By Andie Noonan and Joanna McCarthy
Updated about 4 hours ago
The imminent execution of the first women to receive the death penalty in India since independence is likely to revive long-standing debate in the country about its use of capital punishment. The two sisters, Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit, kidnapped 13 children under the age of five in the early 1990s and brutally murdered at least seven of them in the state of Maharashtra. Human rights lawyer Asim Sarode, who worked on the sisters' mercy plea, does not expect the executions to take place until at least next month.
Although personally opposed to the death penalty, Mr Sarode said given the nature of the sisters' crimes, he did not believe the Indian public would be in a hurry to see the laws change in this case.
"India as a society is not very much concerned about the way of punishment," he told the ABC. "They are of very general thought that punishment should be hardened and it will create [an] impact and fear on people not to commit offences. This is a very traditional way of thinking." Some, however, have spoken out against the sentence. The MP for the sisters' home state of Kolhapur, Dhananjay Mahadik, told The Independent that while the women's crimes were "very serious", he believed women should not face the death penalty. The sisters' case has also been championed by human rights groups which have long campaigned for capital punishment to be abandoned.
"We oppose the death penalty altogether because it's irreversible, inhumane," Meenakshi Ganguly from Human Rights Watch told the ABC. "Every time there is a serious incident like the gang rape in Delhi in 2012, almost always the demand in the protest is for a hanging. "That to me is the concern, it is the maximum punishment that anyone can receive so therefore people ask for it when they're outraged by the crime." But the punishment also has many supporters in India's legal and political system. "Nobody values anything more than his or her life, and any system that takes away your life will terrify you," Pinky Anand, a Supreme Court lawyer and politician, told the New York Times last year. "It is human psychology in addition to criminal jurisprudence."
'Rarest of the rare cases'
While the Supreme Court has long stipulated that death sentences should be reserved for "the rarest of the rare cases", there have been a number of high-profile executions in recent years. In 2013, the country executed Muhammad Afzal, who was convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on India's parliament, and in 2012 it hanged Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks which killed 166 people.
In 2013, the scope of the death penalty increased with greater penalties for rapists, introducing the death penalty when a woman dies from her injuries. This followed the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman which sparked violent protests in several cities. Amnesty International has said executions in India are usually carried out without notice and in secret. In a 2013 report, it said the president of India hadrejected the mercy petitions of 18 prisoners that year, the most rejections by any leader for almost 25 years. The group also said information on decisions on mercy petitions was removed from the president's secretariat website. Mr Sarode said the country's Supreme Court asked the government for more certainty, including giving prisoners seven days' notice before they are executed.
Use of capital punishment called into question
The efficacy of capital punishment was already on the public agenda when the women's pleas for clemency were rejected by India's president Pranab Mukherjee last year.
In May, India's Law Commission, which advises the ministry of law and justice, issued a discussion paper asking for public opinion on whether the death penalty should be applied and in what circumstances.
When there's public anger the state tends to think this is a way of showing that they're doing something by executing people. - Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch.
It followed a Supreme Court case which found that "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in carrying out executions were grounds for commuting death sentences, and suggested the Commission could investigate "whether death penalty is a deterrent punishment or is retributive justice or serves an incapacitative goal".
In January, Indian man Surendra Koli had his death sentenced commuted to life in prison on the basis officials took too long to carry out his execution.
He was convicted in 2009 over the gruesome killing of five children in a workers' colony in a middle-class neighbourhood in north Delhi. However, Ms Ganguly says there remains a serious issue as long as the death penalty remains in place. "In fact in the region we've seen that Pakistan, which had a moratorium [on the death penalty], has gone back to hanging a lot of people after the Peshawar attacks," she said. "When there's public anger the state tends to think this is a way of showing that they're doing something by executing people."
Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-06/womens-execution-revives-death-penalty-debate-in-india/6059596 [last accessed 06.02.2015]