On September 29, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution denouncing the death penalty on consensual same-sex relationships in Geneva. Out of the 47 members, 27 voted in favour of the resolution, seven abstained from voting and 13 countries voted against the resolution. India was one of the countries that voted against the resolution.
The 13 countries that voted against the abolishing of death penalty were Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United State of America and the United Arab Emirates. Currently, there are six countries that enforce the death penalty for homosexuality – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, as well as some regions of Nigeria and Somalia. The death penalty is a norm in ISIS-controlled areas in northern Iraq and northern Syria. Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar and Brunei are countries that enforce the death penalty on homosexuality on paper, but have not carried out executions (that can be verified at least).
This resolution was passed for the “imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations”. This process was undertaken to ensure that the death penalty is not applied in an arbitrary manner in those countries where the death penalty is still legal. The resolution was also passed to address the application of death penalty in cases of adultery, which disproportionately punishes women, and condemns the use of capital punishment against those with mental and intellectual disabilities, pregnant women and those under 18 years of age at the time when the crime was committed.
In this crucial stage, which could immensely influence the development of human rights and its definition, the Indian state has failed to show responsible leadership on an international platform. To put it simply: it seems to relish its ability to take lives. Given India’s track record with selectively condemning people to the death row, in order to satisfy “collective conscience”; this impunity with which the Indian State thinks queer lives are disposable as well, should not come as a surprise.
Also Read: FII’s Statement On The Death Penalty
Home Secretary Rajnath Singh had promised that, “We will state (at an all-party meeting if it is called) that we support Section 377 because we believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act and cannot be supported.” According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the year 2014 witnessed 1148 cases and year 2015 witnessed 1347 cases lodged under Section 377 of the India Penal Code. 14% of those arrested under Section 377 in 2015 turned out to be minors. Draconian laws like Section 377 leave the LGBTQIA+ community vulnerable to further arbitrary state sponsored violence.
In a country where religion, caste and sexual orientation determine state violence, the very existence of the death penalty places innocent lives at risk. Consequently, the death penalty is applied selectively and neither does capital punishment deter crime. Prosecutors and witnesses are not immune to biases and making mistakes, which ultimately results in innocent human lives being placed at risk.
the state does not have the right to take lives.
A more fundamental issue that needs to be addressed here is that the state does not have the right to take lives. The human right to life is inalienable. When the state ends up killing someone, as citizens, we too are participants in this process of state sponsored murder. We are the “state” as well. In our haste to assuage the “collective conscience” of the country, we end up forgetting that this retribution called capital punishment is just a sanitised sense of vengeance. The idea of assuaging “collective conscience” becomes a path to sidestep the fair means of acquiring justice and ignoring the politics behind who exactly can access law by fair means.
The state views consensual relationships as such a grievous crime where they ultimately end up endangering the creation of the ideal Indian citizen, who is heterosexual and an upper caste Hindu. A citizen who will marry and reproduce accordingly, in his urge to be the ideal Indian citizen. The death penalty will aid in this process of keeping his bloodline and economic conditions homogeneous. Never mind consent, when the state can aid in a process of cleansing. The question arises then, why call ourselves a democracy that sets store by the constitution? Those of us who don’t fit into the ‘ideal citizen’ parameters, i.e not upper caste Hindu and heterosexual, keep in mind that we’re a rupture in the societal fabric of the state, undermining our very right to live.
Featured Image Credit: The Frisky