Death Penalty in India

The author begins with a brief history of the death punishments given in the world for crimes, then talks about the American perspective and then moves on to the Indian perspective. What did the 135th commission say in their report was that death penalty can be suspended for a while to see the effects. Read along to know more!

The first established death penalty laws date as far back as the Eighteenth Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon, which codified the death penaltyfor 25 different crimes. The death penalty was also part of the Fourteenth Century B.C.’s Hittite Code; in the Seventh Century B.C.’s Draconian Code of Athens, which made death the only punishment for all crimes; and in the Fifth Century B.C.’s RomanLaw of the Twelve Tablets. Death sentences were carried out by such means as crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, and implement. [1]

Capital punishment was another important form of punishment. A person, who deliberately started an outbreak of fire, was to be thrown into the fire. The death penalty was awarded to any official or person who managed to insert a counterfeit con into the royal treasury. [2]

Counterfeiting of the royal document and selling human flesh were capital offences. Similarly, stealing of the temple property or slaves was punishable with death in lieu of highest fine. If a person was found guilty of theft or pick-pocketing for the fourth time, he was liable to be sentenced to death if the magistrate so desired. The death sentence was the punishment for the murder of a person; it could be death with torture if the victim died on the spot. The death penalty was awarded to those who stole an elephant, a horse or a chariot belonging to kings. Painful deaths are prescribed for those who caused death with pain or who virtually harmed the society and had no social conscience. Simple death for murder was a normal form of punishment. [3]

In the religious books such as Bhagavat Geeta and Vishnu Puran, it is enumerated that it is wise to put to death of the certain types of criminals. The Garuda Puran vividly describes the punishments that people have to endure even after their death until their time is up.

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Topics Covered in this article

Global Perspective

Former American President George W. Bush has mentioned in one of his presidential debated that the reason to support the death penalty is that it saves other people’s life and his opponent Mr. Gore also supported the death penalty in the most heinous cases. [4]

In the United Nations General Assembly universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty 117 countries voted in favor, 40 countries voted against and 31 countries abstained from voting. This is indicated substantial representation of members who support the abolition of the death penalty. There’s also a movement towards non-painful methods of execution. In the case of Baze v. Rees [5] and Glossip v. Gross [6], the US Supreme Court held that lethal injection does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Indian Perspective

The 35th Report of the Law Commission on Capital Punishment (1967) was one of the foremost reports on this subject. Keeping in mind the then circumstances of our country it recommended with continuing capital punishment. But it did encourage the government to experiment on the suspending the death penalty for a certain period of time and see its effects. It also said that this can be further reviewed with the changing socio-economic conditions. [7]

The 187th Report on the Mode of Execution and Incidental Matters (2003) The Law Commission of India had taken up the subject suo moto due to the technological advances in the field of science, technology, medicine, anaesthetics and for more than three decades have passed by after the 35th Report of the Law Commission on Capital Punishment, 1967 with reference to the mode of executing death penalty. .The various modes of execution of death sentence as prevalent at that time in 1967 were studied by the Law Commission.[8]

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The 262nd Report of Law Commission of India on The Death Penalty (2015) [9] recommended the abolition of death penalty in its report but the dissenting voices of Mr. P.K. Malhotra, Dr. Sanjay Singh, and Justice Usha Mehra were also annexed.

Case Laws in this regard:

The Supreme Court has in Bachan Singh v. Union of India [10], upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty, but confined its application to the ‘rarest of rare cases’, to reduce the arbitrariness of the penalty.

In Bariyar case [11], the court further came out with a solution to the problem of arbitrariness. The judges have to keep in mind and consider the possibility of a reformation of the convict. Unless the prosecution is able to establish that the convict is beyond reform, the courts cannot, as a matter of fact, award the death penalty.

It was also observed by the Apex court in the case of Vikram Singh v. Union of India [12] that the punishment must be proportionate to the offence is recognized as a fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence around the world. According to the Apex Court, the punishment prescribed by the Penal Code reflect the legislative recognition of the social needs, the gravity of the offence concerned, its impact on the society and what the legislature considers as a punishment suitable for the particular offence. It is necessary for the courts to imbibe that legislative wisdom and to respect it.

There are several provisions in the Indian Laws where the death sentence is awarded, Indian Penal Code (1860): section 121(Waging war, etc. against the Government of India), section 132 (Abetment of Mutiny by a member of the armed forces), section 194(False evidence leading to conviction of innocent person and his execution), section 302(Murder), section 303(Murder by a person under sentence of imprisonment for life), section #05(Abetment of suicide of child ofr insane person), section 307(Attempt to murder by life convict, if hurt is caused), section 364A(Kidnapping for ransom, etc.) and section 396(Dacoity with murder). Other laws where the death sentence is awarded are the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985(section 31A), the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (Sections 10 and 16), the Navy Act, 1957, The Anit-Hijacking Bill, etc.

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The Parliament is the mirror image of the consciousness of the Indian Citizens. When these provisions are passed by the legislature even after such an international uproar about the abolishment of Death Sentence clearly shows which way the Indian vote leans.


We need to have faith in our judicial system as supreme courts confirms barely 3 to 4 death sentences in a year [13] and then to the convict has an option to appeal to the President for pardon. The principle of Equity, Justice and Good Conscious, as well as the basic concept of Jurisprudence that the 100 culprits may let go free but no innocent, should be punished is deeply ingrained in Indian Judiciary.

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End Notes


[2] Police Administration in Ancient India by Kamal Kishore Mishra

[3] Ibid.                   


[5] Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008)

[6] Glossip v. Gross, 576 U.S. 14-7955 135 S.Ct. 2726


[8] The change in any existing law was neither studied nor recommended in this report


[10] Bachan Singh v. Union of India, AIR (1980) SC 898

[11] Santosh Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra, (2009) 6 SCC 498

[12] Vikram Singh @ Vicky & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors, Criminal Appeal No. 824 of 2013, Supreme Court of India, decided on August 21, 2015.

[13] post.cfm?country=India