Grade Crossing

Why Tharoor and Bhushan are wrong about Memon's hanging

It was poetic justice that a person who deprived 257 people of their right to life had to knock on all doors even in wee hours to get his own life back.

 |  Grade Crossing  |  5-minute read |   31-07-2015
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Following the late-night drama in New Delhi that went on for hours, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict of capital punishment awarded to Yakub Memon, as expected. Those who favour his execution see this as closure to the 1993 Mumbai serial blast victims and their families. But I guess it is only the beginning of the closure. Yakub Memon was only one of the perpetrators of the blasts, and several others are yet to be caught and punished.

Numerous fanatic Muslim organisations and leaders had protested the execution, not because they were against capital punishment, but because they thought a Muslim should not be punished for his act of terrorism. Even more dramatic were the reactions of some senior political leaders. A debate on the need for capital punishment should be welcomed in a mature society, but the fundamental question is whether the society is mature enough to debate this now.

For example, senior Congress politician Shashi Tharoor opines that hanging Yakub Memon makes us murderers too. He argues, with the aid of statistics, that in every decade since 1980, the incidence of murder has only increased with a rise in events of capital punishment being carried out. And in one particular decade, when the number of executions were low, the incidence of murder was also low. He stresses that death penalty does not actually deter a person from committing a crime.

But Tharoor, perhaps inadvertently, observes that no criminal abstains from a crime thinking that a death sentence might follow. In other words, no criminal thinks about the consequences of a murder he is about to commit. In (still) other words, no criminal thinks whether he is going to get a death sentence or a life sentence for the crime he is about to commit. What does that mean? As far as I know, all it means is that even life sentence does not deter a person from committing a crime. Will Tharoor write tomorrow that life sentence should be abolished too? Perish the thought!

The argument that the method of punishment cannot serve the purpose of a deterrent will also negate the validity of the statistics Tharoor referred to. If criminals do not bother about the sentence they might get, how can we find a correlation between the rise and fall in the incidence of murder and execution? We will have to infer that several other factors might have contributed to the rise and fall of those numbers.

Tharoor argues that the purpose of death penalty is only revenge and retribution. Why doesn't he understand that life sentence also has an element of revenge and retribution in it? Revenge, he says, is not an acceptable justification to kill someone. Going by that argument, the government should withdraw our armymen from the borders. Invariably, our soldiers retaliate when the enemy opens fire at them. By applying Tharoor's theorem, I see an element of revenge and retribution when our soldiers fight back. Tharoor goes on to say that it is not worthy of a state to think that "he killed, therefore he should be killed". Again, our jawans do just that. Since it would be hypocritical to serve two types of justice for the same scenario, Tharoor's theorem would want us to treat our soldiers disdainfully!

Tharoor further says state-sponsored killing reduces us to murderers, hinting that the decisions of the president on mercy petitions are, in effect, taken with inputs from the government. It may have been an indirect barb at Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh, but little did he think that he was also reducing to murderers the top brass of the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments - Manmohan Singh, Shivraj Patil, Sushil Kumar Shinde, and P Chidambaram - that advised the president to reject the mercy petitions filed for Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. Tharoor did state back then that he was against the hanging of Guru because it was "both wrong and badly handled". But he carefully chose those words, and didn't dare do the sin of calling them "murderers"!

Equally derisory were the words of Prashant Bhushan, who incidentally defended Memon in the Supreme Court. He said there was an unseemly hurry in Memon's execution. Being a senior advocate, he should have had the knowledge to understand what constituted a legitimate clemency plea and what was a permissible delay before the execution was carried out. Once a clemency plea is rejected and the president endorses the views of the Supreme Court and the council of ministers, the home ministry decides the date of execution. Bhushan shouldn't be so naïve in his attempt to coerce the people to believe his concocted views. If the court had found anything valid in his argument, it would have granted a stay. Either way, Bhushan would not have been able to stop the inevitable.

The cooperation of a convict or his relatively long term in jail should not be reasons for commuting a death sentence, although there have been such precedents. With multiple levels of escalation, application of additional constitutional clauses, and the long vacations of the courts, one should understand that the legal system is so (badly) designed to have this delay. No doubt it requires corrections, but that shouldn't be the reason to argue for a lesser punishment for one's crime. A delay does not reduce the degree of a crime. The gist of the drama was that Bhushan had a side to defend, he used even the weakest and the bluntest weapon in the last minute, but still couldn't win. So naturally, he also has a sense of retribution about the verdict!

If taking a decision of granting the death penalty made one also a murderer, perhaps Pratibha Patil will rank among the best Indian presidents of all time, for she never was in news for such matters! It was only poetic justice that a person that deprived 257 people of their right to life had to knock on all doors even in wee hours of the judgment day in his attempt to get his own life back.

Bhushan reiterated in his last effort that Memon suffered from a kind of mental disorder. Come on, let us give at least this one to Bhushan, as only a mentally deranged person could, in a metaphorical sense, think about mass murdering innocent people without an iota of remorse and still beg for his life.


Sreejith Panickar Sreejith Panickar @panickars

The writer is a columnist, researcher and social activist. He is the founder-member of Mission Netaji.

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