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24 Dec 2006

The Death Penalty is no Answer to Custodial Violance! 

In a ‘first of its kind’ decision a Delhi court has awarded the death sentence to a police officer – ACP Rishi Prasad Tyagi, for the custodial killings of Mahender Kumar and Ram Kumar in 1987 in Police Station Vivek Vihar. While PUDR welcomes this conviction, it condemns the death sentence awarded and calls for the same to be commuted to life imprisonment.

It is crucial in all cases, and more so in cases of violent crime, that the guilty are brought to book. PUDR, however, opposes the resort to capital punishment as it is beyond doubt that deterrence of crime is caused by the certainty and not the severity of punishment. In this context it is telling that in 127 cases of custodial deaths in Delhi investigated by PUDR between 1980 and 2006, conviction has taken place in only 5 cases prior to the present case. Furthermore, it is unclear whether these convictions were upheld by higher courts. In fact, a large number of custodial deaths don’t even reach the trial stage. Of 93 cases of custodial killings investigated by PUDR from 1980 to 1997, FIRs were registered only in 30 cases. This abysmal record leaves little doubt of the efforts made by the police as well as the judiciary in protecting those accused of custodial violence and killings. 

Awarding capital punishment in one particular case, in such circumstances, is no more than a red herring. Instead of addressing the core issues of custodial violence, public attention is distracted by resorting to rhetoric, outrage and mere tokenism. Rather than resorting to extreme and barbaric sentences of hanging, justice would be served better by introducing greater accountability within the police force; ensuring registration of cases, a fair, independent and transparent investigation; protection of witnesses, and a speedy and impartial trial. 

The prevalence of custodial violence also needs deeper introspection. Investigating agencies often use the excuse of public pressure to solve ‘crime’ as justification for resorting to ‘third-degree’ methods of interrogation. This is also supported by public condonation and even sanction of such torture. However torture and custodial violence is not limited to interrogation alone, but also seen as ‘just’ punishment and ‘fair’ exercise of police authority. The award by the judiciary of the death sentence in such cases of custodial crime merely reinforces and legitimizes this culture of violence by resorting to brute force as punishment for the ‘criminal’. Resorting to torture or capital punishment is not the solution to violent crime. 

PUDR opposes the death penalty in all cases as it has proved to have no deterrent value; is arbitrarily imposed and has a brutalizing effect on society. While welcoming the conviction of ACP Tyagi, PUDR calls for the death sentence to be commuted and further calls for the abolition of the death penalty in India. 

Deepika Tandon and Paramjeet Singh

Secretaries, PUDR