This blog functions like an exhaust valve to bring out my cluttered and sometimes confused thoughts. Please give your comments so that we can make this more useful, with wider perspectives. You may find my micro-blogs on Twitter @jay_ambadi.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Delay in Considering Mercy Petitions- No Less a Crime!
Some time back it was reported that Afzal Guru has expressed his wish that “L.K. Advani becomes the next Prime Minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me”. Surprised? Don’t be. There is nothing surprising about this wish, considering the predicament he is in.
Think about yourself. Knowing that you are going to die on a particular day or in so many months and having to spend your remaining life all lone, away from near and dear, how would you feel? Worse would be for the family of that person; knowing that their loved one is about to die. Even more suffering would be when you are not even sure the exact day of the death but you are certain that you are about to.
We all know we will die one day. But to know that it will happen in so many weeks or so many months if a different cup of tea.
It is a universally accepted fact in the legal circles, that undue delay in executing death sentence is itself a very cruel punishment. Indian Supreme Court has even set aside death sentence on account of undue delay in execution. In the words of US Supreme Court as cited by our Supreme Court “The cruelty of capital punishment lies not only in the execution itself and the pain incident thereto, but also in the dehumanising effects of the lengthy imprisonment prior to execution. The prospect of pending execution exacts a frightful toll during the inevitable long wait between the imposition of the sentence and the actual infliction of death”. Add to it the suspended lives of the spouse, children and parents of the convict for no fault of theirs!
Seeking mercy is a right of every criminal sentenced to death. The process of mercy petition has been included in the law books for a very honourable purpose. But, if there is undue delay in processing these applications we are not actually helping the person but subjecting him or her to more punishment and mental cruelty than what he was sentenced to. Are our Government and its officers so busy that they don’t have time to decide on something as important as a mercy petition? If it takes so much time to decide then it can’t be called ‘mercy petition’.
Afzal Guru is nearly 30th in the queue for consideration of his mercy petition. Earliest petition that is pending for decision is as old as 13 years. 13 years waiting to know whether you will be killed or let off!
For you and me Afzal Guru is just another issue that we can debate. But he himself is a human being like you and me. He has done a crime and been sentenced to death. I am not condoning his crime or questioning the sentence. But are we being fair when we raise his death penalty as a political issue every other day? Is it his fault that his mercy petition is not being processed in time?
As for Government, it cannot be seen as being vengeful in selectively executing a person even if he is involved in as grave a crime as attack on Parliament. And as for opposition, it is below the political morality to cite his example all the time and say that his petition is being withheld due to the pressures of vote bank (meaning Indian Muslims; as if all Indian Muslims were part of the conspiracy to attack Parliament and want to see Afzal Guru freed!), which is demeaning not only the legal process but also Indian Muslims and Indian voters.
We have another high profile and potentially political death sentence coming up for similar situation; i.e. Ajmal Kasab from 26/11 attack. We will have even more acrimonious debates on his execution as and when we reach that stage, though we cannot deny him his legal rights, including right to mercy!
What is required from both Government and opposition is to arrive at a consensus (at least in a matter of life and death) and devise a policy to deal with mercy petitions of persons sentenced to death, in a time bound manner. Any deviations from the deadlines should be allowed only for proper and sufficient reasons, to be reduced to writing and subjected to judicial scrutiny. Further, such deviations should not affect the other applications by way of the so called queue system. Each application should be processed in isolation.
Let us by all means sentence to death those criminals who do not deserve to live, in the opinion of a judge or two. But let us not subject them to more punishments that what they were sentenced to by subjecting them to further cruelty. Let us keep some difference between those criminals and the so called civil society.