http://prk1949.googlepages.com/ Under normal circumstances the death sentence of ordinary persons in India would have gone unnoticed. But the death sentence of Jaish-e-Mohammad militant Mohammad Afzal, the man behind the Parliament attack, has made all the difference. That Afzal’s hanging did not take place on October 20, 2006, because of a clemency petition and that his sentence was politicised by the mainstream parties, Congress and BJP, are important issues indeed.
But equally relevant is the debate on death penalty, which President APJ Abdul Kalam initiated about a year ago. As with many other vital social issues, the debate was short-lived and inconclusive. Let me provide a recap by using my own reactions. In response to a write-up ‘‘Death Row mercy pleas: Kalam for pardon to most’’ on October 18, 2006, The Indian Express published my following views under the title ‘‘Presidential Pardon’’.
President Kalam’s call for granting clemency and commutation of death penalties, and for reform raises the following issues: (a) Can death penalty not be a fraud perpetrated on society when the judiciary grinds like god’s mill and when a person is pushed to many “gallows” — police custody, jails, judiciary, social ostracism, and guilt — between the time he is arrested and convicted of the crime he might have committed; (b) what is the rate of crimes ending in conviction and of killers going scot free (as in the 1984 riots); (c) is the Presidential pardon a colonial hangover, as it amounts to placing him above the judiciary in its collective wisdom? (d) shouldn’t society have well-founded institutional systems to minimise criminal tendencies and to reform and rehabilitate those with such tendencies? (e) shouldn’t people be educated on valuing and respecting each other’s life and dignity, which is lacking in India?
Kalam has raised an important issue that has been raised earlier as well. Pardoning or not pardoning those whose lives are at his mercy should not be the end of this issue.