A measured and progressive expansion of the death penalty discourse in India demands that existing assumptions about capital punishment be challenged. Towards this end, our research is grounded in a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach and actively engages with penal philosophy, criminology, forensic science, psychiatry, and law. Our focus also lies in analysing contemporary and archivaldata in India to gauge the functioning of existing institutional stakeholders within the criminal justice system. We recognise the crucial role Indian history, literature and folklore plays in navigating the complex political and legislative landscape that surrounds the death penalty, and we ensure that this finds place in any engagement with this issue.
In collaboration with the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford, the University of Reading, and the Death Penalty Project, London, the Judges’ Opinion Study seeks to investigate attitudes towards the death penalty through interviewing former judges of the Supreme Court of India. It aims to move beyond a facile understanding of ideological positions on the death penalty, by examining perspectives of those most connected to and intimate with the functioning of the criminal justice system. The views of judges who have served in the apex court over decades, will serve as valuable addition to any debate on the death penalty in India.
This research project undertaken by the Centre aims at analysing and documenting the use of the ‘rarest of rare’ doctrine at the trial court level in three death penalty-heavy states - Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These three states have been selected as relevant for the purpose of this study since a large number of death sentences awarded at the trial level across these states have resulted in either acquittal or commutation at the appellate levels. This study also draws from the research of the DPRP, wherein it was found that around 94% of death sentences awarded by trial courts resulted in either acquittals or commutations at the appellate level. Therefore, at this juncture, it becomes necessary to understand the manner in which the ‘rarest of rare’ doctrine has broken down at the level of trial courts.
The Mental Health Research Project is the Centre’s ongoing nationwide study on the mental health of prisoners sentenced to death in India.
Building on the findings of the Death Penalty Research Project, the Mental Health Research Project is the first of its kind empirical and descriptive study to take a medico-social approach to the mental health of prisoners sentenced to death in India. The project was conceived out of the need to collect accurate data on prisoners sentenced to death in India, through empirical and descriptive studies, in order to further the current knowledge on the death penalty. It aims to examine the prevalence of mental illness and intellectual disability among prisoners currently on death row.
The project also aims to undertake a descriptive analysis of the lived experience of prisoners on death row with a focus on mental health. This specific issue of mental health and prisoners sentenced to death in India has been chosen with a view to facilitate the development of criminology in India, to explore the intersection between psychology and crime, and for advancing the field of forensic psychology.
This research, it is hoped, will help lawyers and judges in developing mental health jurisprudence on the death penalty in India, and improve transparency in the criminal justice system, especially in the prison system.