Legislative Expansion and Judicial Confusion: Uncertain Trajectories of the Death Penalty in India
The numbers and the politics of the death penalty in India tell very different stories, presenting complicated narratives for its future. The public reaction to instances of sexual violence and other offences over the last decade and the consequent political response has significantly strengthened the retention and expansion of the death penalty. This is reflected from the fact that that of all the death sentences that district courts impose, only about 5 per cent get confirmed in India’s appellate system. However, does this mean there is growing scepticism about the death penalty in the Supreme Court of India? Unfortunately, the answer is far from simple. An assessment of the death penalty in India’s appellate courts during the last decade will demonstrate that a crime-centric approach has hindered any principled discomfort with the death penalty or the manner of its administration. In particular, the Supreme Court has faltered in high-profile death sentence cases (i.e., offences against the state and sexual violence cases), and its track record of commutations has very little to do with principled considerations on sentencing. This paper argues that the political and judicial imagination of the death penalty, as a necessary part of the response to crime, creates significant and unique challenges for the path towards abolition.
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