ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Case Against the Death Sentence

Whatever the crime, there is no place in a civilised society for capital punishment.

After a trial that was completed in just a little over a year– remarkable in itself in India for the speed with which it was carried out – Amir Ajmal Kasab, the only gunman of the 26 November 2008 attacks on Mumbai to be arrested, has been found guilty of “waging war against India” and has been sentenced to death. The evidence was fairly clear-cut and few will express doubts about the proof of Kasab’s role in the killings – even if a number of absurd conspiratorial theories continue to abound. But it is also significant that the special court acquitted Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, the two Indians who were charged with conspiring in the attacks. This is not the first time nor will it be the last when an overeager prosecution fabricates charges against innocent people in order to buttress its case. In any case, much of the prosecution’s “watertight” evidence of the larger conspiracy was found to have a huge hole when the role of David Headley, a US citizen, in conducting reconnaissance for the attacks surfaced midway through the trial.

Yet, what will stay from the trial and the judgment is not the attempt to establish guilt in a fair judicial process but the uncritical applause for the death sentence pronounced on Kasab. It is unbelievable that the media, the polity and the government have fanned this near-elation of the award of a death sentence, and now generate public pressure for speedy execution of Kasab. The hysteria is reminiscent of public participation in and celebration of hangings in medieval Europe. More than 150 people died – many of them underprivileged Indians who happened to be at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal – in a terror attack that jolted the Indian state for three days and has left deep scars on not just the bereaved families but on Indian society. The demand for accountability and justice indeed has been strong. The attack on Mumbai was a public crime that attracted public horror. Yet, the terror attacks on Mumbai on 26 November 2008 were not the first nor even the largest of such “public” crimes. Over the past quarter century, we have had the organised carnage of Sikhs in October-November 1984, the public bloodletting on the trail of L K Advani’s rath yatra (1990) and then after the destruction of the Babri Masjid (1992), the killings of Gujarat (2002) and even the train bombings in Mumbai in 2006, but why is it that we have not seen the media and the polity whip up a cry for justice and a demand that those guilty of those mass crimes be “hanged” as they have over 26 November 2008? It is astonishing that we can witness a union minister (Veerappa Moily) publicly speak about the timeline for execution of Kasab, and to be joined in such comments by one of the senior-most government officials, the secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

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