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Death Penalty:

Also known as capital punishment, this is the most severe form of corporal punishment as it is requires law enforcement officers to kill the convicted offender.

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 52 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.

In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1980 SC 898, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the death penalty provision, which had been challenged under Art.19 and 21 of the Constitution.

In our Country the death penalty is carried out by hanging. An attempt to challenge this method of execution failed in the Supreme Court, which stated in its 1983 judgement that hanging did not involve torture, barbarity, humiliation or degradation.

Under Indian law, the death penalty can be imposed for:

- murder

- gang robbery with murder

- abetting the suicide of a child or insane person

- waging war against the government

- abetting mutiny by a member of the armed forces

In recent years, however, special courts have also extended the penalty to cases of terrorism under anti-terror legislation. And some people are pushing for it to be used against rapists.

Worldwide 120 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice:

85 countries - for all crimes;

11 countries - for ordinary crimes (the death sentence is available only under military law and for treason or crimes committed in exceptional circumstances); and

24 countries - in practice (the death sentence exists in law, however, the state has not carried out an execution in more than a decade and has expressed its intention not to execute).

There is a persistent trend internationally to abolish the death penalty and India is among 76 countries that retain the death penalty.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The death penalty is an inherently unjust and arbitrary punishment, however heinous the crime for which it is inflicted. Studies globally suggest that it is more likely to be imposed on those who are poorer, less educated and from marginalized segments of society. The death penalty is irrevocable, yet the risk of error in its application is inescapable.

As in previous years, the vast majority of executions worldwide were carried out in a small handful of countries. In 2006, 91 per cent of all known executions took place in six countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the USA. Kuwait had the highest number of executions per capita of population, followed by Iran.
Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 1,010 people were executed in China during the year, although these figures are only the tip
of the iceberg. Credible sources suggest that between 7,500 to 8,000 people were executed in 2006. The official statistics remain a state secret, making monitoring and analysis problematic.
Iran executed 177 people, Pakistan 82 and Iraq and Sudan each at least 65. There were 53 executions in 12 states in the USA.

Historical forms of execution:

  • Stoning
  • Pressing (although this was more for torture and interrogation)
  • Gibbeting
  • Drawing and Quartering
  • Beheading (typically with an axe or sword)
  • Crucifixion
  • Impaling
  • Keel Hauling
  • Guillotine (not practiced in France since the 1970's)
  • Burning
  • Boiling

Modern forms:

  • Lethal injection
  • Hanging
  • Firing Squad
  • Electrocution
  • Gas Chamber


In the United States, the issue of capital punishment has long been debated in churches and in the halls of government. With the increase in crime that experts maintain accompanies recessions, this debate is likely to be part of the discussion. The trend around the world is towards abolishing the death penalty, but in America most people are in favor of it. Since religious groups are thought of as exercising some moral authority on questions like these, it is important to know what they believe on the matter of the death penalty.

Those religions thought of as having Asian influence, such as Buddhists and Hindus, have various beliefs on the matter of life and death as discussed in articles about the issue of the death penalty. Although there is no specific position for Buddhists about capital punishment, their tenets advocate nonviolence and appreciate of all life. It is rare that capital punishment is given for any crime. Hindus have no writings on the matter, and therefore adherents of Hinduism have different beliefs about it.

The Catholic Church in the United States has repeatedly called for discontinuance of capital punishment in all situations. Although the Catechism says that the death penalty is possible under certain conditions, the formal church has taken a stand against it.

Protestants are of differing views, depending upon denomination. The Episcopal Church has taken a stand against the death penalty since 1958. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has no official position about it, whereas its sister church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has stated "that capital punishment is in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions." Mormons leave the matter to the States or civil law. The National Association of Evangelicals supports capital punishment. The Presbyterians have been against capital punishment for nearly 50 years whereas the Southern Baptists believe in the death penalty so long as it is enforced equitably. The Unitarian-Universalists and the Methodists are opposed to capital punishment, the former for decades and the Methodists since 2000. The umbrella group for Christians, the National Council of Churches, is on record as against the death penalty.

With the violence in the Middle East on both sides, Jew and Muslim, perhaps it is important to know what these groups believe. In the United States there is no official Muslim position, but in Islamic countries capital punishment is undertaken if there is intentional harm or threat to the state or intentional murder or physical harm of another person. This includes the spread of terror. All of the major Jewish groups advocate either the abolition of the death penalty or a moratorium on its use.



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Category Criminal Law, Other Articles by - Sameer Sharma