(Published in Sify.com on 8 September, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/should-terrorists-be-spared-the-noose-news-columns-ljijBxaheig.html)
For the last few days, everyone seems preoccupied with capital punishment.
First, came the chorus for those convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to be spared, and Omar Abdullah hinted that the prayer for clemency had its roots in their ethnicity and religion. The appeals in Punjab for the commutation of Khalistan militant Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar’s death sentence began yet again, after the Tamil Nadu assembly adopted a resolution urging the President to reconsider their mercy petition.
Then, Anna Hazare came out with his demand that politicians be hanged for accepting cash for voting or asking questions in Parliament, hours after Amar Singh’s arrest in the 2008 cash-for-vote scam.
Next, yet another bomb blast in Delhi left 11 killed and 76 wounded – an act of terror for which the Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami (HuJI) claimed responsibility, and which was seemingly their idea of pressuring the government to repeal the death sentence of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
And we’re left asking ourselves how terrorists must be punished. Should we guard them, spending crores of taxpayer money, as they wait on death row for years, while the government machinery groans its way through the paperwork? Should we hope they’ve learnt their lesson in jail, and that they’ll spend the rest of their years making kites and studying philosophy? Or, should we do away with the provision for mercy to a convicted terrorist?
Human rights organisations across the world are quick to call for a ban on the noose, but with overcrowded jails, jailbreaks and ‘life-terms’ lasting fourteen years, are all countries in a position to do away with capital punishment?
More importantly, do terrorists deserve such consideration? It’s easy to humanise them by musing that they were peace-loving pastorals till a traumatic childhood, an encounter with state-sponsored violence, and a good brainwash turned them into hardened extremists. But does that justify their cruelty?
The death sentence of one of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, Nalini, was reduced to life term so that her child would not be orphaned. But did the people attending the rally in Sriperumbudur have the choice? Did their children?
And what emotions would hit the people these victims left behind when they see visuals of the friends and relatives of terrorists distributing sweets, to celebrate a stay order on their execution?
Then, of course, there is the ridiculous argument that those convicted of abetting acts of terror may not have been aware of the role they were playing. Well, would they really have us believe that a man who bought the battery used in a suicide bomber’s belt thought he was buying torch cells?
The majority of those accused of killing Rajiv Gandhi were acquitted, many for lack of evidence. It’s hard to imagine that a country that constantly boasts of being the ‘world’s largest democracy’ could not find and punish those involved in the murder of a former Prime Minister.
And it’s worse to think that its people would evoke such phrases as ‘Tamil sentiment’ to seek leniency in dealing with convicted militants.
When a nation prides itself on sharing the stage with the world’s best economies at sundry summits, perhaps its lawmakers and citizens should compare the manner of its disposal of terror cases with others.
If an Iraqi or Afghan militant outfit – say the Taliban – had targeted George Bush, and the conspirators had been found, would America’s response have been the same as ours?
What was the lapse in time between Saddam Hussein’s capture and his hanging?
Why should we allow a decade to float by, providing convicts with the contention that the physical and mental torture they have endured in waiting for the fate of their mercy petitions has been punishment enough? When our courts can fast-track the hearings, why doesn’t the government fast-track the paper work?
In a land where child molesters, rapists and murderers walk free after serving out their terms, do we want terrorists roaming the streets, masquerading as heroes?
Compassion is all very well when it goes both ways. But do the architects of such brutality qualify as recipients? And are our regional, linguistic, religious and ethnic identities more potent unifying factors than humanitarianism?