Capital punishment, also known as Death penalty, is essentially the execution of an individual as punishment for offense by a state. The crimes which can lead to capital punishment are called capital crimes or capital offenses. Earlier, the killing of criminals and political opponents was prevalent in almost every civilization. With the time, nearly all European and several Pacific Area states (counting Australia, New Zealand and Timor Leste), and Canada have abolished death penalty.
The majority of states in Latin America have absolutely abolished capital punishment, however, a few countries, like Brazil, use death penalty only in special situations, for example, treachery committed during wartime. There are still quite a few states and countries that retain the use of capital punishment, including the United States (the federal government and 36 of its states), Guatemala, majority of the Caribbean, Japan, India, and Africa (Botswana and Zambia). In almost all retentionist countries, capital punishment is granted as a penalty for planned murder, espionage, treachery, or as part of military justice. Recently, the case of Mohammad Afzal, a terrorist who was found guilty of instigating the attack on the Indian Parliament House, has cropped up the controversy regarding the Indian law of capital punishment.
Right to Life & Capital Punishment in India
In India, capital punishment is granted for different crimes, counting murder, initiating a child’s suicide, instigating war against the government, acts of terrorism, or a second evidence for drug trafficking. Death penalty is officially permitted though it is to be used in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases as per the judgement of Supreme Court of India. Amongst the retentionist countries around the world, India has the lowest execution rate with just 55 people executed since independence in 1947.
Since the condition of the ‘rarest of rare’ is not exactly defined, sometimes even less horrific murders have been awarded capital punishment owing to poor justification by lawyers. Since 1992, there are about 40 mercy petitions pending before the president.
Pros & Cons of Capital Punishment
A number of arguments are forwarded by supporters of and those against capital punishment.
- Deterrence: Proponents of capital punishment believe that fear of death deters people from committing crimes.
- Prevents Recurrence of Violence: Supporters of capital punishment argue that use of the death penalty could actually reduce the number of violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders.
- More Humane than Life Imprisonment: It is argued that making the person suffer by rotting in jail for the rest of his life is more inhumane than execution.
- More Economical than Life Imprisonment: Life imprisonment costs a lot to the tax payers. Apart from the housing and feeding of prisoners, a lot money and time is wasted on numerous appeals by the prisoners.
- Violation of Human Rights: The strongest argument against capital punishment is that it violates human rights. Those in favor of abolition of capital punishment believe that it is immoral to take human life.
- Chance for Reform: Abolitionists argue that the criminals should be given a chance to reform. He/she should be required to compensate the victim's family with his/her own income from employment or community service. By doing so the criminal pays back to the society as also to the victim and/or to the victim’s family.
- Doesn’t Deter Crime: Abolitionists cite statistics to prove that there is no correlation between the threat of death penalty and the occurrence of violent crime.
- Miscarriage of Justice: Death penalty is irrevocable and there is every chance of an innocent getting death penalty.