Topic Of The Day:-“Back to life: on the belated acquittal of death row convicts”


It is a tale of Kafkaesque horror. Six members of a nomadic tribe spent 16 years in prison in Maharashtra; three of them were on death row for 13 of these years, while the other three faced the gallows for nearly a decade. One of them was a juvenile at the time of the offence. And all this for a crime they did not commit. The only silver lining for the six convicts is that even though 10 years had elapsed since the Supreme Court imposed the death penalty on them, the sentence was not carried out. Hearing on their review petitions became an occasion for another Bench of the Supreme Court to revisit the 2009 verdict. A three-judge Bench has now found that unreliable testimony had been used to convict the six men. One of the two eyewitnesses had identified four others from police files as members of the gang that had raided their hut in 2003, but these four were not apprehended. The gang had stolen ₹3,000 and some ornaments, killed five members of the family, including a 15-year-old girl, who was also raped. It is possible that the heinous nature of the crime had influenced the outcome of the case. The belief that condign punishment is necessary for rendering complete justice could be behind courts brushing aside discrepancies or improvements in the evidence provided by witnesses. On a fresh hearing of the appeals, the court has concluded that the accused, who were roped in as accused in this case after being found to be involved in an unrelated crime elsewhere, were innocent.

The case, in itself, holds a strong argument against the retention of the death penalty on the statute book. Had the sentence against these six been carried out, the truth would have been buried with them. In recent years, the Supreme Court has been limiting the scope for resorting to the death penalty by a series of judgments that recognise the rights of death row convicts. A few years ago it ruled that review petitions in cases of death sentence should be heard in open court. In a country notorious for “the law’s delay”, it is inevitable that the long wait on death row, either for a review hearing or for the disposal of a mercy petition, could ultimately redound to the benefit of the convicts and their death sentences altered to life terms. In a system that many say favours the affluent and the influential, the likelihood of institutional bias against the socially and economically weak is quite high. Also, there is a perception that the way the “rarest of rare cases” norm is applied by various courts is arbitrary and inconsistent. The clamour for justice often becomes a call for the maximum sentence. In that sense, every death sentence throws up a moral dilemma on whether the truth has been sufficiently established. The only way out of this is the abolition of the death penalty altogether.


1) gallows

Meaning : a structure, typically of two uprights and a crosspiece, for the hanging of criminals(n).

Synonyms : potence

Antonyms : redemption

Example : “he was saved from the gallows by a last-minute reprieve”

2) offence

Meaning : a breach of a law or rule; an illegal act(n).

Synonyms : insult

Antonyms : defence

Example : “the new offence of obtaining property by deception”

3) convicts

Meaning : a person found guilty of a criminal offence and serving a sentence of imprisonment(n).

Synonyms : captive

Antonyms : victim

Example : “two escaped convicts kidnapped them at gunpoint”

4) elapsed

Meaning : (of time) pass or go by(v).

Synonyms : expire

Antonyms : renewed

Example : “weeks elapsed before anyone was charged with the attack”

5) imposed

Meaning : force (an unwelcome decision or ruling) on someone(v).

Synonyms : demand

Antonyms : disorder

Example : “the decision was theirs and was not imposed on them by others”

6) unreliable

Meaning : not able to be relied upon(adj).

Synonyms : deceptive

Antonyms : accurate

Example : “he’s lazy and unreliable”

7) apprehended

Meaning : arrest (someone) for a crime.

Synonyms : capture

Antonyms : free

Example : “a warrant was issued but he has not been apprehended”

8) heinous

Meaning : (of a person or wrongful act, especially a crime) utterly odious or wicked(adj).

Synonyms : atrocious

Antonyms : delightful

Example : “a battery of heinous crimes”

9) influenced

Meaning : have an influence on(v).

Synonyms : changed

Antonyms : kept

Example : “government regulations can influence behaviour, but often without changing underlying values and motivations”

10) discrepancies

Meaning : an illogical or surprising lack of compatibility or similarity between two or more facts(n).

Synonyms : difference

Antonyms : accord

Example : “there’s a discrepancy between your account and his”

11) accused

Meaning : a person or group of people who are charged with or on trial for a crime(n).

Synonyms : implicated

Antonyms : acquitted

Example : “the accused was ordered to stand trial on a number of charges”

12) retention

Meaning : the continued possession, use, or control of something(n).

Synonyms : detainment

Antonyms : freedom

Example : “the retention of direct control by central government”

13) resorting

Meaning : turn to and adopt (a course of action, especially an extreme or undesirable one) so as to resolve a difficult situation(v).

Synonyms : affect

Antonyms : abstain

Example : “the duke was prepared to resort to force if negotiation failed”

14) recognise

Meaning : identify (someone or something) from having encountered them before; know again(v).

Synonyms : discern

Antonyms : ignore

Example : “I recognized her when her wig fell off”

15) inevitable

Meaning : certain to happen; unavoidable(adj).

Synonyms : imminent

Antonyms : avoidable

Example : “war was inevitable”

16) redound

Meaning : contribute greatly to (a person’s credit or honour)(v).

Synonyms : react

Antonyms : hinder

Example : “his latest diplomatic effort will redound to his credit”

17) disposal

Meaning : the action or process of getting rid of something(n).

Synonyms : demolition

Antonyms : construction

Example : “the disposal of radioactive waste”

18) affluent

Meaning : (especially of a group or area) having a great deal of money; wealthy(adj).

Synonyms : prosperous

Antonyms : destitute

Example : “the affluent societies of the western world”

19) perception

Meaning : the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses(n).

Synonyms : attention

Antonyms : concrete

Example : “the normal limits to human perception”

20) dilemma

Meaning : a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable(n).

Synonyms : difficulty

Antonyms : solution

Example : “he wants to make money, but he also disapproves of it: Den’s dilemma in a nutshell”