Page last updated at 12:17 GMT, Thursday, 4 August 2005 13:17 UK

India and the death penalty

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Hangman Nata Mullick
Capital punishment is rarely carried out in India
Although India is one of a number of countries around the world which still practises capital punishment, it is rarely used.

A 1983 ruling by the country's Supreme Court stated that the death penalty should be imposed only in "the rarest of rare cases".

Only particularly gruesome or politically sensitive cases have attracted the penalty.

The assassins of India's independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi, and former prime minister Indira Gandhi were among those executed in the past 60 years.

Special circumstances

In India the death penalty is carried out by hanging.

Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi's assassins were put to death
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.

The last execution in India was held in August 2004 when Dhananjoy Chatterjee, convicted of raping and murdering a schoolgirl in 1990, was hanged to death.

It was the first such execution since 1995.

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.

"There were fewer death penalty cases in the 70s and 80s," constitutional lawyer Rajiv Dhawan told the BBC News website.

But he said death sentences appeared to be on the rise in recent years.

Over the past year, Indian courts have handed out three death sentences in cases relating to rape and murder.


Once sentenced, a defendant has the right to appeal against the sentence as well as the conviction.

The appeal will be heard by a higher court and can go all the way up to the Supreme Court, a process that can take two to three years.

If all fails, the president of India can be approached to grant clemency - something he can do only after seeking the advice of the Indian cabinet.

In the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case a special court sentenced to death 26 men and women in 1998.

In May 1999 the Supreme Court commuted three of the death sentences to life imprisonment and released 19 others.

Of the remaining four, one was granted clemency in August 2000, while the appeals of the others are pending before the president.

India recalls parliament attack
13 Dec 02 |  South Asia
India passes anti-terror law
26 Mar 02 |  South Asia
Clemency for Gandhi assassin
25 Apr 00 |  South Asia

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific