Afzal Guru’s hanging brings to the fore certain important issues, most importantly the very idea of patriotism that can be whipped up to gain electoral dividends. Why, in the pursuit of justice, could we abandon values and deny even a condemned man and his family what is rightfully theirs? To begin with, why was Guru’s family informed through speed post about his execution when there are more effective means of communication in this day and age? Why wasn’t his body handed over to his wife and son who had pleaded with the government? Unlike Ajmal Kasab’s, Guru’s bereaved family hadn’t forsaken him even after so many years of trials and tribulations.
His hanging was a face-saver for a beleaguered government battling for survival. Even after the Supreme Court dismissed Guru’s review plea in 2007, it took five years for the UPA to tighten the noose around the death row convict. After years of sitting pretty, now it will have more blood on its hands with eight cases involving 13 accused, including former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. The Rip Van Winkle of an administration has finally woken up to the noble responsibility of “satisfying the collective conscience of the society”.
Clearly, the last two hangings cannot be compared. While Kasab had a watertight case against him, Guru’s trial largely centred on circumstantial evidence. As the case moved to the higher courts, two people, initially awarded death sentences, were acquitted. This reveals that the prosecution and investigating agencies had been found wanting. It also implies that there was room for doubt even for the prime accused. Yet, his life was taken, and the doubts quashed.
Capital punishment has hardly been a deterrent. Snuffing out a human being’s life is akin to playing god. For all our ideals and principles, we have shown ourselves to be intolerant, and prejudiced. Can we devise a little more human approach to our idea of crime and punishment?