Topic: Case Study
7. There are many reasons why the death penalty should have no place in any society, not least because it violates the fundamental right to life. The argument that it may deter violent crime is countered by the observations that murder rates declined in ten out of eleven countries which had abolished capital punishment in recent years. The most egregious aspect of the death penalty is the widespread evidence of miscarriage of justice which occurs even in the most robust judicial systems, leading to the real threat of an irreversible punishment being inflicted on an innocent person.
India has a chequered history with the death penalty. For many years, until the execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004 for the rape and murder of a minor girl, the country was a de facto abolitionist state. Since then, nearly 500 prisoners have been sentenced to death row, nine individuals have been executed since 2014, and there has been a legislative expansion of the death penalty, in particular for crimes of sexual violence.
Against this background, the release of the Deathworthy report last month on the relationship between being sentenced to death and mental health, calls upon our society to revisit its ambivalent stance on the death penalty. The report is the result of NLU Delhi’s Project 39A, under the guidance of mental health professionals from NIMHANS, Bangalore. The study involved the interview of 88 death row prisoners and their families. Its findings can be summarised in two broad ways: First, what are the origins of the violent behaviours which led to the criminal acts and second, how might living on death row affect the mental health of the prisoner.
Adverse childhood experiences are the most important determinants of poor educational attainment, violent behaviours and mental health problems. This association has been demonstrated in diverse contexts and has a clearly defined biological mechanism. The lack of nurturing environments and the exposure to toxic stress, that is, when a child experiences intense, frequent or prolonged adversity such as emotional abuse or neglect, directly impacts the development of a healthy brain architecture which is most sensitive to environmental influences in the early years of life. These influences lead to a range of psychological difficulties in young adulthood, such as impulsivity and low frustration tolerance, which are precursors to violent behaviour and antisocial acts.
The second observation is, perhaps, less surprising: Two-thirds of the prisoners were diagnosed with a current episode of mental illness, in particular depression. About half were assessed to be at “risk” of suicide. Undoubtedly, this suffering is the direct consequence of living with the fear of an imminent, violent death. More shockingly, a significant number of prisoners had evidence of cognitive impairment, often due to head injuries. Nine of these individuals were found to have an intellectual disability. This implies that these individuals had deficits in mental functioning which are well-recognised for influencing the capabilities to make responsible decisions and observe social norms. Yet, in none of their cases was their disability brought to the attention of the courts.
Ultimately, the Deathworthy report provides a sobering, if not entirely unsurprising picture of the devastating disadvantages experienced by death row prisoners which may have played a critical role in mediating their violent acts and the mental health-related pain and suffering consequent to living on death row. (250 words)
- Is death penalty needed in India? Debate.
- How to prevent crimes by addressing emotional inadequacies of childhood?
Difficulty level: Moderate
Why the question:
The question is part of the static syllabus of General studies paper – 4 and part of ‘Case Study Fridays’ in Mission-2022 Secure.
Structure of the answer:
Mention the provision of death penalty for ‘rarest of rare’ cases India
- First, mention the drawbacks associated with death penalty in India. Present logical arguments and examples to substantiate your points.
Next, write about the need for having death penalty in India. Present logical arguments and examples to substantiate your points.
- Write about various way to prevent crimes by addressing emotional inadequacies of childhood.
Conclude by giving a fait and balanced opinion regarding death penalty in India.