There are times when a death sentence appears to be a cruel judgement in any dispensation, since no one has the means to undo the outcome of a death sentence. This consideration alone has the effect of undoing much that is sensible about the penal provisions of our laws. No, our laws do not support the idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But as long as the death sentence is part of the punishment reserved for heinous crimes, it will naturally be the punishment envisaged for crimes like murder and rape. And this takes us not just to the law’s delay but the ultimate justice of the most severe punishment meted out for the most condemnable crimes. We are taken back to the kind of brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedic student in Delhi on the night of 16-17 December 2012. After being gang-raped in a moving bus, she was thrown out on the road. She eventually succumbed to her injuries. The convicts sentenced to death by the Delhi High Court, appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict of the trial court while rejecting a plea to abolish capital punishment. The petitioners (Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Kumar Gupta) are now left with the sole option of moving a curative petition, and if that fails, a mercy plea before the President of India. While these provisions do exist, it might well be futile for the accused to expect any leniency from any quarter. After all, if even the slightest degree of leniency were manifest in the court of last appeal, such a course of action would have seriously jeopardized the people’s respect for the laws of the land merely because the death sentence is regarded as being much too harsh for any crime in some quarters. Since one cannot support leniency in such matters, the Supreme Court’s final judgement will come as a major source of relief to all law-abiding citizens.
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