Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How to misread the data on Executions: A response from the Death Penalty Clinic

How to misread the data on Executions: A response from the Death Penalty Clinic

A pernicious newspaper article cites NLU's data on executions in an attempt to show that Muslims are not overrepresented in execution data. This is a gross misreading of data to give a communal spin to the debates around Memon's execution.

Response to the Misleading Article in the NEW INDIAN EXPRESS on the Religious Profile of Executions in India

This statement is from the Death Penalty Research Project, National Law University, Delhi in response to the article that appeared in the New Indian Express titled '72 Muslims Hanged in India against 1,342 Hindus and Others', dated 26th July 2015. The article claims that it is based on the data of the Death Penalty Research Project.

We wish to state in no uncertain terms that the New Indian Express has grossly misread the data on the website of the Death Penalty Research Project and has misled its readers by making it seem as though the analysis has been provided by the Death Penalty Research Project.

We wish to make it abundantly clear that the New Indian Express did not contact us and neither have we interpreted the data on the number of executions in the manner in which the New Indian Express has or in any other manner. The data we have on the number of executions carried out since 1947 has no corresponding data on the socio-economic profile of such prisoners.

  1. Incorrect Figures

The New Indian Express claims to have taken the figures from our resources. The article in the New Indian Express says 72 Muslims and 1342 'Hindus and others' have been executed, making it a total of 1414.
This is strange and curious because we have published and received the names of only 755 prisoners who were executed since independence. There is no explanation about the method by which the New Indian Express arrived at the figure of 1414 executed prisoners.


Also, the information we received from the Central Prisons has no information on the religion of the executed prisoners and neither have we provided that information in any manner.

  1. Analysis of Current Executions Data Not Possible: The reason for not doing any analysis of executions carried out is simply that it is not possible to do anything accurate, meaningful, and rigorous with the data provided by the Central Prisons across the country. However, since that is clearly not obvious to the New Indian Express, we thought it might be useful to make it explicit:
  1. Very large proportion of execution data unavailable: The data, as mentioned on every page of the PDF document published on our website, is not exhaustive. The Law Commission of India in 1967 had said in its 35th Report that India had seen 1410 executions between 1953-1963 (highlighted on p.2 of the PDF file – link at the bottom of this document). If the New Indian Express had added figures conveniently provided next to each State, it would have realised that we have names of 755 prisoners. 755 prisoners is only about 50% of the prisoners the Law Commission of India stated were executed by 1963.

1410 prisoners, according to the Law Commission of India were already executed by 1963, and in 2014, the Central Prisons are able to provide only 755 names! To project any analysis on the basis of this data is untenable, lacks any rigour and reeks of convenience.

  1. Other important data for such analysis unavailable: The data sent from the Central Prisons is only about executions carried out. However, there is no data that available on the religious profile of ALLprisoners sentenced to death. Not all prisoners sentenced to death are executed. In fact, only a very small proportion prisoners sentenced to death are eventually executed.

To make the argument that the New Indian Express is making it needs to show the proportion of executed prisoners from one religious group compared to the total number of death row prisoners from that religious group. Just absolute numbers on number of executions make no sense in this context without the total number of death row prisoners from that group.

In essence, were the 1342 'Hindus and Others', as the New Indian Express conveniently calls them, executed from amongst 1500 such death row prisoners? Or were they from 5000 or were they from 20,000? The New Indian Express does not tell us whether 72 Muslims executed were from a total of 80, or 100 or 1000 Muslim death row prisoners overall since independence! Surely, if 72 Muslims prisoners were executed from a total of 100 Muslim death row prisoners and 1342 'Hindus and Others' were executed from amongst 20,000  prisoners, that would turn this spin from the New Indian Express on its head!

The New Indian Express cannot provide that extremely important information because it does not have that data and neither does anyone else. And without that data, the communal spin they have given to the execution data is just shoddy, unscientific and dangerous.

We do hope that the New Indian Express will recognise the serious and acute flaws in the article and will not hesitate to withdraw it with immediate effect.

Document on Executions in India:

Dr. Anup Surendranath
Director, Death Penalty Research Project
National Law University, Delhi

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