Yakub Memon and Politics of Death Penalty

In recent past, India has seen many horrible violence. These range from terrorist strike, communal riots to attack on women. Question arises how does a society bring justice to victims of violence. Many years often pass between actual act and pronouncement of judgement. Unfavourable judgements are followed up by appeal to higher courts, mercy petition to president of India and the process continues. Meanwhile, victims of terrorist violence carry on with their shattered lives, often forgotten and becoming a part of statistics. 

Every time a death sentence is delivered, two things happen.  Many people ask for mercy for the death row convict on humanitarian ground. They argue that killing a convict does not bring back people that were killed or maimed due to terrorist violence. They even reason that by  executing a person dehumanises a society, alienates segments and breeds violence. Another set of people demand court judgement be executed as per law of the land. Courts, they argue, are independent and judgement pronounced by the highest court should be regarded as supreme. The exact same act was played out when Yakub Memon was awarded death penalty for his role in 1993 serial blast in Mumbai where more than 250 people lost their lives.

Yakub Memon was executed on 29th of July, 2015. Enough has been written about involvement of Yakub Memon on Mumbai blast of 1993. It has emerged how former head of Pakistan desk at the Research and Analysis wing, Mr. B Raman believed that Yakub Memon should not get death penalty. Repeated mercy petitions were filed with supreme court of India and President of India to commute death sentence of Yakub Memon to life sentence. Finally, a three judge bench of supreme court in an unprecedented 3 am session of court on 29th of July, 2015 had rejected final plea of Yakub Memon, leading to execution at 6.30 am.

Death penalty is abhorrent. Death penalty remains very traumatic for family of convict as well as to society in general. Every time when a convicted person’s photo is shown on TV it appears how helpless the person has become. This also evokes an outpouring of sympathy for the convict. Politicians stir up emotions in the name of caste, community and religion. Society gets scarred for a long time.

At the end of the day, death penalty is approved by society. It is the maximum punishment that society can give in response to a heinous crime. May be  society should abolish death penalty altogether. Put heinous convicts behind bars for rest of their natural lives. In my mind such a penalty is more severe than death penalty. But nation remains exposed to further violence by associates of imprisoned terrorists. This was exactly what happened when Indian airliner IC814 was hijacked and dreaded terrorists were released to free innocent passengers. 

 Many people who object to death penalty often quote how civilised Europe has abolished death penalty. It is important to remember that Europe is passing through a time of relative peace. India lives in a difficult neighbourhood. A neighbour believes unless Kashmir is given to them, Indians will be subjected to random acts of terrorism. Once German or French or British people start experiencing such terror related devastation, world shall see what stand Europeans take on death penalty. In a recent TV debate Ms. Madhu Trehan  mentioned that post Charlie Hebdo massacre, French public opinion is veering towards bringing back death penalty. 

Many left of centre political formations, organisations and left parties convey the idea that it is the BJP government at the centre and state that expedited execution of Yakub Memon.  It is often forgotten, given the time elapsed between 1993 to 2015, that Yakub was brought to India when congress party lead government was in power at both centre and state. During long and protracted prosecution of Yakub Memon, congress party had enough opportunity to give evidence, in case it was available, to suggest that Yakub had co-operated with government and he should be spared death penalty. That, however, did not happen. All courts including TADA court, high court, supreme court, Yakub was found guilty and death penalty was pronounced. 

It is unfair to communalise Yakub Memon’s death penalty. Yakub Memon had got all opportunity to make his point of view clear through different levels of courts. It is malicious to take a position that BJP government  had executed Yakub Memon hastily. Court had found Yakub Memon guilty at all levels. BJP government had executed courts order promptly. To suggest that judges were controlled by government and to believe that judges had an agenda ais preposterous. 

It is important that society cares for unsuspecting victims  to terrorist violence who are disabled for life. A caring society must take care of families that lose their sole bread earning  members. Unfortunately, very little relief reached victims of Mumbai bomb blast. The same remains true for many victims of communal violence and other violent activities.

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