ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Capital Punishment

A large section of Indians would agree with the views of S V Rajadurai, (“Politics and the Death Penalty”, EPW, 17 September 2011) that capital punishment must be abolished. The letter refers to those who had been condemned to death for murdering Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Recently, Arputham Ammal, the mother of Perarivalan who is languishing in a Chennai jail for nearly two decades, said that the ultimate victims of the death sentence are the backwards, the minorities and the weak. The judge who pronounced the death sentence had said that Perarivalan supplied a battery for the suicide bomber who blew up Rajiv Gandhi. A retired police inspector now admits that he severely assaulted the condemned men to make them talk and that now he would confess to his own crime. He also wants the hanging called off.

Perarivalan and the other two coconspirators, who were to be executed on 9 September, awaited a response from the president to their mercy petitions. It had been rejected. Ironically, a local court issued a further stay to decide whether the years of delay, largely in solitary confinement, were a cause for commutation! India has a notorious reputation for such delays. Of about 300 persons on death row, many have been waiting for years. The lawyer of an Assamese murderer said that by postponing execution at the last moment, “you are virtually killing him everyday”. Justice P V Thomas who presided over the Supreme Court bench that upheld the death penalty had famously said that its use is “inhuman” and merely “revengeful”. The death penalty in India is fatally flawed. The ruling Congress Party is afraid that abolishing the death penalty might encourage the police to act as “illegal executioners” in the practice of “fake encounters” or “extra-judicial killings”. This is a false alarm, because “fake encounters” take place in several Naxal-hit states despite the existence of death sentence law in the statute book.

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