Committe for Release of Political Prisoners
That the conviction of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar was solely based on a confession statement attributed to him which he had denied in the court makes the decision even more regressive thus exposing even the fallacious claims of the SC that capital punishment should only be given in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases. Significantly, when Mr. Bhullar was being extradited from Germany it was assured by the Government of India that he won’t be condemned to death.
It was in 2001 that Bhullar was sentenced to death by the trial court. He has been in prison since 1995 after his extradition. Thus, Bhullar has already spent more than eighteen years in prison, which is longer than a life term. Thus, by refusing to consider the inordinate delay as a reason for the commutation of death sentence, the Supreme Court is violating the Fundamental Right guaranteed by Article 20(2), that no person shall be punished twice for the same offence.
The ten-year long delay in disposing the mercy petition by the President of India was the ground on which Bhullar had sought commutation of his death penalty as it was a blatant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India while at the same inflicting further pain and cruelty on him through the prolonged incarceration after the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.
As in effect, Bhullar has already served a life term and is now on death row. What is even more alarming is that there are seventeen convicts on death row and the rejection of Bhullar’s plea is going to have an adverse effect on all these seventeen cases. The Indian ruling classes and their politics of jingoism and hate is definitely on the slippery slope heading for an orgy of judicial executions, which was triggered by the secret executions of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru.
Similar to the case of Afzal Guru, the conviction of Bhullar is also on shallow grounds. Bhullar was convicted under the draconian TADA. On appeal, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the TADA Court under a split verdict of 2 to 1. The presiding judge Justice MB Shah had acquitted Bhullar of all charges under TADA. His confession, which was found to be concocted, was also rejected as it was at odds with the testimony of the prosecution witnesses. Thus, the split verdict should have been a good reason for the President to accept the mercy petition and for the Supreme Court to commute death to life. However, it was rejected in 2011 on a completely arbitrary basis eight years after it was filed. The prolonged incarceration had its toll on the health of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar as he was undergoing treatment for mental illness. Needless to say that to hang someone who is mentally ill speaks more about the overall depredation of the ruling classes of India to the vast sections of the toiling masses.
It is with intrigue one would look into the contradicting positions taken by the Supreme Court vis-à-vis its stand on death sentence. Just a week after the Supreme Court had stayed temporarily the death sentence of 8 people another bench of the same court has rejected the plea of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar to commute his death sentence to life. A few months before the SC had in retrospect observed that Capital Punishment can only be given in the rarest of rare cases after making it doubly sure that the evidence provided in reaching the conclusion that the said case is the rarest of the rare should be impeccable while ensuring that the law has been upheld in reaching the above said conclusion. This introspection had also brought forth the glaring facts that in ninety nine percent of the cases of award of death sentence there was a terrible miscarriage of justice. While staying the death sentence of 8 people temporarily on the first week of April 2013 the SC had observed the need to follow procedures while executing the death sentence thus partially admitting the glaring anomalies in the ‘secret’ hanging to death of Mohd. Afzal Guru.
It is well established that death penalty – being neither a deterrent nor reformatory in nature- serves no cause other than that of retributive justice. Most civilized countries (more than 140) have banned death penalty. Even though the Supreme Court of India has enunciated the jurisprudence of the “rarest of the rare”, the hard reality is that the Indian Courts have awarded death penalty at the rate of 133 per year over the last ten years. So the rarest of the rare cases are decided by the Indian courts once in every three days!
In the seventy page judgement rejecting the plea to commute the death penalty given to Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar, the Supreme Court bench quotes generously from the 35th Report of the Law Commission as it states “…Having regard, however, to the conditions in India, to the variety of the social upbringing of its inhabitants, to the disparity in the level of morality and education in the country, to the vastness of its area, to diversity of its population and to the paramount need for maintaining law and order in the country at the present juncture, India cannot risk the experiment of abolition of capital punishment.” [p-3] This above mentioned quote selected by the bench from the Law Commission Report explains the Court’s burden of civilizing the inhabitants in the vastness of the subcontinent through the instrument of death penalty! And this colonial mindset also explains considerably why the rhetoric of rarest of the rare has metamorphosed to be the common thing in the practice of jurisprudence in India.
As long as the lived reality of inequality endures in the Indian subcontinent through the systematic dog-eat-dog policies of various governments, such a reality may be weighed against the consequences its legal system evokes in the name of its people’s. If the Indian state continues to embrace [capital punishment] in the name of retributive or utilitarian values, then inequality remains not just a “tolerable” value for the government and the policy makers who vouches unabashedly by a system based on greed and unrequited accumulation especially in the era of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation. Inequality remains a value that is acted upon and thus preserved inextricably through the state’s persistent willingness to use the punishment of death.
We condemn strongly the act of the Indian state to enforce violence on people through the instrument of death penalty! Without a strong upsurge of the people against such draconian and barbaric instruments of violence of the State we will be condemned to be at the receiving end of a penal state that is increasingly becoming fascist. We demand that the DEATH SENTENCENCE ON DAVINDER PAL SINGH BHULLAR BE IMMEDIATELY REVOKED!
Secretary, Public Relations
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