There are two ways of looking at the supreme court decision upholding the death penalty for Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab. Looking behind, we must be proud of our judiciary which gave a thoroughly fair trial to a man whose culpability was beyond doubt. Looking forward, it’s time to discuss what is coming up next: death penalty.
First, the judiciary. When Kasab was captured – after all nine of his accomplices were killed in the shootouts during the Mumbai terrorist attacks – there was a clamour for shooting him on the spot. After all, the whole world had seen his crime: he had slaughtered people like sheep. There was no doubt about his crime and his identity. So why go through the whole rigmarole of proving that this man committed that crime? Most people shocked by the bloodbath on their TV screens thought so back then. That was also the message coming from TV debates.
And yet we have gone through the charade, if charade it was. Kasab was given all the help to fight his case. He got not only lawyers, but the best of the lot, for example, Raju Ramachandran who represented him before the apex court. No step in the process was left undone. The trial court found him guilty and sentenced him to death in May 2010. But the matter was not over with that. The case went to the Bombay high court, which upheld the punishment. Then the apex court, which too said he deserved nothing less than the gallows.
What this has shown, to the world community as much as to ourselves, is that the Indian judiciary stands on strong foundations. It has shown that our judiciary is ruled by principles and processes alone.
The judiciary has done its role. Now it is up to the executive to prove itself.
There are more than 300 convicts on the death row. Kasab now becomes 301st. Going by the logic of fair trial, he has one last step in the process pending: clemency appeal to the president. That is where the fair judiciary ends and unfair politics begins. It will not do justice to the fair trial if Kasab were to become just another name on the long list, to be forgotten for a decade or more. An exception needs to be made in this case and he should be hanged without delay.
When the trial court and the high court sentenced Kasab to death, a fresh debate was started on death penalty. A section of the intelligentsia argued that the terrorist from Pakistan would be a fit case for clemency. Letting him rot in jail for the rest of his life rather than killing him would deliver the right message to his masters and their medieval ideology of violence, it has been argued.
This debate will reopen in the days to come. Yes, India needs to review capital punishment and it needs to be removed from the statute book itself. However, as long as it exists on the statute book, it would be doing too much of a good thing to make an exception in the case of a man who, thanks to 24x7 TV, remains the evil incarnate for most of us.