The release of ‘Death Penalty India Report’ by National Law University (NLU) Friday has triggered a debate with voices like jurist Fali S Nariman and former judges and academics raising questions over the report not according equal importance to victims of crime while highlighting the plight of death row convicts.
Nariman has written to NLU Vice-Chancellor Ranbir Singh, stating that he hopes the university will also undertake, as a countervailing project, an assessment of the plight of victims of those under death sentence.
“It will help us all (whether retentionists or abolitionists) to put in true context the brutality or otherwise of the deaths, as compared and contrasted with the plight (sad as it is) of those convicted and under sentence of death,” reads the letter.
Nariman added that only a project like this “will help sociologists to draw useful conclusions about the pernicious effects of the death penalty and their relationship with heinous crimes, and above all, whether and to what extent the existing criminal justice system affords relief to victims of dastardly crimes.”
Confirming that he has received the letter, Singh told The Indian Express that Nariman’s concerns are right since victimology is an equally significant area of study. “We have taken his suggestion in right earnest and a project on victims will be seriously considered,” he added.
Former Delhi High Court Judge S N Dhingra, however, regretted that there seems to be no concerted effort to focus on victims of crime while convicts get “extraordinary attention” with the support of civil society groups.
“We have reached a stage where nobody cares about victims. If 50 people are killed in a terror attack, you will have a battery of senior lawyers defending the convicts but you would find nobody by the victims’ side,” said Dhingra. He added that death penalty and its execution has a political overtone while victims are easily forgotten.
Justice Rekha Sharma, also a former Delhi High Court judge, said a project by an institution like the NLU should not overlook the agony of victims.
“It is the system that is to be blamed if there are delays in execution but you cannot undermine the sufferings of voiceless and faceless victims of crimes…,” she said.
Former Dean of Delhi University’s Law Faculty S N Singh urged NLU to withhold releasing the report till they also conduct a study on victims.
The Death Penalty Research Project has been carried out by NLU, Delhi, in collaboration with National Legal Services Authority. Based on interviews with prisoners on death row and their families conducted between June 2013 to January 2015, the report documents the socio-economic profile of the prisoners and aims to provide an understanding of their interaction with the criminal justice system.