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Death penalty by hanging from the neck is more painful, what is the decision of 1983 which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court

New Delhi: March 20, 2020 was the date when someone was hanged for the last time in India. 5 convicts of the heinous Nirbhaya case of 2012 got death sentence. There has been a debate not only in India but all over the world on whether death penalty should be given or not. Many countries have abolished the death penalty. In our country too, activists demand an end to the death penalty. In 1983, the Supreme Court upheld the practice of hanging death row convicts. After four decades, the country’s biggest court is going to review that decision. A bench headed by CJI DY Chandrachud heard the plea in a PIL. The CJI said that there should be a study on such methods of giving death which cause less pain. This data will be placed before a constitution bench which will further review the 1983 judgement. Now the question arises that how was the death penalty given in India before 1983?

The law of death penalty that has been going on in the world for centuries

The legal history of capital punishment goes back centuries. At the time of Babylonian king Hammurabi (1750 BC), the law of punishing criminals with death is found. Hammurabi’s law code is considered the world’s first penal code. It had provisions for the death penalty for 25 types of crimes. In Athens, seven centuries before Christ, every crime was punishable by death.

How was the death sentence given before?

Historical documents show that the death penalty was such that it caused maximum pain. For the death penalty, the criminal was hanged on the cross like Jesus Christ. In some civilizations there was a practice of beating to death. Death was also given by burning alive or by cutting off the limbs. By the 10th century, the practice of hanging also started increasing. With time, the death penalty took a gruesome form. In the 16th century, King Henry VIII of England sentenced some 72,000 people to death. At that time, methods like putting in boiling water or oil, hanging, beheading, dragging hands and legs were adopted.

Britain was at the peak of its power at that time. Most of the world was under his control. The laws there used to be more stringent in slave countries. British laws were changed when voices were raised against the barbaric methods of capital punishment. Once punishable by death for more than 200 crimes, they were cut to more than 100 by the 19th century. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the voice against the death penalty became louder. According to the United Nations, more than 150 countries have abolished the death penalty.

What did the Supreme Court say in the 1983 decision?

The Supreme Court laid down the principle of ‘rarest of rare’ while giving a historic judgment in the Bachchan Singh case in 1980. By a vote of 1 against 4, the constitution bench upheld the validity of the death sentence. It also said that the death penalty would be given only in those cases which fall in the category of ‘rarest of rare’. The Supreme Court gave its verdict on 23 September 1983 in the case of Dina vs. Union of India. The then CJI YV Chandrachud, Justice RS Pathak and Justice Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s bench upheld Section 354 (5) of CrPC. In this, there is a provision that ‘when a person is sentenced to death, he will be kept hanging by the neck till death’. Later, the death penalty was given in fewer cases.

Supreme Court agreed to review the 1983 verdict

Who were hanged in India in the 21st century

  • Dhananjay Chatterjee: Hanged on 15 August 2004. Death sentence for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.
  • Ajmal Kasab: Hanging on 21 November 2012. Death sentence for killing several people in the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai.
  • Mohammad Afzal: Hanging on 8 February 2013. Death sentence for role in attack on Parliament House.
  • Yakub Memon: Hanging on 30 July 2015. Death sentence for role in 1993 Mumbai blasts.
  • Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta: Death sentence for the brutal rape and murder of Nirbhaya in 2012.

What is the law on capital punishment in India?
The British included the death penalty in the legal system through the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provided for the death penalty for murder. After independence, there were many changes in the law. As on date, the offenses punishable under the IPC are murder, abetting the murder of a minor or a lunatic, mutiny, waging war against the Government of India, kidnapping for extortion, rape resulting in death, rape of a minor, murder in dacoity There is a provision for punishment.

Apart from the IPC, there are provisions for death penalty in many laws. These include Army Act, Assam Rifles Act, Border Security Force Act, Coast Guard Act, Defense of India Act, Indo-Tibetan Border Police Act, KACOCA, MCOCA, NDPS Act etc. In India, minors and mentally deranged cannot be punished with death.

What other ways can there be to give death?
CJI Chandrachud has asked the government whether any study has been done on the manner of death after 1983. He said that this is the responsibility of the Central Government. During the hearing on Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected the firing squad in the option of hanging. Apart from this, poisonous injection or electric chair will also not be considered for the death penalty.

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