Anup Surendranath is the director of Project 39-A, a centre at the National Law University, Delhi. The project’s mandate is to employ empirical research to re-imagine the practices and policies of the criminal-justice system in India. It conducted India’s first ever empirical research on capital punishment and released a report on it in 2016. Since then, every year, it has put out data concerning the death penalty in India. The research considers nearly every death-row convict in India, across parameters such as their economic and social background, the charges under which they were convicted, their experience of the investigation, the number of sentences that were upheld or commuted in higher courts, and the state-wise prevalence of death sentencing, among others. Each year, the centre’s research has found that the convicts who are sentenced to death and who remain on death row are predominantly from poor and lower-caste communities, with little access to proper legal aid.
In mid December, Surabhi Kanga, the web editor at The Caravan, met Surendranath. The conversation is a part of The Caravan’s short series on the death penalty, “Killing in the Name of.” On 1 December 2019, the Delhi government recommended to the lieutenant governor that the mercy petitions filed by the accused in the Delhi gang-rape case of 2012 be rejected. Barely a week later, the Telangana police killed four men in an alleged encounter—the men had been arrested for the rape and murder of a veterinarian. Surendranath discussed these developments, as well as findings and insights from his years-long research into the death penalty in India.
The 2012 Delhi gang-rape case has progressed quickly since the conversation took place—in the past month, a Delhi court issued a death warrant for the convicts in the case; the president Ram Nath Kovind rejected the mercy petition of two of the convicts, who then challenged it in the Supreme Court, which dismissed both the pleas. Four of the six convicts—one died in prison, while another, a juvenile, served three years—are due to be hanged on 1 February 2020. This will be the second case of execution for sexual violence and murder in India—the first such death sentence was carried out in 2004, when a security guard named Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old.