I was woken up yesterday morning by my phone beeping. A text message from Shashikumar, Amnesty India’s programme director: “Supreme Court likely to confirm Ajmal Kasab’s death sentence today”. No surprises there. The death penalty is on the statute books and there was little doubt that the Supreme Court would decide to apply it in this case.
At one level it put me in touch with my deeply held conviction (that I share with Amnesty International) “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. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
For more information, please see Amnesty International’s Position paper on the death penalty.
But it also brought up for me the horrors of the 26/11 atrocity and with it an anxiety. I remembered the many conversations with friends where “But if we don’t have the death penalty how will we deal with Kasab?” was considered the ultimate argument in favour of the death penalty. Can I find a way of staying with my conviction and articulating it without in any way diminishing the anguish and outrage that the atrocity rightfully evokes? Without somewhere in my heart finding reasons to explain the actions and motivations of Kasab, his murderous band of terrorists and their masters in Pakistan?
Arriving at work, I took heart in the fact that the Times of India chose yesterday (of all days!) to carry aninterview with the retired chief justice of the Delhi High court Justice AP Shah. “Public opinion in India can no longer ignore the global movement in favour of abolition of the death penalty.” He went on to say, “It’s time we accepted that capital punishment neither has any deterrent effect, nor can it be counted as a preventive measure. The criterion of rarest of rare cases hasn’t resulted in any satisfactory solution. The Supreme Court’s attempt to regulate capital punishment has been unsuccessful on its own terms. Courts and governments worldwide have tried and failed to lay down satisfactory and clear criteria eliminating arbitrariness, subjectivity and inconsistency from the death penalty.”
As human beings, we may sometimes harbour beliefs that are not backed by evidence or fact. But even in the eyes of those who believe that the death penalty does serve as a deterrent, it would be hard to imagine Kasab and his companions – hard core terrorists brainwashed into hatred and trained in mass murder – being deterred by the thought that they would be executed if caught.
The debate on the death penalty in India is an old one. I was surprised to find that, although they articulated their position in different ways, both Gandhi and Ambedkar opposed it on principles that applied to all cases without exception, regardless of the nature of the crime or the characteristics of the offender.
Gandhi: “I cannot in all conscience agree to anyone being sent to the gallows…God alone can take life because he alone gives it.”
Ambedkar: “This country by and large believes in the principle of non-violence. It has been its ancient tradition, and although people may not be following it in actual practice, they certainly adhere to the principle of non-violence as a moral mandate which they ought to observe as far as they possibly can and I think that having regard to this fact, the proper thing for this country to do is to abolish the death sentence altogether.”
So why do we still have the death penalty? Apart from the (false) claims of its deterrent effect, perhaps it is the notion that without the death penalty, we as a nation will not be able to respond to monstrous crimes and crimes against the nation. It is clearly the “enormity of the crime”, to quote the Supreme Court, that staggers the mind and sends it in the pursuit of a “fitting response”, and nothing short of the ultimate seems to be appropriate. To many of our fellow citizens, to even suggest anything less than the death penalty for Kasab seems to somehow diminish the horror and take away from the enormity of his crimes.
But what can a decent human being (or indeed a society, a nation) do in response to such horror that would not be an affront to her own decency? That would not turn our very human desire for revenge into the mirror image of a terrorist’s willingness to kill? That would not let our response be driven by our fear of being seen as irresolute?
If we hang Kasab we will not deter future terrorists. If we hang Kasab we will not prevent future acts of terrorism. If we hang Kasab we will not give a fitting response to an enormous crime. If we hang Kasab, we will merely apply a provision in our law books that ought not to be there in the first place.
Imprison Kasab for the full duration of his life. Abolish the death penalty.
- Justice A P Shah: India should join nations abolishing death penalty #musread (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Jeremy Browne – working for abolition of the death penalty abroad (kractivist.wordpress.com)
August 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm
yes we should not hang Ajmal Imprison Kasab for the full duration of his life. Abolish the death penalty.
August 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm
what about the financial implications of supporting him for the remainder of this life? Why should a nation with starving millions, provide for his existence, when there are so many who are more worthy? And as for deterrent– to the contrary, *not* executing him definitely sends out a message that we are weak.
September 1, 2012 at 1:57 am
If death penalty is not a deterrent, imprisonment/other punishments are not deterrents either. By that logic there should be no laws to punish people at all. One can argue that imprisoning someone is state violence too. What exactly is the point of punitive laws then? Why do we keep asking for stricter laws for sexual assault etc., if the punishments don’t serve as deterrents?
September 1, 2012 at 3:49 am
Amnesty International by all its shades and colors does not look like very relevant in today’s world affairs. They are blatantly trying to infringe on the lives of citizens who are living in peace and obstructing the normal operation of the society.
Otherwise how come it can advocate the abolition of death penalty for the rarest of rare crimes, child rape/murders, and mass murderers? Death sentence may not stop the criminals from executing their heinous crimes but surely gives a sense of closure and peace to the victim and/or family members of the victim.
If AI’s logic to be applied in 20th century, this world would have likes of Hitler, Ferdinand Marcos, Nicholas Sesescu, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin laden ruling this world and there would not have been AI at all.
AI takes extreme interest in democratic, secular societies leaving alone all Oligarchies, Monarchies and Islamic societies. AI does rightfully fights for the human rights for minorities in democratic and secular country like USA, India and Europe. However it fails to do any service to the miniscule minorities left to fend for themselves in Oligarchies, Monarchies and most of the Islamic Republics.
AI commissions its team to defend alleged terrorists but fail to sympathize with terrorist victims. AI selects its cases in an extremely biased manner. If they pull out their own records, they can find that bias within them. AI trying to show righteousness in a society, which it perceives as totally unbalanced and unjust, where so called alleged criminals are being punished for not for their crime but due to the imbalances in the society. In fact AI does not have guts to go to the societies where extreme imbalances and prosecution is taking place. In a way it cozies around those Oligarchies, Monarchies and Islamic Republics instead of protecting the rights of prosecuted in those societies.
Let us look at the particular case of Ajmal Kasab. Kasab involved in mass murder which is not seen in the recent history of India. In fact it is the second kind of incident after 9/11, world trade center attack. It was extremely painful for the nation and dent on our nationhood. Ajmal Kasab is rightly awarded the death sentence. If any of the victims’ families are asked or even Ratan Tata of Taj Hotels is asked whether Ajmal Kasab shall be executed or not, surely you will get an answer in affirmative from most of them. There are two sections who shall decide, even though now it is judiciary decides the process of execution. Second section shall be the victim themselves or their family. I do not think AI has locus standi to propagate a theory to convert death sentence to life sentence in these cases. There can be few cases which needs reconsideration, but again it shall not be other than judiciary and the victim/victims families.
Let us look at what happens when death sentences of Terrorists and Hardcore criminals are converted into life sentences. Most of these convicts, especially terrorists do not operate single handedly. They are supported by organization/nations with similar ideology. The next action of these organizations will be to highjack planes, kidnap prominent people and ask for their release. And the hydra headed monster will be released as it happened in Rubina Sayeed’s case and Kandahar case. In Rubina Sayyed’s case the Kashmiri Terrorism got a big boost. More than 50,000 people got killed, most of them innocents. More than 10 lakh people became refugees in their own country. AI has scant regard for all these happenings when it is trying to abolish death sentence.
We all know what happened in Kandhahar, A nation of 1.2 billion people pee’ed in its pants and kneeled down in front of those bunches of terrorists who asked for the release of terrorists who have not been executed earlier. And the same terrorist who has been swapped in this hijacking, BEHEADED Wall street journal’s journalist Daniel Pearl. I do not think Amnesty International ever went to console his widow Marianne Pearl. If they did they would not be trying to abolish death sentence for terrorists and criminals.
If any society follows the dictates of AI, the world will convert into Afghanistan soon. AI consist of bunch of so called Intelligencia who forget history and any sense of justice to the common people who are suffering tremendously because of increase in criminal activities and terrorism.
When they argue that God has given the life and state does not have the right to take it, they forget to ask Ajmal Kasab and his masters and/or criminals who have given them the right to kill innocent people?
Who says GOD has given life? Where is the proof? Without the man and women no children are borned. So those who create have the right to destroy if the created turns out to be a monster. In modern society State takes care of that. That is all. Have you not seen Movies like Mother India and one more movie by Sanjay Dutt, where mothers’ kill their criminal sons. Yes, that should be the way. Here State acts as mother.
Death sentence shall not be abolished for the security and safety of the society.
September 17, 2012 at 11:03 am
me too against Death Penalty. The society needs correction, not the individual who does the crime.