- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
As recently as March, 2012, it seemed like the death penalty might be a thing of the past in India. The country is one of just a handful of large democracies in the world — along with the United States, Taiwan, and Japan — that still use capital punishment. (It’s still legal in South Korea but no executions have been carried out since the late 1990s.)
According to a 1983 court ruling, execution can only be used in the "rarest of rare cases". Between 1995 and last year, India executed just two people — a serial killer and a rapist/murderer. Last March, a court put on hold the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a Sikh militant convicted for the 1995 assassination of the Punjab State Minister.
Then, last November, the lone surviving Mumbai attack gunman, Amjal Kasab was executed swiftly and in secret, without any warning given to his family or attorney, a surprise to many in a country where the gears of justice usually turn pretty slowly. Amnesty International criticized the move, saying it "undoes much of the progress India has made over the death penalty."
Now, Indian prosecutors have announced that they will seek the death penalty for the five men accused of raping and killing a woman on a New Delhi bus — a case that has sparked protests throughout the country. Rape cases often linger in the Indian court system for years, so a special fast-track court has been set up for this case, following the widespread outrage.
It’s certainly hard to argue that such a heinous crime shouldn’t qualify under the Indian legal system’s "rarest of rare" standard — presumably this is exactly the sort of case the justices had in mind. But it appears that as long as there are angry people in the streets, the world’s largest democracy is in no hurry to do away with the death penalty.