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The noose to martyrdom

 | August 31, 2012

The court verdict on Kasab has revived the debate on capital punishment.


On a warm November night in 2008, Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national, and nine of his men launched an attack on India’s financial capital, Mumbai, killing several people and wounding many more.

Only Kasab was caught alive. The others in his group were gunned down by security forces.

Kasab confessed to his crime, and has been in jail since then.

The other day, India’s Supreme Court upheld Kasab’s death sentence, and he is now on the death row. But the question is, will he be hanged or will he like Afzal Guru, the prime accused Kashmiri in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack case, seek presidential pardon and stay alive.

Guru has cleverly manipulated the Indian judicial system to hang on to his life. The President of India has not decided on Guru’s mercy petition. Time constraints apart, Guru has been the centre of political pulls and counter-pulls, which could have stopped the court from giving a quick ruling.

There are 52 prisoners who have appealed for presidential pardon. Seven of them have escaped the noose for as long as 12 years, while six for 11 years. Guru too may live as long.

However, in recent months, there has been a growing demand to hang Guru immediately, as there will be one to execute Kasab without further ado or delay. But nobody has been bothered about the other death row inmates, whose crimes have been no less heinous than those of Kasab and Guru.

In a television debate some days ago, lawyer Shabnam Lone argued that by “singling out Guru, the country was discriminating against Kashmiris. In fact, it was not discriminating Kashmiris alone, but a whole faith”.

Obviously, Lone has a point: such exceptional demands – hang Guru — mock India’s image of secularism, and underline in no uncertain terms that the country has different sets of rules for different convicts.

The court verdict on Kasab has also revived the debate on capital punishment.

Murder by the state

India may be among those nations which uses the death sentence in the rarest of rare cases. Only two men have hanged since 1995.

While a hundred-odd countries have completely done away with this form of retribution – which is barbaric, medieval and nothing short of murder by the state – India remains undecided about doing away with the noose.

It is well established that capital punishment serves little or no purpose in deterring crime. A crime of passion, no way can the gallows stop.

Then there is a strong moral argument against hanging a man or jabbing life out of him. Death penalty demeans the moral order, and “an execution is not legalised murder–nor is imprisonment legalised kidnapping–but it is the coldest, most premeditated form of homicide of all …It does something almost worse than lowering the state to the moral level of the criminal: it raises the criminal to moral equality with the social order”.

Of equal significance, even perhaps of far great concern, is the possibility of an innocent person being put to death. According to a 1987 Stanford University survey, at least 23 Americans were wrongly executed in the 20th century. Many, though, escaped in the nick of time.

Returning to Kasab and Guru – and all others in the death cell – these men could attain a cult status the moment the noose strangles them.

Must we make martyrs out of these criminals?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.


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