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The Centre on the Death Penalty operating under the National Law University, Delhi has undergone a few changes, to be re-branded as Project 39A.
The inspiration for the name comes from Article 39A of the Constitution of India, which urges the state to provide its citizens justice on the basis of equal opportunity, by removing social and economic barriers.
While continuing to do research on the death penalty and its implications in India, the project will now also focus on areas critical to the criminal justice system such as torture, forensic psychiatry, mental health and legal aid, according to Dr Anup Surendranth, Director of Project 39A.
Surendranath, who is also an Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law at NLU Delhi, said that research on torture would be one of the priorities of the new project.
He said that Project 39A would strive to compile empirical data surrounding the medical advances made to detect injuries resulting from torture.
“Methods of torture have evolved to ensure that visible injuries on the bodies of victims are barely discernible. We would like to examine what corresponding advances have been made in medical science to be able to detect such injuries and prove torture”, he said.
The Project will also be extensively researching the role that mental health plays at the time of trial vis-a-vis insanity, and the mental health of prisoners and the support structure around the same. Forensic Psychiatry and the subjects’ interaction with India’s criminal justice system would also be examined.
Surendranath further stated that young lawyers in Nagpur and Pune would train under legal aid lawyers and that they might eventually be able to represent those that cannot afford it. This is part of the Project’s Fair Trial Fellowship.
When asked about the Centre’s recent move to pass the death penalty ordinance, he termed it as a worrying development, especially in the context of child sexual abuse. He said that sexual offences against children were already heavily under-reported and that in a majority of the cases, the perpetrators were known to the victim.
He said that based on the empirical data compiled by several child rights organisations, bringing the death penalty into the picture would cause a jump in the number of cases that go unreported.
“As it is, the number is low. But if you know that an uncle, or your father, or a neighbour is likely to be put to death based on your complaint, it only makes it harder to register a complaint”, he added.
The Project receives funding from NLU Delhi, Azim Premji Philanthropic initiatives, and others.