By Saswat Pattanayak
Yakub Memon has been killed by the Indian State. And there is no irony in Kalam’s funeral being held on the same day either. Nations that worship missile men don’t get to preach nonviolence and forgiveness at the same time. Just like Pranab Mukherjee, Kalam too had rejected mercy pleas. Just like Kalam, K. R. Narayanan also had rejected mercy pleas. And before him, S.D. Sharma. In fact, the only one in recent times who did not supervise execution was the only woman president: Pratibha Patil, although that could have been purely incidental. All presidents across religions and political affiliations have bossed over death penalty executions in India.
Institutional killing of people by India is so random and considered so casually, that the country does not even have any official figures available towards that to critique. However, from limited available data, it appears that well over 2,100 prisoners have been executed in India since its independence. And of course, countless more are “encountered” for being “Maoists”, “terrorists” and being just whatever the heck. “Encounter cops” are rejoiced protagonists of Bollywood movies. Private militia continuing caste-based murders are paramilitary heroes. Death penalty is in vogue – inside courtrooms, on the streets and in newsroom debates.
It is sick, it is tragic, it is macho, it is justice, it is time for ladoo. Call it what we may, India is the citadel of death penalty. The discourse needs to go beyond blaming the president alone. Presidents are merely symbolic representatives of our collective thirst for blood. Expecting them to get merciful or failing which, be termed monstrous is an exercise in moral high ground marathon. Well before mercy petitions arrive, it is our holy cow enlightened judiciary that already seals the deal by not resisting the urge to issue death sentences, dozens after dozens. It is our wise judges who have taken it upto themselves to decide that death penalties are necessary. It is our Constitution that provides for such an unchallenged option. It is our cops and military who receive medals for being killers. It is our children who aspire to join these violent clubs of future in name of showing off patriotism.
As of now, 140 countries in the world have outlawed death penalty. India the land of nonviolence and peace howsoever fabled, continues to adamantly oppose every UN resolution that seeks to ban death penalty. And it is therefore all of us who still take pride in such a heartless immoral construct of a country. It is not Mukherjee alone. And it is our humanity that is hanged in installments. It is not an Afzal Guru, or a Yakub Memon alone.
Saswat Pattanayak is a New York-based journalist, atheist, feminist, LGBT ally, black power comrade and academic non-elite.