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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

‘Mahatma Gandhi Tried His Best to Save Bhagat Singh’s Life’

Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh
The 85th death anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary icon of the freedom struggle, who attained martyrdom at the young age of 23, falls on March 23, 2016.

Alongwith Sukhdev and Rajguru, Bhagat Singh was hanged to death less than a week before the commencement of the Karachi session of the Indian National Congress, on March 29, 1931, a landmark event of India’s freedom struggle in which economic freedom was equated with political freedom.

The year 1928 was marked by an anti-Simon Commission upsurge everywhere in India. On 30 October 1928, the Simon Commission faced a huge hostile crowd led by Lala Lajpat Rai at Lahore Station. Lala was severely beaten by the Police under JA Scot, British SP and he later succumbed to his head injury.

The whole nation was stunned by this savagery. As news of the attack on Lajpat Rai spread, the country reacted with anger.

Bhagat Singh was appalled. He could not believe that a white man could dare take a stick in hand and set upon Lajpat Rai. The HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republic Army) decided to undertake retaliatory action. On 17 December, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Chandra Shekhar Azad mistook the ASP, JP Scot for Saunders, as they pounced on him and shot him dead.

A few months later, on 8 April 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Datta threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly Hall in Delhi. It was hurled from the midst of a packed gallery, not aimed at anybody, but to draw the attention of the House, the Indian people and the British rulers in India.

As Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutt had planned not to escape after throwing the bomb, they were arrested. While Dutt was sentenced to transportation for life in the Assembly Bomb Case, Bhagat Singh, along with Rajguru and Sukhdev, was sentenced to death for the murder of Saunders in what became famous as the Lahore conspiracy case.

While in jail, Bhagat Singh took up the cause of bettering jail conditions and commenced a hunger strike. The Jail Committee requested Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt to give up their hunger strike, but they declined.

As the fast continued indefinitely with no solution in sight, Jawaharlal Nehru visited Bhagat Singh and the other hunger strikers in jail.



Finally, it was Bhagat Singh’s father who had his way. He came armed with a resolution by the Congress, urging them to give up the hunger strike.

The revolutionaries respected the Congress party because they knew of its struggle for India’s freedom. They called Gandhi ‘an impossible visionary’ but they saluted him for the awakening he had brought about in the country.



As days of execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades drew near, appeals from all over India, from all sections of people poured in, usually addressed to the Viceroy, asking him to stay the execution.
Gandhi met Irwin on 19th March and pleaded for the reprieve of Bhagat Singh and his two colleagues from the death sentences to which they had been condemned. He reinforced this oral request with a powerful appeal to the charity of a “great Christian” in Young India.



Bhagat Singh, Rajguru & Sukhdev were hanged to death on March 23, 1931. As the news of Bhagat Singh’s execution spread, the nation went into mourning. There were processions throughout the country. Many went without food. People wore black badges and shut down their businesses to express their grief.


A pall of gloom hung over the Motilal Nehru pandal at the annual Congress session in Karachi. When the session was scheduled for 29 March 1931, nobody had an inkling that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru would be hanged six days ahead of schedule.

A procession to be led by president-elect Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was abandoned in grief. 



Lord Irwin took the public into confidence on his reasons for rejecting Gandhi’s appeal. In his farewell speech on 26th March, 1931, Irwin said:
As I listened the other day to Mr Gandhi putting the case for commutation formally before me, I reflected first on what significance it surely was that the apostle of non-violence should so earnestly be pleading the cause of devotees of a creed fundamentally opposed to his own, but I should regard it as wholly wrong to allow my judgment on these matters to be influenced or deflected by purely political considerations. I could imagine no case in which under the law the penalty had been more directly deserved.


Source: the quint, Praveen Davar, March 23, 2016. Praveen Davar is a member of the Indian National Congress.

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