Ju­ve­nile jus­tice

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Jawed Naqvi

IN the ter­ror nurs­eries strad­dling Pak­istan and Afghanistan it is not un­com­mon, we are told re­li­ably, to find boys much younger than Aj­mal Kasab plead­ing with their train­ers to be pushed up the queue for sui­cide mis­sions as a di­vine favour.

How can we sen­si­bly ar­gue then that such mo­ti­vated souls could be de­terred by the hang­man’s noose?

In the given equa­tion, the out­rage that tran­spired in Mum­bai in Novem­ber 2008 could only be avenged, not re­dressed. In the bargain the In­dian state has done pre­cisely that with Kasab — en­act­ing bar­barism dis­guised as jus­tice.

Just a day be­fore they hanged the young killer, In­dia had voted at the UN against the abo­li­tion of the death penalty in the com­pany of a few other bloody-minded states, in­clud­ing who else but Pak­istan.

The In­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tive would have been more hon­est in ac­cept­ing that cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in In­dia has proved to be nei­ther a good pro­phy­lac­tic nor a re­li­able cure.

There is no dearth of ex­am­ples to il­lus­trate the point.

Nathu­ram Godse was hanged for killing Gandhi. To­day, he has a few mil­lion more fol­low­ers, in­clud­ing the al­leged bombers of the Samjhauta Ex­press. Godse be­came an idol for the sub­ver­sive lot.

How­ever, an­other key sus­pect in Gandhi’s as­sas­si­na­tion plot was hon­oured by the In­dian par­lia­ment re­cently. Savarkar’s statue was not only in­stalled in the In­dian par­lia­ment, a lead­ing fel­low Brah­min politi­cian from Ma­ha­rash­tra threat­ened to leave the Congress party if the de­ci­sion was re­voked. It wasn’t.

Then there was this crim­i­nal duo sim­ply known as Billa and Ranga in the late 1970s. As far as I can re­mem­ber they were both taxi drivers in Delhi. They raped and killed the two chil­dren of a naval of­fi­cer in a re­mote park. It was a heartrend­ing act of bru­tal­ity and the duo were duly hanged. To­day, four decades later, Delhi has ac­quired the so­bri­quet as the rape cap­i­tal of the coun­try.

A cur­sory so­ci­o­log­i­cal anal­y­sis would show that a pre­dom­i­nant seg­ment of the of­fend­ers come from back­grounds that sup­port the khap pan­chay­ats around Delhi, vil­lage kan­ga­roo courts that dis­pense quick jus­tice, chiefly against the so­cial mix­ing of boys and girls from dif­fer­ent castes.

The khap’s brand of wide­spread ‘hon­our killings’ closely re­sem­bles the prac­tice favoured by the Tal­iban. Is there a study of Delhi po­lice­men who sup­port the khap pan­chay­ats, and who ex­pect­edly also blame women for invit­ing rape?

We hanged Sat­want Singh for Indira Gandhi’s mur­der. His me­mory is wor­shipped in Pun­jab. If the Gandhi fam­ily be­lieves they have atoned for the as­sault on the Golden Tem­ple and for all the in­jus­tices against the Sikh youth by plac­ing high-vis­i­bil­ity Sikh of­fi­cials in government posts, they should hear the hiss of the Sikh taxi drivers when they re­mem­ber 1984.

It’s al­most three decades since the mas­sacre of thou­sands of mem­bers of their faith. Not a sin­gle Congress politi­cian has been con­victed for lead­ing the charge. The death toll was at least 50 times more than was in­flicted by Kasab and his co­horts. There was some­thing ar­bi­trary about Kasab’s hang­ing. A few years ago, a Kash­miri veg­etable ven­dor was handed cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment on the ba­sis of cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence that he plot­ted the De­cem­ber 2001 armed at­tack on par­lia­ment.

The or­der said Afzal Guru should be hanged to as­suage the col­lec­tive con­science of so­ci­ety. Guru is still lin­ger­ing in jail rob­bing the In­dian so­ci­ety of its ghoul­ish salve.

Kasab’s was an open and shut case by com­par­i­son.

How­ever, there are sev­eral more deathrow con­victs await­ing jus­tice for years. Why was he killed first? Was it the enor­mity of his crime? Is there a law to de­ter­mine the or­der in which the con­victs would be sent to the gal­lows? If it is a de­ci­sion of the pres­i­dent alone, it only raises more ques­tions.

Why was Kasab not given his right to seek a ju­di­cial re­view of the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion? It is an in­vi­o­lable le­gal right of a con­demned pris­oner. Did he know about it? Did he turn it down?

What if the pres­i­dent is a bleed­ing heart lib­eral (as we would like them to be) and he or she op­poses cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment. Does the pres­i­dent im­pose his or her choice in the mat­ter? Con­versely, what if the head of state is a closet lover of the death sen­tence? Where is the im­per­sonal, un­bi­ased prom­ise of jus­tice?

Shortly af­ter Kasab was ex­e­cuted in Pune, a spokesper­son for the late Bal Thack­eray’s party boasted to a TV chan­nel that the Mum­bai killer’s fate may have been sealed when the Shiv Sena chief com­mit­ted

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