Dear President Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,
We appeal to you to commute the death sentence of Mohammed Afzal, the only accused in the Parliament attack case to have received this sentence. We wish to argue that our country can honour Mahatma Gandhi and Shaheed Bhagat Singh by doing away with the death penalty altogether. There are many valid grounds for this:
n A civil society should not descend to the status of murderers by preferring revenge over far better forms of justice.
n All investigations, however meticulous, are subject to human error. Such errors become irreversible in case the death penalty is imposed. All over the world, there have been cases of executed people being proved innocent after their death.
n In a country like ours, where there is a huge gap between the privileged and the dispossessed, the death penalty becomes the final method for implementing class injustice. A cursory glance at the list of all those executed in our country will reveal that almost all of them were poor. The rich are rarely found guilty and even if they are, they are rarely executed.
n There is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty is a deterrent to violent and heinous crime. Countries like Britain that did away with the death penalty did not see a rise in such crimes while countries like the US, which continue to impose the penalty, show no decline.
Moving from the general to the particular, our argument is not that Mohammed Afzal is likely to be innocent. And we are not appealing for a pardon, but for the commutation of the death penalty imposed upon him. Such a bold decision may or may not change Afzal’s heart, but it is likely to send a positive signal to the world.
If Afzal is a terrorist today, he was surely not born one. And he need not die one. Circumstances made him what he is. And circumstances may change him. The death penalty will change no one. Far from being a deterrent, martyrdom, as some will surely perceive his death, can only achieve the opposite effect. To recall a relevant example, in comparison to today, the Kashmir Valley was virtually peaceful prior to the judicial execution of Maqbool Butt in 1984.
The meaningful dialogue for peace that you have initiated should not be abruptly derailed by a mechanical approach to law and order. We appeal to you to halt the cycle of revenge that has been unleashed in our country and elsewhere in the world by making a bold statement that India wishes to tread the path of humanity, not perpetuate the path of violence.
Jagmohan Singh is the nephew of Bhagat Singh. Anand Patwardhan is a documentary filmmaker