The death penalty in India has deep historical roots and is reserved for the most severe crimes. However, its effectiveness as a deterrent and fairness have sparked ongoing debates about its abolition or reform. Many countries have already abolished the death penalty and shifted away from hanging as a method of execution. In India, lethal injection has been proposed as an alternative but not yet implemented.
Different countries employ various execution methods, such as lethal injection, electrocution, gas chambers, firing squads, hanging, and shooting. Despite these methods, the death penalty remains a contentious issue worldwide, with a growing number of advocates calling for its complete abolition.
The use of hanging as an execution method in India has drawn significant criticism. Critics argue that it is outdated, cruel, and violates fundamental rights to life and dignity. Concerns are raised about potential execution errors, prolonged suffering, and the psychological impact on those involved. Moreover, there are concerns about the arbitrary application of the death penalty and the risk of wrongful convictions. Those against hanging propose more humane and modern execution methods, while supporters believe it serves as a deterrent and upholds the gravity of the crimes committed. The controversy surrounding hanging as an execution method continues to be fiercely debated in India.
The Central Government of India has informed the Supreme Court about its consideration of establishing an expert committee to evaluate whether hanging is a proportionate method of execution and whether alternative methods may be more suitable for carrying out the death penalty.
- Indian Court Proceedings on Death Penalty
Indian court proceedings on death penalty involve a comprehensive review of evidence and legal arguments from the prosecution and defence. Fair trials are ensured through due process, allowing the accused to present their case. Judges evaluate the seriousness of the crime, the intent of the offender, and relevant mitigating or aggravating factors. Death penalty cases undergo rigorous scrutiny at different levels of the judicial system, including trial courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court of India. Ultimately, decisions to impose the death penalty adhere to Indian law and constitutional provisions.
A. Constitutional Provisions
1. Constitutional provisions related to the death penalty in India.
The constitutional provisions related to the death penalty in India are primarily governed by Article 21[i] of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. However, this right is subject to reasonable restrictions, and the death penalty is considered one such restriction. The imposition of the death penalty must meet the standards of “rarest of rare” cases, as laid down by the Supreme Court of India. Additionally, Article 72[ii] and Article 161[iii] empower the President and the Governor, respectively, to grant pardons, reprieves, or remissions of the death penalty. These constitutional provisions ensure that the death penalty is administered in a judicious and constitutional manner.
2. Landmark court cases that have shaped the interpretation of these provisions.
Several landmark court cases have played a pivotal role in shaping the interpretation of constitutional provisions related to the death penalty in India. In the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980)[iv], the Supreme Court established the “rarest of rare” doctrine, which emphasized that the death penalty should be imposed only in exceptionally heinous and gruesome crimes. Subsequently, in Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab (1983)[v], the Court provided guidelines for applying the “rarest of rare” doctrine. Another significant case, Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1973) [vi], held that the death penalty should be imposed only when it is absolutely necessary and unavoidable. These cases have helped to strike a balance between the constitutional right to life and the imposition of the death penalty in India.
B. Judicial Approach and Evolution
1. Evolving judicial approach towards the death penalty in India.
The judicial approach towards the death penalty in India has undergone significant evolution over the years. Initially, the courts took a broad interpretation of the death penalty, imposing it in a wide range of cases. However, subsequent rulings, such as Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980) and Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab (1983), introduced the “rarest of rare” doctrine, emphasizing the need for exceptional circumstances to justify the death penalty. Since then, the courts have adopted a more cautious and selective approach, considering aggravating and mitigating factors, and examining individual circumstances before imposing the ultimate punishment. This evolving approach reflects a growing awareness of the importance of safeguarding the right to life while ensuring justice.
2. Significant court rulings that have addressed concerns regarding hanging as an execution method
There have been significant court rulings in India that have addressed concerns regarding hanging as an execution method. In the case of Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India (2014)[vii], the Supreme Court highlighted the need for a more humane execution method, acknowledging the potential for cruelty and suffering during the hanging process. The Court emphasized the importance of adopting more advanced methods, such as lethal injection, to minimize pain and uphold the dignity of the condemned. Another notable case, Mohd. Arif v. The Registrar General of the Supreme Court (2014)[viii], called for transparent guidelines and professional executioners to ensure a humane and constitutional approach to carrying out the death penalty. These rulings demonstrate the judiciary’s concern for the humane treatment of individuals facing capital punishment.
- Criticisms of Hanging as a Method of Execution
Hanging as a method of execution has faced criticisms both in India and around the world. Critics argue that it inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering on the condemned, violating the principle of human dignity. Concerns are raised about the potential for botched executions, prolonged agony, and the psychological impact on the executioners. The lack of transparency and the secretive nature of the process have also been criticized. Additionally, hanging is seen as an outdated and archaic method, incompatible with evolving notions of humane treatment. These criticisms have fuelled calls for the adoption of more humane and modern execution methods, such as lethal injection or abolition of the death penalty altogether.
A. Inhumane Nature and Violation of Human Rights
1. Arguments that highlight the inherent cruelty and inhumanity of hanging.
Critics contend that hanging can result in a prolonged and agonizing death, as the drop may not break the condemned person’s neck, leading to a slow asphyxiation. The process is deemed undignified and brutal, with the potential for botched executions that further amplify the pain. The public spectacle of hangings can also have a traumatizing effect on witnesses and society at large. These arguments underscore the inherent cruelty and inhumanity of hanging, calling for more humane alternatives to be considered.
2. How hanging may be considered a violation of the right to life and dignity.
Hanging as a method of execution can be seen as a violation of the right to life and dignity both in India and around the world. The right to life, as enshrined in international human rights instruments and the Indian Constitution, encompasses not only the preservation of life but also the protection from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Hanging is often criticized for its potential to cause unnecessary pain, suffering, and humiliation during the execution process. The prolonged asphyxiation and potential for botched executions can lead to a violation of the right to a dignified death. Furthermore, the public spectacle of hangings can be seen as a degrading and inhumane practice, undermining the inherent dignity of the individual. These concerns highlight the potential violation of the right to life and dignity inherent in the use of hanging as an execution method.
B. Risk of Botched Executions
1. Present cases and statistics that demonstrate the potential for errors and botched executions in hanging.
Cases and statistics highlight the risk of errors and botched executions in hanging. In India, the execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004[ix] raised doubts about its efficacy, with a prolonged struggle for survival suggesting errors. Internationally, the case of Clayton Lockett in the US[x] in 2014 resulted in prolonged suffering and criticism due to a flawed drug combination. Statistics show approximately 56 documented cases of botched hangings, involving decapitation or slow strangulation. These instances reveal concerns about the reliability of hanging and its compliance with human rights and dignity standards.
2. The psychological impact on witnesses, prison staff, and families of the condemned.
Hanging as an execution method has profound psychological effects on witnesses, prison staff, and the families of the condemned. Witnessing hangings causes distress and long-lasting trauma. Prison staff face moral dilemmas and psychological burdens. Families endure emotional suffering and trauma from witnessing the execution. These effects underscore the significant and lasting psychological impact of hanging as a method of execution.
IV. Alternatives to Hanging
A. Lethal Injection
1. The procedure of lethal injection as an alternative to hanging.
Lethal injection is an alternative to hanging, involving the administration of drugs to induce a painless death. It utilizes a series of intravenous injections, including an anaesthetic, muscle relaxant, and a drug to stop the heart. Proponents argue that it offers a more humane and dignified form of execution.
2. Its adoption in various jurisdictions and its legal and ethical considerations.
Lethal injection is widely used for capital punishment worldwide, including the United States. However, legal and ethical issues surround its adoption, including challenges to drug protocols, concerns about cruel punishment, and the involvement of medical professionals. Transparency, effectiveness, and compatibility with human rights remain ongoing topics of discussion.
1. The use of electrocution as a method of execution.
Electrocution, once a widely used method of execution, involved administering a high-voltage electric shock to the condemned person. It aimed to induce immediate cardiac arrest and subsequent death. However, concerns over its cruelty and effectiveness have led many jurisdictions to abolish electrocution in favour of alternative methods, such as lethal injection.
2. Its advantages, disadvantages, and legal implications.
Advantages: Electrocuting a person offers a relatively quick and certain death, reducing suffering. It allows for a standardized procedure and is perceived by some as a more efficient means of execution.
Disadvantages: Electrocution can be gruesome and inflict pain. It carries a risk of malfunction or botched executions. Additionally, ethical concerns about its cruelty have led to its abandonment in many jurisdictions.
Legal Implications: The use of electrocution as a death penalty method requires specific legislation. Legal challenges have arisen due to concerns over its constitutionality, violating the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in some jurisdictions. Courts have grappled with evaluating its humaneness and adherence to legal standards.
C. Firing Squad
1. The use of a firing squad as an alternative to hanging.
A firing squad is an alternative method of execution where a group of trained individuals simultaneously shoot the condemned person. Compared to hanging, it offers a potentially quicker death and less risk of failure. However, concerns over the psychological impact on executioners and ethical considerations have led to its limited use and abolition in many jurisdictions.
2. Its historical context, current practices, and ethical concerns.
Firing squads have a historical context as a method of execution dating back centuries. Today, they are rarely used globally, with only a few countries occasionally employing them. Ethical concerns include the psychological toll on executioners and debates about the humaneness and morality of state-sanctioned killing.
D. Gas Chamber
1. The concept of death by lethal gas as an alternative to hanging.
Lethal gas, as a substitute for hanging, employs a gas to induce death by asphyxiation. In the past, cyanide gas was utilized in gas chambers. The objective is to induce unconsciousness and subsequent respiratory failure. Proponents assert its greater humanity and reliability compared to hanging. Nonetheless, critics voice apprehensions about potential pain and suffering. Legal disputes have emerged concerning its constitutionality and compliance with the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Lethal gas is presently infrequently employed for executions, as most jurisdictions prefer lethal injection or other options.
2. The advantages, challenges, and ethical considerations associated with this method.
Advantages of lethal gas as an alternative to hanging include the potential for a more controlled and predictable death. Challenges include ensuring proper administration and the availability of suitable gases. Ethical considerations involve concerns about potential pain and suffering, as well as the broader debate about the morality of state-sanctioned executions.
- Current Status and Future Predictions
As of May 2023, hanging remains a method of execution for capital punishment in India and several other countries worldwide. In India, hanging is carried out in cases of extreme crimes such as murder and terrorism. However, there is ongoing debate and legal challenges regarding the constitutionality and humaneness of hanging. The global trend has been towards the abolition of the death penalty or the adoption of alternative methods. It is difficult to predict the future, but it is likely that the use of hanging as a method of execution will continue to face scrutiny and potential reduction in favour of less controversial alternatives.
A. Potential Reforms and Abolition
1. Arguments in favour of abolishing the death penalty in India.
I. Human rights: The death penalty violates the right to life and the inherent dignity of individuals, as enshrined in international human rights standards.
II. Irreversibility: Mistakes in the justice system can lead to wrongful convictions and irreversible executions, denying the possibility of rectifying errors.
III. Deterrence: Studies suggest that the death penalty is not a more effective deterrent to crime than alternative punishments.
IV. Cost and resources: Maintaining a death penalty system is financially burdensome, diverting resources that could be better used in crime prevention, rehabilitation, and support for victims’ families.
V. Moral and ethical considerations: Many argue that no government should have the power to take a person’s life, regardless of the severity of their crimes, promoting a more humane society.
2. Potential reforms in the criminal justice system and alternative sentencing options.
- Sentencing reform: Implementation of alternative sentencing options such as community service, rehabilitation programs, and restorative justice practices, which focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution.
- Juvenile justice reform: Ensuring a separate and specialized justice system for juvenile offenders that prioritizes their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
- Legal aid and support: Expanding access to legal aid services for indigent defendants, ensuring fair representation and reducing instances of wrongful convictions.
- Criminal justice diversion programs: Establishing diversionary measures like drug courts, mental health courts, and mediation programs to address underlying issues and prevent repeat offenses.
- Sentencing guidelines: Developing clear and consistent sentencing guidelines to promote fairness, proportionality, and transparency in sentencing decisions.
These reforms can contribute to a more equitable and effective criminal justice system focused on rehabilitation, reduced recidivism, and the protection of human rights.
VI. Scientific Research and Analysis
- Psychological Impact on Individuals
1. Scientific studies on the psychological impact of different execution methods.
Research on execution methods reveals significant psychological trauma for both the condemned and executioners. Witnessing or participating in executions can result in PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Violent methods like hanging and firing squads increase distress among executioners. Even lethal injection can cause psychological distress due to emotional burden and moral conflicts. These studies emphasize the profound psychological impact of participating in or witnessing executions, regardless of the method used.
2. The potential long-term effects on witnesses, executioners, and society as a whole.
Hanging as an execution method has profound and lasting impacts. Witnesses may endure psychological trauma, executioners suffer emotional distress and moral conflicts, and society experiences desensitization and moral dilemmas. These effects highlight ethical concerns and hinder the adoption of compassionate and restorative approaches to justice.
- Comparative Studies
1. International research on the effectiveness and humaneness of different execution methods.
International research on the effectiveness and humaneness of different execution methods has yielded varied findings. Studies comparing lethal injection with other methods suggest that it is generally perceived as more humane, but complications and potential pain during the process have raised concerns. Research evaluating other methods, such as hanging or firing squads, highlights the potential for suffering and the psychological impact on witnesses and executioners. Additionally, debates exist on the deterrence effect of the death penalty as a whole, with studies providing mixed results. Overall, international research underscores the complexity and ethical dilemmas surrounding the effectiveness and humaneness of different execution methods.[xi]
2. Comparison of findings to provide insights into the suitability of alternatives to hanging in the Indian context.
Comparing alternative execution methods is crucial for assessing their suitability in India as substitutes for hanging. Lethal injection, seen as more humane, still carries risks of pain and complications. Gas chambers raise concerns about asphyxiation suffering, while firing squads cause psychological trauma. India must evaluate alternatives considering cultural, logistical, ethical factors, human rights standards, and evolving societal attitudes towards the death penalty.
VII. Conclusion The controversy surrounding hanging as an execution method in India has prompted discussions on alternative methods of carrying out capital punishment. Critics argue that hanging is an outdated and cruel practice that violates fundamental rights to life and dignity. They raise concerns about execution errors, prolonged suffering, and the arbitrary application of the death penalty. Lethal injection has been suggested as an alternative, which is considered a more humane and painless method of execution. Other alternatives used in different countries include electrocution, firing squad, and gas chambers. The ongoing global trend is towards the abolition of the death penalty or the adoption of less controversial execution methods.
Author: Nikhilesh Satani