied his stand against death sentences.
New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch urged India to order a ban, saying there is no evidence that the "cruel" form of punishment acts as a deterrent.
"Why does India cling to capital punishment? Perhaps the government is afraid to be seen as soft in the face of horrific terrorist attacks or other crimes like the 2013 gangrape of a student in New Delhi. But the often professed goals for capital punishment – deterrence, reformation, or justice – hardly hold up to scrutiny," said Jayshree Bajoria, a researcher with the organisation.
Eminent jurists too joined the debate. While former attorney general (AG) Soli Sorabjee called for a ban on capital punishment, present AG Mukul Rohatgi said it wasn't time yet.
Writers and opinion makers who spoke out against the noose mainly said the state should not be a party to taking precious lives and that death is never a deterrent for terrorists.
A large section of the media stuck to the argument that it was time for India to rethink the capital punishment laws.
"India's use of the death penalty demeans the most cherished idea on which our republic rests, the idea of justice," wrote the Indian Express in its editorial.
The Hindu's editorial said, " A truly lasting solution to the moral dilemma that each instance of capital punishment poses will be to abolish it altogether and replace it with a sentence of imprisonment for the rest of the convict's life."
Others like R Jagannathan, Editor-in-chief at Firstpost argued in favour of retaining the maximum penalty saying: "We need the death penalty for our own reasons at this stage in our development as a civilised society."
Courts in India had awarded death penalty to 2,052 convicts between 1998 and 2013, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, but 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, Ajmal Kasab for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and Afzal Guru for the 2001 Parliament attack.