If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 7 May 2010

He should be hanged, but ...

jin•go•ism / noun / [U] (disapproving) a strong belief that your own country is best, especially when this is expressed in support of war with another country <> jin•go•is•tic / adjective / [Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary]

I am a common man with just about average intelligence, someone who Americans would call an ordinary Joe who’s not a plumber. I haven’t quite got on in life, and to make matters worse, of late, I’ve been getting on in years. My son and daughter lovingly call me the oldie and I am not sure if my daughter-in-law too does. 

This self-indulgent intro is just to tell you that if you wish, you can jolly well ignore what follows as an old man's ramble, bakwas! 

During the last few days, ALL the 24x7 TV news channels (aren’t they actually 24x7/2?) have been talking almost only about Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 terrorists who killed 174 people in 2008. To begin with, the speculation was around whether Kasab would be found guilty. Sadly, unlike cricket matches, bookies don’t decide the outcome of criminal cases. (Sadly for the bookies, that is.) He was found guilty. Then the debate turned into whether he would be given life sentence or death. No surprises there either. Chest-thumping public prosecutors and policemen congratulated themselves on their brilliant work leading to the death verdict (of the gun totting man who was clearly filmed by CCTV cameras and an intrepid photographer who risked his life to take the shot I have reproduced thanks to Wikipedia). Our TV channels, the conscience keepers of the nation, presented the story with the unmixed joy seen when India wins a cricket tournament.

But the debate is hardly over. The grave questions that are being debated threadbare are: (A) Whether the High Court and the Supreme Court will uphold the guilty verdict. (B) If they do – the public prosecutors will surely sweat blood to see that that happens – will they reduce the punishment to life sentence? (C) If the death sentence stands, will the President of the Republic show him mercy? (D) If she doesn’t, when he will be hanged! (E) And how?

Of the many impassioned commentators, let me mention one. Alyque Padamsee, a leading theatre man, demanded, with all the theatrical skills at his command, that mere hanging won’t do. Kasab should be given exemplary punishment. What was he hinting at? The man should be stoned to death at a public square, or maybe, at Brabourne Stadium? Ultimately, Padamsee suggested, in all seriousness, that a special jail be made in Lakshadweep (our own Guantanamo Bay?) where Kasab should be kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to meet another human for the rest of his life. With a twinkle in his eyes, Padamsee added, “He might even live another sixty years!” The salient feature of the punishment is – it was explained – the man must suffer!

The scope of the debate has been further expanded. In a discussion, anchor Barkha Dutt tried to impress upon her audience that India should not talk to Pakistan until that country has taken care of the terrorists there. That means, me thinks, never. I am waiting for the day when NDTV decides that India goes to another war against Pakistan.

One can understand the pain of the people who lost their near ones in the ghastly attack. It is perfectly normal that many of them want the harshest punishment for the mass murderer. A certain amount of anguish among the general public is also understandable. Although I respect the view that death penalty should be abolished, I don’t share it. I think Kasab deserves death.

But should we, can we pit a nation of one hundred and fifteen crore against a twenty-two-year-old misguided man? Are we not demeaning ourselves in the process?

07 May 2010


  1. I second your thoughts...but i do feel the case of Kasab is unique and one of a kind.I dont think no nation has witnessed live, as if it were a football match, the killing of its citizens by some young men, who killed at will.

    I feel it would be the same if it were to have happened in the west.i asked my wife and she too said something similar to what padamsee said."Kill him more than he can die", i dont know what it meant.

    i guess its the general sentiment.nICE THOUGHT...tc:)

  2. While I agree with you on principle but I don't think India is so rich to keep a person like Kasab languishing in Jail on the taxpayer's money. I know he will perhaps end up doing that, but for some reason I feel a sense of torture within when I see his face. I sincerely hope Government does not politicise his sentence and expedite his execution.

    Yes, some people are going a bit overboard in their anger/celebration. I mean, i found the public prosecutor a bit unprofessional when he posed in front of camera. However, Indians were never known for their subtlety.

  3. Thanks, Manoj and Tanmoy for your remarks. I can understand your anguish and share it in my own way. Although we may not agree entirely on this, I know we would all agree to live with honest differences.

    BTW Tanmoy, I didn't say Kasab should be kept in jail with tax-payers' money. I said the opposite.

  4. It is but natural that the death sentence of Kasab, even by the lower court, would engage the nation’s attention and cause a public outcry in a pretty mighty way.

    We know that Indian Penal Code reserves this extreme form of capital punishment to be meted out in the 'rarest of rare instances' and indisputably, the incident of that ghastly mass murder of 25.11, does fall in that category.

    It is the collective concern of the nation, its institutions, its civil polity at large, (not necessarily limiting itself to mere territorial borders) to engage itself and inquire into the possible genesis of manifestation of such extreme forms of deviant behavior (starting from the micro issues of poverty, deprivation, societal alienation, confused identity etc, these spill over to the much larger arena of geopolitics, arms and narcotics trade, extremism etc and are often in a state of an inextricable mesh). Such efforts, at the legislative/executive/societal level, should continuously strive for correcting these dichotomies and put a progressively saner, liberal and a civil society in place to prevent recurrence of such mindless onslaughts.Well, easier said than done!

    But once a crime of such sinister proportions has been committed, the justice delivery system has to work, yes, reactively to bring the miscreants to book. We all agree that the aim of justice should be ameliorative and not a retributive one. In the ideal sense, it should address the wrongs inflicted on the hapless, soothe and cure the wounds and if that is not possible, at least try to bring some relief and rehabilitation to their nearer ones by swiftly and unerringly punishing the offender. The punishment should be a demonstrative one and act as a future deterrent, giving reasonable scopes to the afflicter to reform himself through the process of institutional and self correction. It’s a win-win game for the society and is eventually redemptive both for the afflicter and the sufferer.

    Obviously, the conferring of the life term flies on the face of this very natural and humane process of justice delivery. Are you committing a wrong to correct a wrong? Is the solution an iatrogenic one when the medicine proves to be more lethal than the disease itself? “Every time a man is hanged, humanity’s flag hangs at half mast”, once rued the former Supreme Court Judge, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer. Then of course, once you have decided that it has to be the death sentence, you have to deliberate on its precise mode of execution. From medieval practices of flogging, stoning, guillotining, (providing sadist entertainment to the jeering crowds), gas-chambering, electrocution to less reprehensible modes like hanging (till death), shooting etc.

    The instant case is an extraordinary one and in my feeble judgment, demands the adoption of the extreme measure. And when I’m not averring that the righteous indignation, the vicarious sniggers, the sanctimonious tongue-lashings of the conscientious media are even remotely suggestive of the heathenish practices of the medieval cheer-leaders feeding on schadenfreude, these have perhaps something to do with our own collective inertia, our intellectual impotence, our middle class hypocrisy, trying to catch the last proverbial straw and seek some sort of a moral reprieve.

    Or may be I’m very desperately wrong! Perhaps the media are just representing the burning angst of the silent sufferers.Whose patience have reached the tether's end, courtesy, the never-ending process of trial and adjudication. They trace a glimmer of hope in an otherwise world of gloom.

    I do not belong to any of those 174 ill-fated families to feel the singe in all its rawness. I can merely afford to pontificate and pass judgments somewhat detachedly.

  5. Thanks, Kaushik, for your thought provoking comments. It is possible, as you have said, "Perhaps the media are just representing the burning angst of the silent sufferers." Perhaps we should not be judgmental, but I have a simple point. If we pride ourselves to be a 5000-year-old civilisation, we ought to respond to even the most pathological stimulus with sobriety, balance, and thoughtfulness. These qualities are sadly missing in the presentation of this cathartic story, particularly by the electronic media.

    It is obviously necessary to -- once again to quote you -- "to engage (ourselves) and inquire into the possible genesis of manifestation of such extreme forms of deviant behavior." Here again, the rabble-rousers stand in the way of rational inquiry.

  6. terrorism needs to be resolved at the roots..this is almost a cliche' now.. but it does, kasab is as much a victim of the entire cycle as the people who were killed are..he was a mere gun man for the masterminds and his death will be a short lived victory for the jurisdiction here..I dont see anything worthwhile coming out of his death.

  7. I know Kaku, you did not say that Kasab should remain in Jail on taxpayer's money. However, since the debate on Kasab almost entirely circles around capital punishment and its relevance, i made that comment.

  8. First, Tanmoy, sorry. I misunderstood you.

    And thanks, Sujata. You are right, we find it easier to vent our anger on deviant individuals, rather than exploring the economics, sociology and philosophy that create them. Going by the level of discourse in our papers and on our TV, it doesn't seem there is any attempt to go to he root of the matter and addressing them. What is true for the (Indian) foot soldiers of Islamic militancy is true for the Maoist cadre too.


I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.