Saturday, September 1, 2012

How Kasab might change Mumbai's take on capital punishment

1 Sep, 2012, 02.22AM IST, Vikram Doctor,ET Bureau At some point in the last century, executions within Bombay itself stopped altogether, with the gallows being moved to Yerawada Jail in Pune. It isn't clear when the actual last execution in the city took place, but the last in Maharashtra was in 1995 when Amrutlal Joshi was executed for murdering three members of the Sadarangani family in Bombay's Khar suburb. That execution was the 100th conducted by Arjun Jadhav, the state's hangman, but nearly all were done in Pune. Kasab will have to be taken there too, unless the authorities decided to build temporary gallows at Arthur Road jail. Joshi's execution was the second last in India (Auto Shankar's execution in Salem is considered to be the second last, but it was on April 27, 1995 and ToI 's report dates Joshi's execution to July12). After that Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed in Kolkata in August 2004 and since then, despite the furious promises of politicians and appeals by TV anchors, there have been none. It is called for, of course, after every violent crime, and the sentence is often passed, yet it is not carried out. Kasab will probably change that. The scale of the crime he was involved in was so horrific and public, amounting almost to armoured invasion, that it almost demands a symbolic response and the Supreme Court's verdict reflects this. Cynical calculations also suggest that the General Election of 2014 makes it likely, since elections and executions share a dubious history. Politicians have long used executions as a way to show their toughness - for example, French President Giscard d'Estaing was accused of allowing the last executions in French history, in 1977, to help his dwindling re-election prospects. But will Mumbai really cheer when Kasab hangs? Certainly, many like the politicians, aggressive TV anchors and, more understandably, the families bereaved by 26/11 will. And for all the trends away from capital punishment noted above, it should be remembered that this is also the city which tacitly approved of the era of encounter killings staged by the police. These de facto executions helped bring an end to the worse of gang violence, but it also very probably killed off a few innocents, which is exactly what the long judicial process for capital punishment is meant to avoid. To which many in the city would shrug, and say it is sad, but overall it worked, and there were none of the delays and wildly escalating costs of the Kasab trial. For a city always on the run and in pursuit of wealth, it is this part of the trial that has been the most annoying (along with the security restrictions on the neighbourhood near Arthur Road jail). But there is another uncomfortable result of the delay and that has been Kasab himself. Because while it is very easy to see Kasab-the-Terrorist as the "most hated man" in India, the reactions to Kasab-the-Kid-inthe-Dock are a bit more complex. You can see this in the reactions of the police who have been guarding and dealing with him. While never failing in their strict duty, it has been possible to see a slightly softening in their tone as they describe his evident ignorance and naivety, his often disarmingly simple requests and even childishness, which can be seen in the fact that he is alive at all: while his comrades understood they would probably die, and did, when the moment came Kasab clung to life, which is why this drama is with us at all. None of this should suggest that the police or lawyers have become fond of Kasab, but he is a familiar and understandable type, unlike cold and determined ideologues like Abu Jundal. Unless he's managed the most amazing of acting jobs, Kasab is the simple small town kid who came to a big city and got caught up in things beyond his imagination. He could be the kid whistling in the cinema at the latest Eid blockbuster, or riding on top of trains, or hustling you into buying a dubious cellphone on the street or, for that matter, stealing your own cellphone, or maybe even becoming shooter with a gang, but always something recognisable to Mumbai. And yet he did what he did on 26/11, which is a chilling thought since it suggests how easily people can flip. But if, to modify Hannah Arendt's phrase for Adolf Eichmann, he embodies not the banality, but the sheer ordinariness of evil, it still puts him somewhat short of that completely black bogeyman that all those vengeful voices in the media want to see strung up. Some might even acknowledge that Kasab is what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he explained, in his magazine Harijan, in April, 1940, why he opposed capital punishment: "Under a State governed according to the principles of ahimsa, a murderer would be sent to a penitentiary and there given every chance of reforming himself. All crime is a kind of disease and should be treated as such." When Kasab walks up those steps, at least some in the city that he attacked will remember what Gandhi said. Source: The Economic Times [accessed on 1st September 2012]

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