Capital Punishment: Should it be gender biased?

Prachi Kumari, Student, Law School, BHU, Varanasi

Honourable President Pranab Mukherjee late last month rejected Renuka Kiran Shinde and her sister Seema Mohan Gavit’s mercy petitions. Now the Maharashtra Government is all set to hang them. Two Kolhapur women, who were sentenced to death in 2001 for kidnapping 13 children and killing nine of them, may become the first women ever to be hanged in India.

In India, as per directions of the Supreme Court, death penalty is used very sparingly and is awarded only in the cases, which fall under ‘rarest of the rare category’. The test of ‘rarest of rare’ case was laid down by Honourable Supreme Court for the first time in the case of Bachan Singh V State of Punjab1. The apex court laid down a few principles which were to be kept in mind while deciding the question of sentence. One of the very important principles is regarding aggravating and mitigating circumstances. It has been the view of the court that while deciding the question of sentence, a balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances in that particular case has to be drawn. Full weight age should be given to the mitigating circumstances and even after that if the court feels that justice will not be done if any punishment less than death sentence is awarded, then and then only death sentence should be imposed.

Again in Machhi Singh V State of Punjab2, the court laid down: – “In order to apply these guidelines inter alia the following questions must be asked and answered:-

  1. Is there something uncommon about the crime which render sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for a death sentence?
  2. Are these circumstances of the crime such that there is no alternative but to impose death sentence even after according maximum weight age to the mitigating circumstances which speaks in favour of the offenders?

In the present case, While awarding the death sentence to the sisters in 2001, Judge G L Yedke in Kolhapur had described the nine kids’ murders as ‘the most heinous’, and observed that the two sisters seemed to have enjoyed killing the children.

Capital Punishment has always been a controversial issue and in the present case as well, there is possibility that some NGOs and Human Rights activities may make hue and cry over gender issue.

In India, an offender is given so many chances to defend himself/herself. For instance, after the award of the death sentence by a sessions (trial) court, the sentence must be confirmed by a High Court to make it final. Once confirmed, the condemned convict has the option of appealing to the Supreme Court. If this is not possible, or if the Supreme Court turns down the appeal or refuses to hear the petition, the condemned person can submit a ‘mercy petition’ to the President of India and the Governor of the State.

This system ensures protection of an innocent person from death penalty and is gender-neutral. I strongly support this system and want every criminal to be punished be it male or female. If a woman can commit such heinous crime, she must be awarded the same penalty a man gets. Therefore, this system should stay gender neutral.

  1. 1980 (2) SCC 684 []
  2. 1983 (3) SCC 470 []

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