India is a death penalty country again

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 ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
615667_deathpenalty_02.jpg
615667_deathpenalty_02.jpg

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."

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. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.

What’s the Harm in Talking to Russia? A Lot, Actually.

Diplomacy is neither intrinsically moral nor always strategically wise.

Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.
Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.

Ukraine Has a Secret Resistance Operating Behind Russian Lines

Modern-day Ukrainian partisans are quietly working to undermine the occupation.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.

The Franco-German Motor Is on Fire

The war in Ukraine has turned Europe’s most powerful countries against each other like hardly ever before.

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

How the U.S.-Chinese Technology War Is Changing the World

Washington’s crackdown on technology access is creating a new kind of global conflict.