It's not a step backward | india | Hindustan Times
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It's not a step backward

A lesser sentence for Ajmal Kasab would have been a life-term for the kin of his victims. Vinod Sharma writes.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2012 00:21 IST
Vinod Sharma

V Shantaram's classic Do Aankhen Bara Haath (1957) was in sync with the innocence that marked the early years of post-Independence India. It was the story of a jail warden who transformed six deadly prisoners into men of virtue. The theme song of this internationally acclaimed film - Hai maalik terey bandey hum - invoked God to put the criminals on the path of compassion.

The world since has lost its innocence; compassion misconstrued as weakness and care as appeasement. Gandhi's India hasn't remained untouched by the growing culture of violence in the face of which the State, conscious of its soft power, is compelled to demonstrate its might either in deference to popular sentiments or out of adherence to the rule to law.

India's refusal to back a United Nations' resolution to abolish the death penalty has to be understood in the context of the terrorist challenge that the country faces. Ajmal Kasab's execution was no instance of medieval justice driven by an eye-for-an-eye dictum. Kasab was sent to the gallows on the diktat of a modern judiciary.

The human face of our judicial system, part of which is the death penalty, was evident from the constitutionally prescribed criminal trial of Kasab. The State made available to the Pakistani terrorist the legal defence he needed for judicial redress that is the fundamental right of its own citizens.

Judicial niceties are alien to autocracies and the military regimes that have often ruled Pakistan. For a similar crime, Kasab would have faced the firing squad in his country that has seen a former PM - Zulfikar Ali Bhutto - hanged and his daughter Benazir slain. Usurpers in berets controlled Pakistan on both occasions.

In a statement that ignored popular sentiments and the security climate in India, Amnesty International described as a "step backward" the hanging conducted two days after the UN's resolution calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty. They also raised questions about the secrecy that surrounded the execution and the speed with which Kasab's mercy plea was rejected.

I disagree with Amnesty on both counts. Would justice have been done to Kasab or the families of those he killed had the President sat on his plea for a long period? Are prisoners facing capital punishment better off languishing on death rows for almost a lifetime? A case in point here is that of Sarabjit Singh awaiting pardon for 21 years after being tried and convicted in a false case in Pakistan.

That Kasab was hanged without any fanfare or media spectacle befitted a democracy brought up on the legacy of a semi-nude saint whose philosophy of non-violence guided the freedom struggle. Statecraft permits no room for generosity or pardon for those who wage war against countries. Regardless of the grave provocation that 26/11 was, India kept its calm to put one of its many perpetrators to death through a due process of law. It's Pakistan's turn now to ensure justice at its end.

There was about Kasab's hanging a civility, a respect for life that comes naturally to Gandhi's India. The State withstood in its pursuit the public outrage, the boundless angst of victims' families and a torrent of right-wing disinformation to show it as weak-kneed or soft on terror.

When it struck, it did so with majesty, sparing the cross-border gladiator an execution reminiscent of ancient Rome. The wheels of justice moved, not at the pace desired by fringe elements but with the speed decreed by courts. A lesser sentence for Kasab would actually have been a life-term for the kin of the martyrs of 26/11.

It's about time that Amnesty and Pakistan-based killer brigades got their perspective right about India.