Thursday, August 30, 2012

How will we kill Kasab? Let’s count the ways

"Death penalty diminishes us. It elevates the spurious notion of an eye for an eye as a desirable form of retribution" By: Salil Tripathi Soon after 26/11, Balasaheb Thackeray wanted him hanging in a public square. Perhaps Azad Maidan would do. Near the jhunka-bhakar stall where you can drink kala khatta and watch schoolboys play cricket. Or, perhaps in the ticket hall of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Its floor was once bloodied, then it was wiped clean of bloodspots. Let there be more blood. How about the Gateway of India? Again, it could be somewhere near the Shivaji statue. Kasab to face the firing squad, looking at the rebuilt Taj. There, we rebuilt what you sought to destroy; there, your accomplices were killed; there, now you go—the rifles can point skyward, brought down at the command, the aim taken, shots fired. How about beheading him in a public square as they do in those countries? And then televise it—the networks would love it. The anchors will have a ring-side view, and they will describe, in graphic detail, as Kasab collapses—only once, not 166 times. See him writhe. Now, does that feel better? Or we could do something else—be like Norway. There, Andres Breivik bombed the city centre and went to an island and killed teenagers. Seventy-seven people died. They tried Breivik. They found him sane. And then they sent him to jail for 21 years. It is unlikely he will ever get freed. Two nations. Two men. Two evil crimes. Two deeds committed without remorse. And two verdicts. Seeking revenge is a deeply personal emotion. The survivors and the families of the victims will naturally have a different perspective of closure. But they know that killing Kasab won’t bring their loved ones back. Some may rejoice at the verdict, some may feel justice is served. Some will cling on to the memories of their loved ones. And a few may think that this verdict, and this punishment—if carried out—responds to a visceral desire among Indians who want to get even, who want to avenge many other crimes, a philosophy sharpened by the wars, the riots, the murders, the explosions, and make Kasab, the one who got caught, the poster boy of all those crimes, and pay for it, many times over. They may not want any part of that. The question is: is India a society or a lynch mob? Disclosure: I am against the death penalty. Not because it is not a deterrent—I don’t like it even if it is, because it is impossible to prove that it deters crimes not committed. Not because it is economically wiser to keep a person in jail, rather than spend on an appeals process which will add cost to the exchequer, because this isn’t about cost-benefit analysis. But because it can get it wrong—advanced forensics in the US have shown that many times the wrong defendant is executed. The Indian Supreme Court has noticed errors, too, as 14 retired judges, including A.P. Shah, the former chief justice of Delhi high court, have pointed out. And also because it can be biased—defendants who are poor, from a minority community, or who are not of sound mind, are more likely to get the death penalty than those who are better-off or from the majority community. (Of course there are exceptions.) And finally, because the death penalty diminishes us. It elevates the spurious notion of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life, as a desirable form of retribution. The death penalty gives the state the right to take the life of an individual, no matter how flawed. Executing a murderer does not bring back any of his victims. The death penalty is driven by a desire for revenge, not justice. In succumbing to such vengeful feelings, we embrace the murderer’s inhumanity, and forget our own humanity. Let the defendant who cannot be redeemed remain in jail, for life. Let him learn— not necessarily skills though that would be nice, but the ideas of remorse, of guilt, of shame, of repentance. Let him figure out how he can atone for what he did. Let us not do to him what he did to others, let us remind him why we are not like him. That is after all our strength, not weakness. Source: [accessed on 30th August 2012]

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