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Capital punishment in India is legal but rare. There is no record of electrocution or lethal injection or even firing squad. For Indians capital punishment is almost synonymous with hanging.



The Supreme Court of India ruled in 1983 that the death penalty should be imposed only in "the rarest of rare cases."[1] Capital crimes are murder, gang robbery with murder, abetting the suicide of a child or insane person, waging war against the government, and abetting mutiny by a member of the armed forces.[1] In recent years the death penalty has been imposed under new anti-terrorism legislation for people convicted of terrorist activities.[1] Recently, the Indian Supreme Court in Swamy Sharaddananda v. State of Karnataka made imposing the death penalty even harder. The judgment holds that the “rarest of the rare” test prescribed in Bachchan Singh’s case was diluted in the Machchi Singh case. The judgment then goes on to say that the “rarest of the rare” must be measured not only in qualitative but also in quantitative terms. Thus, given that the general crime levels have been worsening since Machchi Singh’s case was decided, the categories of “rarest of the rare” should also change. Therefore, all the categories specified in Machchi Singh need not fit in with “rarest of the rare” today – a lot of the categories are no longer as rare. It remains to be seen post this judgment how Courts will apply the "rarest of the rare" formulation.


Between 1975 and 1991, about 40 people were executed. On April 27, 1995 Auto Shankar was hanged in Salem, India. Since 1995 only one execution, that of Dhananjoy Chatterjee in August 2004, has taken place. The number of people executed in India since independence in 1947 is a matter of dispute; official government statistics claim that only 55 people had been executed since independence, but the People's Union for Civil Liberties cited information from Appendix 34 of the 1967 Law Commission of India report showing that 1,422 executions took place in 16 Indian states from 1953 to 1963, and some have suggested that the total number of executions since independence may by as high as 4,300.[2][3]

About 29 mercy petitions are pending before the president, some of them from 1992. These include that of three assassins of Rajiv Gandhi (in a bombing who caused other 14 dead), Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Davinder Singh Bhullar who was convicted for killing nine persons and injuring 31, the cases of slain forest brigand Veerappan's four associates -- Simon, Gnanprakasham, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilvendran -- for killing 21 policemen in 1993 ; Gurdev Singh, Satnam Singh, Para Singh and Sarabjit Singh, given death penalty for killing 17 persons in a village in Amritsar in 1991 ; and one Praveen Kumar for killing four members of his family in Mangalore in 1994.[4]

Many more are on death row after having been sentenced to die by lower courts, but on appeal most of them are likely to be commuted to life imprisonment by the State High Courts or the Supreme Court of India.

It appears that judges in the lower courts are also getting increasingly averse to use capital punishment. For example in 2007 several high profile cases involving pre-meditated cold blooded murders, rape and murder of minors during rioting, terrorist bombings, etc. have not attracted the death penalty. But activists reveal a flaw, that due to the absence of sentencing guidelines in what constitutes "rarest of the rare", in some less gruesome murders, the lower courts have awarded death sentences possibly due to poor defence presented by the lawyers of the economically backward.

The death penalty is carried out by hanging. After a 1983 challenge to this method, the Supreme Court ruled that hanging did not involve torture, barbarity, humiliation or degradation.[1]

Mohammad Afzal was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the 2001 Indian Parliament attack and was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of India upheld the sentence, ruling that the attack "shocked the conscience of the society at large." Afzal was scheduled to be executed on October 20, 2006, but the sentence was stayed. The Afzal case remains a volatile political issue.

At least 100 people in 2007, 40 in 2006, 77 in 2005, 23 in 2002, and 33 in 2001 were sentenced to death, according to Amnesty International figures. No official statistics of those sentenced to death have been released. In December 2007, India voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Death penalty and ethnic minorities

In 2008 Dr V Suresh of the People's Union for Civil Liberties said: "While the death penalty continues to be used in India, there remains a danger that it will be used disproportionately against ethnic minorities, the poor or other disadvantaged groups. There is only one way to ensure such inequalities in the administration of justice do not occur: the complete abolition of the death penalty."[5]


  • [6] Lethal lottery: The Death Penalty in India -a study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (summary report)
  • [7] Lethal lottery: The Death Penalty in India -a study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (Complete Report)

External links

  • [8] Lethal lottery: The Death Penalty in India -a study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (summary report)
  • [9] Lethal lottery: The Death Penalty in India -a study of Supreme Court judgments in death penalty cases 1950-2006 (Complete Report)
  • The Death Penalty in India Briefing for the EU-India Summit, 7 September 2005
  • India and the death penalty Sanjoy Majumder, BBC News.


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