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India: Concerned Citizens Statement Against Death Penalty

by sacw.net, 6 February 2014

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We Oppose the Death Penalty∗
(Solidarity Statement)

We, concerned citizens and organisations from different walks of life and with different worldviews, are united in opposing the death penalty and demanding its repeal in India.

Though meant only for the rarest of rare crimes, the death penalty is widely being applied to an ever-increasing array of offences, so much so that presently there are more than 400 persons sentenced to death in India, some of whom are in imminent danger of execution as their mercy petitions have been rejected by the President. Mercy petitions are being rejected at an unprecedented rate. At the same time, executions and rejections of mercy petitions are being done secretly, without any scrutiny and in violation of due process.

The death penalty is objectionable for at least the following reasons:

  1. The death penalty is a cruel and barbaric punishment. It inflicts inhuman suffering on the condemned and his family, while doing nothing to alleviate the loss and suffering of the victims of crime.
  2. The death penalty serves no purpose. Studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter murder or protect society any more than life imprisonment.
  3. The death penalty is inflicted in an arbitrary, inconsistent and unfair manner. It targets the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed, and depends more on the personal predilections of the decision maker than on the facts of the case.
  4. The death penalty is irreversible and cannot be part of a system that is not error-free. Courts have repeatedly acknowledged that the death penalty has been wrongly inflicted in a large number of cases, in two of which the condemned prisoners have already been executed.

More than 70% of the world’s nations (about 150 out of 198) are abolitionist in law or practice, including most of Europe, Africa, South America and the Pacific Region, and each year the number is increasing. Many countries with lower human development indices and higher murder rates than India eschew the death penalty. India, however, still lingers in the company of authoritarian regimes that execute people in violation of international standards. The time to set this right is long overdue.

We resolve to work for the abolition of the death penalty in our respective domains of action and influence. We appeal to all concerned citizens to join this cause.

short list of signatories

1. Aamir Khan Actor
2. Abhijit Banerjee Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
3. Achin Vanaik Retired Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi
4. Alyque Padamsee Theatre veteran and advertising guru
5. Amitav Ghosh Writer
6. Anand Patwardhan Film-maker
7. Anand Teltumbde Writer and civil rights activist
8. André Béteille Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics
9. Anu Aga Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
10. Aruna Roy Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
11. Bezwada Wilson National Convener, Safai Karmachari Andolan
12. E. A. S. Sarma Former IAS officer
13. Flavia Agnes Co-founder, Majlis
14. Girish Karnad Writer, playwright and director
15. Gurcharan Das Writer
16. Harsh Mander Director, Centre for Equity Studies
17. Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Economics, Columbia University
18. Jaitirth Rao Founder and Chief Executive Officer, MphasiS
19. Javed Akhtar Writer and lyricist
20. Jean Drèze Honorary Professor, Delhi School of Economics
21. Justice K. Chandru Retired Judge, Madras High Court
22. Justice Prabha Sridevan Retired Judge, Madras High Court
23. Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer Retired Judge, Supreme Court
24. K.B. Saxena Former IAS officer and Professor, Council for Social Development
25. Kamal Mitra Chenoy Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, JNU
26. Karan Thapar Television commentator
27. Kuldip Nayar Senior journalist
28. M.S. Swaminathan Agricultural scientist
29. Mallika Sarabhai Classical dancer and Director, Darpana
30. Medha Patkar National Alliance of People’s Movements
31. Meena Kandasamy Poet
32. N. R. Narayana Murthy Founder, Infosys
33. Nandana Sen Actor
34. Nandita Das Actor
35. Ness Wadia Wadia Group of Industries
36. Pankaj Mishra Writer
37. Prabhat Patnaik Professor Emeritus, Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
38. Ramachandra Guha Historian
39. Roger Gaikwad General Secretary, National Council of Churches in India
40. Shabana Azmi Actor
41. Sharmila Tagore Actor
42. Shyam Benegal Film-maker
43. Surjit Bhalla Economist
44. Swami Agnivesh Founder, World Council of Arya Samaj
45. Swaminathan S.A. Aiyar Consulting Editor, Economic Times
46. Uma Chakravarti Historian
47. Upendra Baxi Emeritus Professor, University of Warwick
48. Vikram Seth Writer
49. Vinod Mehta Editor, Outlook
50. Vrinda Grover Human rights lawyer

Full list of Signatories to Citizens Statement Against Death Penalty in India
2 February 2014

[Please consider joining the campaign against the death penalty by endorsing this statement (dated 2 February 2014). To endorse, just send a line to Yug Mohit Chaudhry, Room 4D, 1st Floor, Ismail Building, 381 Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road, Mumbai 400 001 (email: yugchaudhry[at]hotmail.com).]

Amartya Sen’s Statement

To all those interested in the issue of capital punishment

I am delighted to see the solidarity statement in opposition to the death penalty. Since I have been committed to the abolition of the death penalty throughout my life, I am very happy to add my voice to those of others who want the repeal of this terrible legal provision. I do not sign joint statements as a general rule, and hence this separate letter affirming my own opposition to the death penalty.

The solidarity statement already captures four of the main arguments for abolition: (1) that the death penalty is a barbaric and cruel punishment; (2) that its efficacy in preventing murder and other crimes is fictitious; (3) the use of death penalty tends to be biased and unequal over different segments of a population; and (4) all punitive systems can make errors, and the irreversibility of the death penalty does not allow any correction of mistakes.

To these four weighty arguments can be added a fifth: any attempt to remedy the harm done by the taking of one life through taking another life encourages bad - indeed dangerous - moral reasoning. The approach of death penalty is foundationally misconceived.

Amartya Sen

19th August 2013