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Friday, August 10, 2012

why they don't want kasab hanged

Convicted of turning her daughter’s feet into ”horses hoves so that she could ride them” Janet Horne of Dornoch in Rossshire, UK, in 1727 was burnt alive at the stake, labelled as a witch by a British Court under the Witchcraft Act, designed to give deterrent punishment to witches in the 16th & 17th Century. Over 200,000 women were given agonizing deaths under the Act by courts, with almost universal public support. We now know that Janet’s daughter had congenital abnormalities of limbs! Science changes, interpretation of human behaviour changes and laws change. What does not change or cannot be undone is death. Did repealing the Witchcraft Act, as unscientific and inhuman in 1736, bring back the legally murdered women? Was the mass support to burning of witches in the 16th Century Europe a certificate of it being correct? 

“Hang him to an electric pole and shoot him now. Justice for the victims will only be done when he is executed for his cold blooded heinous crimes. We must teach anti national terrorists a lesson” are some common, loudly mouthed reactions to the trial of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the Mumbai Massacre. While it is true that an overwhelming majority of people who speak on the issue, want Kasab immediately executed, but does that make it correct? Let’s pause and take a hard look before turning the “hang Kasab now” debate into a way of proving patriotism. 

Is Kasab really a “cold blooded serial killer” he is portrayed as? He is a serial killer no doubt and needs to be punished. But calling him “cold blooded” would be inappropriate! As we all know, he was indoctrinated for atleast 2 years, fed with the constant message of avenging wrongs done on Muslims by Hindus in India. He did what he believed was the right thing, which you and I may not agree to, but it was conviction for him for which he was willing to lay down his life. The environment which turns a 19 year old son of a dahi puri seller, who ran away from his home because his father could not buy him new clothes for Eid, into a brainwashed pawn in a deadly game of terrorism, needs to be examined. The real culprit behind the gun which mowed down innocent people in Mumbai is not Kasab, but people who indoctrinated, trained and armed him. Would you empathize with a physically abused servant who after bearing years of torture one day kills his employers or a sexually exploited woman who kills her exploiters? So, while murder is murder, when deciding the punishment, one does take into account the environment in which it was committed. 

And what will we achieve by hanging Kasab? Will it change the way hatred towards India is taught in Madrassas in Pakistan or will it deter future attacks? Studies after studies across the world have repeatedly shown that capital punishment has absolutely no deterrence value. Just as burning Janet Horne in 1727 did not prevent future birth of children with congenital anomalies, hanging Kasab will not prevent future attacks. Hanging of Maqbool Bhatt in Kashmir in Feb 1984 only led to a surge in militancy there. 

Will hanging Kasab provide succour to relatives of the victims? Quite frankly, I don’t think so. Families of the victims have moved on in life and if TV interviews are true, at least, some of them couldn’t care less if Kasab was hung or jailed, as long as he was punished. The widow of Graham Staines; Sonia & Priyanka Gandhi too do not want the killers of their near ones executed. Pardoning is a much more difficult than retaliating, but when the immediate anger subsides, when the mob mentality cools down, it gives the forgiver much more emotional and spiritual relief. Will bursting crackers if and when Kasab is executed, really heal the departed souls? 

This brings us to the point of punishment. While Kasab must be punished for his crimes, is taking his life correct? Should punishment not be reformative? Must we behave like the person we are trying to punish? He killed, so we will kill him. Did we give him life? If we cannot give anyone life, do we have the right to take it? Do two wrongs make a right? Could we be behaving like the witch hunting courts of yesteryears? Punish him by all means; make him regret what he did, every single day of his life. Let him sweat, let him toil, let him do community service, but let us not be Gods. Only God has the right to take anyone’s life. Executing a person ends his agony in a moment, but the guilt of killing someone under our power, will linger in us all our lives. An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. 

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