Ajmal Amir Mohammed Kasab, a 25-years-old Pakistani citizen disowned by Pakistan, and the sole surviving terrorist from the 2008 Mumbai attacks was hanged in Pune’s Yerawada Central Jail on November 21 — just days before the fourth anniversary of the macabre attacks. The verdict against Kasab, who was charged with waging war on the State and convicted of 166 counts of murder – has been welcomed by Indians as a victory of democracy, with the Judiciary winning over emotional rancor.
But has India really won anything with the death of Kasab?
While the families of survivors of his victims are trying to seek closure of the wounds of 26 /11 — as the attacks came to be known in India — the latest execution in India has spurred the debate against capital punishment yet again. Some survivors’ families acknowledge they get no revenge through Kasab’s death. Others said he should have been hung in public. The widow and daughter of a slain police officer – Vijay Salaskar — were “overjoyed” that Kasab was finally hung to death.
Colin Gonsalves a human rights activist said during a TV debate in Delhi that “snuffing out a life is no cause for celebration. Instead if Kasab had been reformed it would have been a worth a celebration.” The point Gonsalves was trying to make – and which is worth pursuing in the campaign against the death penalty — is that the remorse of a condemned convict facing execution ought to be put on record with due publicity. That possibly helps in closure more effectively than in seeking vendetta. Even human rights activists failed to condemn the execution of Kasab, a confused young terrorist who had confessed that he did not know the meaning and significance of Jihad.
While I am deeply against capital punishment, I admit there is a psychological conflict. Kasab was caught alive by a policeman who died trying to capture him alive. By capturing the terrorist alive not only did the policeman – Tukaram Ombale – make a supreme sacrifice to the nation’s security, he supported democracy and the justice system, as well
By capturing the terrorist alive, India had a golden opportunity not just to prove her democratic and judicial credentials but it was a golden opportunity to establish the causes for terrorism. But as a senior counsel S.P. Shankar in Bangalore told me, ”Establishing the causes for terrorist activity was not the issue in the trial, the issue was waging war against a nation and 166 counts of manslaughter.”
So in effect, capital punishment in this case does not address the issue of terrorism; in failing to address terrorism, India has only addressed the symptoms, not the malaise itself. That could be true of all nations that still exercise capital punishment. Terrorism is a global scourge today and it needs long term statesmanlike solutions, not knee jerk reactions like “war on terror” or decapitating traitors like Kasab or Afzal Guru – another death row convict in India who has been awaiting decision on his mercy petition for eight years now.
Capital punishment does not maim terrorism but only breeds more terrorists.
Throughout his trial, focus remained on his terrorist master minds – the handlers and the political angle of waging war against India. To that extent the judicial process in India was an avowed expression of inability to book the conspirators. The far right Bharathiya Janata Party commented Wednesday after the execution that it was “better late than never”. Typically emotive reactions like this will not cure the scourge. Or saying he should have been hung in public is not only distasteful and barbarian but voyeuristic.
Yes, I understand the argument of families who lost their dear ones in the attack. Were he and his comrades not barbarian in killing 166 innocent men women and children? No one can condone such atrocities. Yes, it was a cold-blooded terrorist attack, but instead of “an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth” wouldn’t it be statesmanlike and far sighted to address the causes of terrorism? Shakespeare said all those years ago that adversities bring out the best or worst in the human character. The state apparatus is large enough and faceless — distant enough to exercise restraint and nip emotions. Statecraft needs dispassionate governance.
I myself went through an intense introspection on Wednesday after hearing about the execution on TV. I came to terms that Kasab was prepared to die in a hail of bullets and for him to await the death penalty after conviction was a pacified punishment. I did not feel sorry for someone who had such scant respect for life and death. According to the BBC, Kasab’s lawyer was quoted as saying that when the lawyer last met the convict in August, Kasab was nervous and requested that he be somehow freed or rescued from the hangman’s noose. It is exactly this sentiment of regret on the part of the perpetrator that the death penalty seeks to achieve or deter.
Violence only begets violence. Of course none opposed the death penalty of Ajmal Kasab. Mr. Unnikrishnan, the father of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan who was killed in the gun battle, told the NDTV channel that he can neither gain closure nor feel satisfaction because killing Kasab does not address the issue that causes terrorism.
It is these causes — be it a lack of political freedom, unfulfilled economic aspirations, or growing within systematic violence – that are glossed over by the public spectacle of hanging a mass-murderer. If militancy can be traced to unfulfilled aspirations, then it is the attempt of identifying with the man on trial, rather then the act of dehuminizing him, that may bring the most insight into potential ways to prevent terrorism before it occurs.
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