A Yeats scholar and a human rights lawyer, Yug Mohit Chaudhary spearheads the legal battle for abolition of death penalty in the country.
On Tuesday, his battle got a boost with the Supreme Court commuting the death sentence of three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Chaudhary said the verdict was a “leap forward” towards evolution of a new jurisprudence in India on relevance of the death penalty.
Chaudhary represented two of the three convicts in the case. He was also one of the leading lawyers in the SC’s January 21 landmark verdict that inordinate, unexplained and undue delay by the President and governor in deciding a mercy petition was ground for commutation of death penalty to life term. By this judgment as many as 15 prisoners were spared the gallows.
“Today’s verdict takes forward the principles enunciated in the previous verdict that in every case where there is inexplicable and excessive delay in deciding the mercy petition, the death sentence has to be commuted,” he told The Indian Express.
Chaudhary, 45, said the apex court had made it clear that keeping somebody in the shadow of the noose for too long had a dehumanising effect on them. “Today’s judgment goes one step ahead and also rules that it was not for condemned prisoners to show evidence of their mental or physical agony owing to prolonged incarceration on death row. A prisoner does not need to show scars of his sufferings, this is the highlight of the verdict,” he said.
The government had argued that the apex court’s ruling on delay would offer relief to a convict only if he could prove he suffered mentally and physically while waiting for a decision on his mercy petition.
“This argument lost completely today. The Supreme Court has made it clear that there will be a presumption that the convict suffered immensely due to an inexplicable delay in execution,” Chaudhary said.
The lawyer, who has represented many prisoners in imminent danger of execution, said these judgments would lead to a public discourse on whether India needs the death penalty as a punishment at all.
According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights, a Delhi-based NGO, approximately 18 mercy petitions filed before the President between 1999 and 2011 have remained pending for one to 13 years.
Over 300 mercy petitions were filed before the President between 1950 and 2009.
Of these, 214 were accepted and death sentences commuted.