COIMBATORE: A landmark study on the socio-economic background of prisoners on death row across the country has revealed that around three out of every four of them are from “economically vulnerable” sections of society, while 61.6 per cent of the prisoners have not completed their secondary education.
The Death Penalty India Report by the National Law University in Delhi studied the backgrounds of 373 prisoners in 20 states across India. In Tamil Nadu, 12 prisoners face the death sentence.
Following interviews with prisoners and their family members, researchers found that 74.1 per cent of all death row convicts are “economically vulnerable”. The prisoners were deemed to be vulnerable based on the occupations they pursued even before they were incarcerated for their offences.
According to the data, 23 per cent of prisoners on death row never attended school, while 9.6 per cent did not complete primary education. Further, 61.6 per cent of those on death row failed to complete their secondary education.
Moreover, 45.2 per cent of those on death row are either from the SC/ST communities or belong to religious minorities, while 34.6 per cent are from Other Backward Communities.
The proportion of prisoners from the SC/ST communities in some states is higher. For instance, 50 per cent of the prisoners on death row in Maharashtra are either from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe groups.
The study also highlighted the intersection of social marginalisation, economic deprivation and lack of access to education.
For instance, 85.4 per cent of SC/ST prisoner population on death row and 76 per cent from religious minorities are from economically vulnerable backgrounds. Moreover, 43.5 per cent of those on death row are economically vulnerable, have never attended school or completed secondary education, and are either a member of a religious minority or from the SC/ST communities.
On why the educational profile of prisoners was important, the report states, “Our immediate task in this sub-section is to present data on educational profile that gives us a much more nuanced understanding of the socio-economic status of the prisoners sentenced to death in India. While caste and religious composition give us a certain dimension of marginalisation, educational status further underscores the impact of other socio-economic factors.”
Shailesh Rai, a senior policy adviser at Amnesty International India, said the report raises the question of indirect discrimination against Dalits and religious minorities. Highlighting the fact that Muslims and in certain states, Dalits, are disproportionately represented among death row convicts, he said there is enough “anecdotal evidence” to raise serious questions about the use of the death penalty.
“The report is in line with what the Law Commission has stated, that the only real way forward is to abolish the death penalty,” he said. Unlike the recommendations of the Law Commission that the death penalty be implemented for terror-related offences, Rai believes that the death penalty in its entirety needs to be abolished, pointing out that several Asian democracies such as Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have in effect abolished it.