Home » india news » NLU-Delhi study: 80% of death row convicts were tortured in prison

NLU-Delhi study: 80% of death row convicts were tortured in prison

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The debate on the death penalty in India only comes to the forefront when someone is hanged. And in the past decade, only three people were executed in India - Yakub Memon, Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab.

Thus, the irrationalities or justification of capital punishment only gain currency sporadically.

But recently, Delhi's National Law University released a study, titled the Death Penalty Research Project, which has brought out the morbidity of capital punishment. NLU's team interviewed 373 of the 385 death row inmates and/or their families.

Here are a few grim details that emerged from the study.


  • Number of prisoners whose mercy petitions are pending before state governors or the President of India, plus those whose death sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but a mercy petition has not been filed.
  • Maharashtra (14) and Bihar (5) account for the highest of number of these prisoners.
  • Twenty-one of the 373 prisoners' mercy petitions have been rejected by the President.
  • Karnataka (9) and Uttar Pradesh (4) had the highest number convicts whose mercy petitions have been rejected.
  • Among the pending appeals, 270 are in high courts, while 52 are pending at the Supreme Court.


  • Among those whose mercy petitions have been rejected by the President, the average time spent in jail is 16.9 years.
  • The longest incarceration time was 25 years for Navinder Singh, accused of murdering 13 people. Finally, his death sentence was commuted by the Supreme Court, citing inordinate delay.
  • The median year for incarceration is 12 years, among the 30 prisoners whose mercy petitions are pending at various levels.


  • A total of 216 out of 270 respondents who spoke about police custody admitted to being tortured in custody.
  • Haryana, Gujarat and Kerala had the highest number of prisoners facing torture.
  • Some horrific forms of physical torture employed by the police are: 'being immersed in boiling water', 'made to urinate on heater', and 'fingers broken with pliers'.
  • Psychological torture is another way used to extract confessions.
  • One prisoner said: "The police blindfolded me and fired gunshots in the air. I feared for my life with every passing moment. The only way to end this was to confess before the magistrate."


Nearly three-fourths of prisoners on death row were economically vulnerable, employed in the unorganised sector, in factories, as manual scavengers or auto drivers.

  • In Kerala, 93% of these prisoners were poor, followed by Maharashtra (88.9%) and Delhi (80%).
  • Another appalling fact: 61% of prisoners awaiting the gallows did not even complete secondary schooling.
  • However, death row prisoners have an equal mix of socio-religious communities : 34.6% belong to Other Backward Classes, 24.5% are Dalits and tribals, 24% are from the general category and 20.7% belong to the religious minoritie

First published: 11 May 2016, 10:29 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

Born and raised in Kolkata, Sourjya is all about the numbers. He uses data to contextualise stories on a broad range of topics. Formerly with the Hindustan Times and IndiaSpend, any time not spent researching and writing is spent reading non-fiction and tackling his unending collection of films. An alumnus of Presidency College, Kolkata, he has a post-grad degree in Political Science from Calcutta University and was actively involved in student politics. He's a fan of Tintin comics, Germany's football team, Mohun Bagan and Old Monk.