New Delhi: The UPA-2 may gloat over the surreptitious hanging of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab as a bold anti-terrorist act against Pakistan, that too on the eve of what was likely to be a stormy and unruly Parliament session in which was expected to be badly discredited by the Opposition, some allies and fence-sitters pretending to support it.
But Kasab’s hanging may not make a difference to the causes, contexts, contents and contours of terrorism in India, Pakistan or elsewhere. If anything, it will only exacerbate terrorism.
The Kasab case should have been handled carefully and after a lot of introspection for at least six reasons.
One, sensitivity to the intense debate and media campaign in India and abroad about the futility of the death penalty — that it should be rightly treated as penological barbarity; and the fallacy of the penal machinery that by killing the killer justice is rendered to the victims, their kin, their country, and so on, wrongly construes revenge as justice.
Two, Amnesty International’s forceful, persuasive, and humanizing appeal to the whole world (including India) to abolish death penalty. Its following observations are particularly pertinent here: “The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.”
Three, the debate initiated by President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2005 on the abolition of the death penalty through his call for granting clemency and commutation of death penalties, and for reform. As with many other vital social issues, the debate was short-lived and inconclusive.
Let me recap two of my reactions published at the time: (a) Can death penalty not be a fraud perpetrated on society when the judiciary grinds like god’s mill and when a person is pushed to many “gallows” — police custody, jails, judiciary, social ostracism, and guilt — between the time he is arrested and convicted of the crime he might have committed? (b) What is the rate of crimes ending in conviction and of killers going scot free (as in the 1984 riots)?
That Kasab is not Indian does not dilute these issues.
Four, in an important write-up ‘Same old question: Shall we abolish death penalty?’ Fali S Nariman raised certain vital legal and sociological issues which we can ignore only at our own peril: (a) in the world of today there are fewer men condemned to death for murder, and more and more executed for political views; (b) as long as death remains a permissible instrument of Government, those in power will always justify its use; (c) murder will never cease to be an instrument of politics until the execution even of proved murderers is regarded as immoral and wrong; and (d) the hangman’s noose ends the search for truth — what if the judge is wrong, the question plagues our conscience. Judgments of courts can always be recalled and reviewed; execution of sentences of death, never.
Five, India’s plaguing politics of death penalty as evident from the manner in which the execution of death penalty of the Rajiv Gandhi killers has been delayed under political pressure from Tamil Nadu; and the staying of the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana just three days before it was to take place in March this year (his scheduled execution was in connection with the killing of the former Punjab Chief Minister, Beant Singh, on August 31, 1995) after Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal met President Pratibha Patil and submitted a mercy petition.
Six, and most important of all, Kasab was only the latest addition to India’s long death row. So does his hanging that too shortly after a President propped up by the UPA-2 assumed office, and after the Centre’s realisation that as it is precariously placed in Parliament the choice is between its existence and the extinction of Kasab. The timing should not have been more opprobrious.
P Radhakrishnan, the author was a Sociology professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies and is a commentator on public affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org