All the media houses are full of debates with people of different ideologies addressing the critical and controversial question of whether capital punishment should be allowed or not, every time a criminal is sentenced to death and execution by the courts.  There are more than 100 countries which have abolished this penalty altogether, including a number of democratic ones. Apart from these, there are some countries which have a situation- based stance and opt for such a punishment in the worst of the worst crimes subjective to the judiciary’s mindset.

The UN general assembly has held a number of resolutions to establish a moratorium on the general suspension of the death penalty and all of them were affirmed by the majority, but it is not binding on the states. Talking about India, our law legalizes the capital punishment and has rewarded the death penalty in various cases involving murder, terrorism, assassination etc. However, there have been concerns over the confirmed cases since independence where govt. official records show only 52 cases but researches by a few organizations claim that the number surpasses 1000. Capital punishment is usually viewed as something which can give closure to both the judicial process and crime but the situation is totally different when we see things on ground.


The basic idea behind capital punishment is to award the most extreme punishment to the accused so that it sets a precedent that those indulging in such highly inhumane and unlawful activities will ultimately receive the same fate and hence, they are deterred or threatened to do such crime. The proponents of capital punishment always make an argument that execution saves lives. Their argument got a stronghold after the publication of supporting research paper by an economist named Isaac Ehrlich who was the first to use statistical and econometrics methods to result that every execution saved 8 lives.

However, there were a number of flaws in the use of biased ratios, conviction rate variables and large estimates due to lack of enough confidential data, different socio-cultural scenarios of different states and multiplicity of crimes by single criminal which elevated the result in the favor of execution. The idea of deterrence may psychologically seem logical but the situation has proved not to be same in reality after the study attracted criticism from fellow economists and scientists.


An empirical study conducted in 2007 shows that murder rates in states that had death penalty exceeded those in states that have abolished it by no less than 42%. Why this number when the execution was supposed to reduce crime? This clearly shows how this method is inherently flawed and fails to solve the problem at the root.  It makes a state or a country more prone to crime and thus weakens the law and order mechanism which gives more leverage to criminals. Moreover, in a country like India, where legal processes take years to get the justice delivered, it is an easy way out for offenders to do away with crime. The ultimate hanging doesn’t serve the purpose as he/she would be living a normal life even after committing great atrocities. 

Even if we take the example of most of the signature executions that took place in India, these include cases of rape, murder, sexual assault, conspiracy and terrorism; however, one must note that these are crimes which are commonly heard of and committed in India. Our country has witnessed many registered and countless unregistered cases of rape and assault and we rank much low in women safety even after the execution of rapists of Nirbhaya and Hetal Parekh.

Moreover, every now and then, a militant is spotted or faced off despite the treatment given to terrorists including Parliament and Mumbai attacks of 2001 and 2008 respectively. This clearly shows how the executions have not really paid off the motto of saving lives, at least in India. The given punishment just provides an imaginary bubble of safety and complacence to the world and people will have to accept that sooner or later. 


The noble laureate Becker suggests in his model that the offender’s decision making is driven by cost-benefit analysis and they are likely to commit more crime if the benefit exceeds cost. Majority of people usually choose the line of worst crimes when they are either brainwashed or sadist in nature or seeking revenge. Capital punishment would only aggravate crime by invoking more feelings of vengeance. Hence, the benefit for offender increases as it creates more opportunities for him to take revenge from society.


The final point is that justice is not equivalent to revenge. You will probably hear people saying that justice is delivered whenever a murder or terrorist or rapist gets executed. However, has that ended the chapter? No. I think it starts a chain of murder to seek revenge for the execution followed by execution for committing murder. Where does it stop? When will the crime end instead of the criminal? 

It is important that strict measures are taken against serial offenders and at the same time, the offense is cut from the root cause. There are alternatives to life imprisonment and detention which can be adopted along with other stern measures but execution clearly doesn’t serve the purpose. In fact, this has been proved in practice as well as the countries who affirmed the moratorium are the ones who have been successful in reducing crime rates in comparison to their respective historical rates.

In order to sweep crime away from society, the judiciary should speed up its due process and at the same time, govt. should focus more on proper law enforcement so that there is an increase in transparency and efficiency. Media and police can play a greater role in bringing up issues on the upfront and spreading awareness among people about asking questions to the lawmakers. All this cannot be done overnight, but this is the need of the hour with greater steps at national and international level so that justice can be actually delivered, which cannot be, in any way, served if we build on the path of executions.

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