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Juvenile justice

November 29, 2012

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parliament, a leading fellow Brahmin politician from Maharashtra threatened to leave the Congress party if the decision was revoked.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 death-row 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 his support for Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature as president of India. Kasab’s death was the biggest homage to the memory of Thackeray, Sanjay Raut proclaimed.

Thackeray had told Mr Mukherjee, who came to visit the Mumbai strongman for his crucial backing in the presidential contest, that he saw the veteran Congress man as an upright nationalist. He said he expected Mr Mukherjee to swiftly send the condemned man to the gallows.

How much Thackeray’s persistence weighed in with Mr Mukherjee’s final decision is a matter of conjecture and will probably never be known. But who can deny the larger, (though not very large) benefit the Congress expects to gain out of the sordid episode.

Kasab was reportedly humming Hindi movie songs during his long stay on death row, not fully aware of the enormity of his crime. Nor will his death stop another gun-toting delinquent from killing people senselessly, nor from smiling at his would-be executioners while still humming a juvenile song.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.