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Updated: February 27, 2014 01:35 IST

Politicking on capital punishment

Garimella Subramaniam
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None of the parties that endorsed the move to release the seven convicts has come out on the larger controversy over the abolition of capital punishment in India

Under very different circumstances, the European Court of Human Rights 2013 verdict — that whole-life sentences without review and the prospect of release amounted to cruel and degrading punishment — might have been cited enthusiastically in support of the Tamil Nadu government’s bid to release the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. But it is hard to attribute noble motives of respect for human rights standards in a case where the remission of a life sentence was announced within hours of the commutation of the death sentence against three of them. On the contrary, such a hurried move raises a legitimate concern that the potential implications of the step for other cases may not have been factored into this politically calculated decision.

None of the parties that initiated or endorsed the move to secure the release of the seven convicts has categorically come out on the larger controversy over the abolition of capital punishment in India. At the very least, such an intervention in that more fundamental debate in all these 16 years might have pushed the country towards the establishment of a moratorium on executions. That would have earned a reprieve for scores of convicts who languish in jails around the country and not just these seven who have been incarcerated for 23 long years and, three of them spending 16 years on death row. But a reference to respect for the sentiments of the Tamils and the views of political leaders is all that is contained in the 2011 Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution seeking the commutation of the death sentences against Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan.

Marginalised issue

The larger question of the resort to capital punishment is but a part of the continuing saga of competitive (and at times communal) politics that vitiates the debate over resolving the vexed issue of extraordinary delays in the disposal of mercy petitions. Unsurprisingly, but ironically, the question of the abolition of capital punishment from the statute has remained at best marginal, even as the appeal from various political parties for clemency for the death row population has invoked principles of humane and humanitarian law.

To be sure, selective appeals for the commutation of death sentences do bring reprieve for individual convicts. But when orchestrated with an eye on partisan political ends, questions of a fundamental nature, namely the arbitrariness and the retributive character of this barbaric punishment are seldom addressed. Similarly, the inconsistency between the state’s power to take an individual’s life — a defining aspect of capital punishment — and the inviolability of the constitutionally-ordained right of every person to his life, are entirely irrelevant to pleas from political parties to secure reprieve for particular convicts. In contrast are the clemency petitions pursued by civil rights organisations such as the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Pleas from a human rights standpoint typically foreground the extenuating circumstances of the convict, an area the Supreme Court has elaborated and steadily expanded over the decades, besides invoking the broader objectives of criminal jurisprudence mentioned above.

Last year’s 16 to 1 ruling of the Strasbourg court returned to the spotlight last week when the U.K. Court of Appeals upheld whole-life sentences. The details of that decision need not detain us here. Of relevance to the current debate in India is the European court’s emphasis that the possibility of a review of a life sentence did not imply the prospect of imminent release. Whether or not they should be released would depend on whether there were still legitimate penological grounds for their continued detention and whether they should continue to be detained on grounds of dangerousness.

Given that many terrorism-related offences in India, often high-profile cases, attract the ultimate punishment, the field is wide open for competitive pressures and populist posturing in the various stages leading upto the pronouncement of a verdict of guilt. The abolition of the death penalty by law may contribute substantially to rid the domain of criminal justice administration of such extrajudicial influences. Only thus could the focus shift onto the real issues of respect for the rights of detainees, securing time-bound convictions and delivering speedy justice.

garimella.subramaniam@thehindu.co.in

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Though the decision may be "politically calculated", but it was taken
after due consultations with the legal luminaries and it has taken a
day to announce it not soon after the SC's verdict. Political parties
across the spectrum (except the ruling party) do vocal in their stand
against the capital punishment - the perspective given here is contrary
to this.
I see this particular case as an eye opener for many, and we must in
this scenario (Public opinion is against Capital punishment in TN) step
up our campaign against the death penalty.

from:  Santhanakrishnan
Posted on: Feb 27, 2014 at 15:12 IST

As quoted, I paraphrase, The political parties have developed
themselves into demigods on the matters that lay behind the ostensible
natures and they never prevented the wider ranges of experts
pontificating highly dubious conjecture as 'truth'.
Most of the higher social and political order thinkers in high profile
cases develop strategic plans for the possibility of the emotional
eruptions, and its vulnerability retributive natures.Furthermore,
there is no impunity for these actions and this case is the not the
for abolishing of the death penalty in the India.
Winning legal battle due to failed social justice(convicts go free)
and the political parties stance is swinging in this rarest of rare
cases: In prior discourse, If Liberation Tigers justified, then
division exists, it is reflected in the movements of the TESO (without
LTTE).Judicial Strategy(M.D.M.K),the plaintiff, is commuting to life
from death, the Attorney and the clients Positions were saved.Now,it
is continuing efforts.

from:  Jurson
Posted on: Feb 27, 2014 at 10:48 IST

The death penalty has been already reserved for only rarest of rare crime in India. The substitute punishment of life sentence is only for 14 years or less. If some one has murdered people in a fit of rage he can do it again when he comes out . The life of people getting murdered and their family need more sympathy. We hear often that several cases of murder is pending on a person and he is on bail . There must be some safety for common public from murderers and capital punishment is one way of ensuring that . Criminals with murder charges should not be allowed to come out on bail on a second murder charge .Capital punishment should not be given for person who has not actually killed someone .

from:  sbalaraman
Posted on: Feb 27, 2014 at 08:50 IST
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