Death Penalty: Should be retained or abolished? – An essay by our student Sylvester William.

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Death Penalty: Should be retained or abolished? – An essay by our student Sylvester William.

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“I don’t think you should support death penalty to seek revenge. I don’t think it is right. I think the reason to support death penalty is to save other people’s lives.”

  • George W. Bush

Death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a government-sanctioned practice whereby a person is killed by the state as a punishment for a crime. Crimes that are punishable by death are known as capital crimes, capital offences or capital felonies, and they commonly include serious offences such as murder, mass murder, aggravated cases of rape, child rape, child sexual abuse, terrorism etc. But, whether a criminal of a particular crime is given capital punishment or not primarily depends on the country and its legal system

Throughout history, capital punishment has been widely used against several crimes. At times various cruel methods were also employed for execution in the past. In the 18th Century, England had listed more than 200 capital crimes which included cutting down a cherry tree from the orchard and petty theft such as cattle stealing or shoplifting.  Things have changed drastically since then.

Among countries around the world, all European (except Belarus) and many Oceanian states (including Australia and New Zealand), and Canada have abolished capital punishment. In Latin America, most states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment, while some countries such as Brazil and Guatemala allow for capital punishment only in exceptional situations. Some states of theThe USA, some Caribbean countries and the majority of countries in Asia (for example, Japan and India) retain capital punishment. In Africa, less than half of countries retain it, for example Botswana and Zambia. South Africa abolished the death penalty in 1995. China is believed to execute more people than all other countries combined

In Nazi Germany there were three types of capital punishment; hanging, decapitation and death by shooting. Most of the countries have now adopted humane alternatives to execute, such as lethal injection, electrocution, and gas inhalation. However, some countries still practice slow hanging methods, decapitation, shooting and stoning to execute capital punishment.

In colonial India, death was prescribed as one of the punishments in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), which listed a number of capital crimes. It remained in effect after independence in 1947. The first hanging in Independent India was that of Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case on 15 November 1949.

Capital punishment in India can be given only in rarest of rare cases which include honour killing, police brutality, abetment of Sati etc. The execution of death sentence in India is carried out by hanging by the neck until death.

Capital punishment has been carried out in five instances in India since 1995, while a total of twenty-six executions have taken place since 1991, the most recent of which was that of Yakub Memon in 2015.

Research published by National Law University, Delhi on death row convicts since 2000 had found that of the 1,617 prisoners sentenced to death by trial courts in India, capital punishment was confirmed in only seventy-one cases. The President’s power to grant pardons explains the gap. There have been protests against the alleged arbitrary use of this power.

The retention and abolition of capital punishment is a hotly discussed topic worldwide.  We can categorize the arguments revolving around death penalty into three:

  1. Death penalty must be used more commonly in order to deter people from committing crimes.
  2. Death penalty should be administered only in the rarest of the rare cases.
  3. Death penalty must never be utilized irrespective of the severity of the crime.




  • Death penalty must be used more commonly in order to deter people from committing crimes:-

It is said that since capital punishment was abolished in the state of Michigan, USA, the crime rate has steadily increased. This shows that capital punishment does act as a deterrent and must be used more often in order to keep the crime rates lower.  Based on this dogma, death penalty must be made more common. And in India, where most of the death sentences are commuted to life imprisonment, this practice must be stopped. In India, there have been calls for the introduction of the death penalty for rapists and molesters, especially since an infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape case and later crimes.

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug was an Indian nurse who died in May 2015 after spending her last 42 years in a vegetative state. The cause for such a state was a sexual assault by a janitor when she was a nurse. But the perpetrator, however, walked free after spending 2 consecutive seven year imprisonment sentences. He was reported to be living with his family after being released.

Don’t we all agree that the culprit of such crimes must suffer, at least more than the victim themselves? Serving 14 years of imprisonment as a criminal as against living 42 years in a vegetative state, never realizing what happens around them, never getting an opportunity to start a family and even simply enjoy being alive; is pure injustice.

Capital punishment not only acts as a deterrent but also helps to create a sense of justice being served. Putting oneself in the shoe of the victim and their kin, one can easily understand the pain and desire behind capital punishment being made more common.

Also, letting a criminal loose after he serves a term in the prison is even more dangerous, as all the criminals have a psychological issue and are unfit to be introduced back in the society unchecked; as these issues could worsen, considering the trauma they may have to face in the prison.

Capital punishment must be made common so that common crimes no more remain common.


  • Death penalty should be administered only in the rarest of the rare cases:-

This part of the argument states that death penalty is not something to be made common but used only in cases where the crime committed is of heinous nature and the criminal cannot be excused on any grounds, whatsoever. This is adopted in India and a few other countries too. All the executions in India in the 21st Century have been of criminals associated with terrorism except for one. This shows that India does not want to use capital punishment against common crimes. However, it will not let go off a person capable of committing such heinous crimes against humanity. Terrorism, under no circumstance, deserves pardon or reconsideration. Nothing justifies killing unarmed innocent people.

The Law Commission of India in its report, submitted in 2015, on The Death Penalty has recommended that “the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war.”

This system believes that it is right to give the criminals a chance to live since nothing good can be achieved by killing people. In fact, living in solitude can be more painful than death. But if not eliminating the culprit poses a greater threat to humanity then the last resort is adopted, that is, to execute him.


  • Death penalty must never be utilized irrespective of the severity of the crime:-

The very fact that most of the countries, including all the countries in Europe (except Belarus) have abolished the capital punishment sends a clear enough message that it is time to make capital punishment a thing in the past.

It is said that all criminals who consciously carry out criminal activities have shown signs of brain damage, without exception. If, these criminals are administered with restorative discipline, in this care, psychological treatment, counseling, de-radicalization and other measures to get their mental health to the level of normal people; over punitive disciplines, where only the offender suffers and it benefits no victim, then the a win- win situation can be achieved from which the society benefits. However, the victim and their relatives and other related people must also be given such care in order to minimize the trauma, and they are made prepared to forgive, with time. This proposes a whole system change in justice and imprisonment, but it is not unachievable.

When an animal is tagged as a man-eater and captured, what is done to the? They are kept under captivity until they die as letting them free would put human beings’ lives at risk. But they are never killed (if they are captured alive). Since we refer to these criminals as nothing less than these wild beasts, can’t we show them the same courtesy we show man-eating animals? Also, if we repeat the same act as the offender, although it is on the offender, then how can we differentiate them from us?

Another point that adds weight to this argument is wrongful executions; although very rare, have not been non-existent in the past. The death of an innocent is always a tragedy, and it being ordered by the state, removes the whole meaningfulness of such a process.

Graham Stuart Staines was an Australian Christian missionary, who along with his two sons, Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6), were burnt to death by a gang wanting to teach them a lesson for converting people to Christianity. Shortly after the sentencing of the killers, Gladys Staines issued a statement saying that she had forgiven the killers and had no bitterness towards them. This is a divine example of forgiveness and is almost humanly impossible to replicate. But, by doing so, the world can be made a much better place.



All 3 arguments have their own points validating their claims, but the justice system has a few other issues too which need immediate attention. The shortage of judges is a major issue in the Indian judicial system. This causes delayed and inappropriate hearings of a case and hence delayed justice. It is said that delayed justice is denied justice. This major flaw must be taken care of. Also, these proceedings are very expensive and inaccessible to the poor. The use of technological evidences has been considerably increased to prosecute, but the facilities must be made more conducive to increase it further. Further, the Indian society is notorious of placing a stigma on a victim which causes many crimes to go unreported.

These problems need to be fixed and the people must also step up. But as far as the death penalty is concerned, it must be left to the people with fine judgment (the judges) to decide whether or not it should be administered.

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