The day ended with a happy note for me today as a bit of good news found its way onto my Facebook homepage this evening. It was the news that Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, had been sentenced to death. It was a much awaited decision, and one that I expected to be widely welcomed despite being too little and too late. A little later, I was proved wrong by two friends (and several unknown people on Facebook) who protested vehemently against the decision. So this post is to clarify my stand on this issue.
If, as a reader, you are disgusted at the tone of glee I express at someone’s death sentence, please read on. This post is particularly for you.
I am usually bad at remembering names, but one name got indelibly etched in my memory the day I heard it almost eleven years ago. The name is Ripen Katyal. It belonged to a 25 year old man who was returning from his honeymoon trip to Nepal on Indian Airlines flight IC-814. His crime was the same as mine – being a citizen of India. The plane was hijacked and taken to Kandahar via Lahore. Ripen’s throat was slashed for not following the hijackers’ instructions while a government that prided itself on testing a nuclear bomb in a desert tried to think of a plan. After several days, three of the most dangerous terrorists ever caught in India had to be returned to Pakistan in exchange for the planeful of people. Only Ripen Katyal didn’t return.
I asked a lot of questions then which remained mostly unanswered. One of them was, why couldn’t they have put a slow acting poison in the three released terrorists’ last meal with the Indian authorities? I was told that wasn’t playing fair – as if hijacking a plane was playing fair. But the question that most Indians asked was, why hadn’t these terrorist masterminds been killed already? Although the answer provided by the government was vague and unconvincing, today’s incident proved that Indians seem to have learnt a lesson since then as the judge handling Kasab's case said today.
Describing the 22-year-old Lashkar-trained terrorist as "a menace to society", Tahaliyani specifically alluded to the 1999 Kandahar case in 1999, when an Indian plane was hijacked to free dangerous terrorists who were imprisoned at the time. "Keeping him alive would be a constant danger to government and the state," he said.
Now a number of people, some of them my friends, are arguing about the relevance of capital punishment in civilized society. They say the state should be compassionate. The state does not have the right to kill anyone just because it does not believe in their ideology. Only people like Kasab have the right to kill. Well, ok, my friend didn’t really say that last one, but you get the gist of what he meant.
The funny thing is, I would have loved to agree with them. I would love that because then that would have meant we live in an ideal society where every criminal commits a crime for his “ideology” and reforms himself when given a chance. However, we do not live in such a world, and so, punishment for crime becomes necessary. But is any crime bad enough to award the death penalty? Let’s see what the condemned man did: he is charged with the murder of 166 men, women and children. Of course, some friends had told me after 26/11 that “a few hundred civilian casualties per year is a small price that we are willing to pay in exchange for not having a full-blown war,” but the judge seemed to disagree with that point of view. When the security cameras recorded Kasab shooting indiscriminately into the crowd at the Mumbai CST station, he seemed to enjoy it. Can such a man be trusted to repent what he did and reform himself? And even if he does, what will we achieve? After spending a few crores of the taxpayers’ money on his trial, security and jail facilities, we will have a good citizen. We have about a billion of them already, and we don’t want another one. However, execute him with enough media focus and you have created an example. Like USA did with Saddam Hussain. Personally I would enjoy seeing a YouTube video of Kasab’s hanging, though unfortunately it may be some time before we can see that.
So far I have discussed two arguments in favour of the hanging. Firstly, Ajmal Kasab is like radioactive waste in human form – the sooner we dispose of him, the better. Secondly, his crimes are too grave and chance of repentance too small to make mercy worthwhile. I will end with the biggest reason why he should be hanged: justice.
Kasab came from Pakistan and attacked India, killing innocent civilians without remorse. We cannot really do anything to do justice here – nothing we do will bring back those 166 people. But the families of those people will live a little happier knowing that the person who killed their loved ones isn’t roaming free himself, enjoying life. That, according to me, is the single most important reason why Kasab needs to be killed. Of course, people are arguing that he should be treated with compassion, which we are doing. Ideally, he should have been shot 166 times in non-lethal places in his body and left to die from gangrene. Publicly if possible. But we are a compassionate society – we do not employ such brutal means of punishment which people from Kasab’s own faith prefer in the Arab countries. We are also a spineless society – we do not have the guts to go and do to Pakistan what US did to Japan after Pearl Harbour or to Afghanistan after 9/11. So the only way we can serve justice is by killing this man. We will (hopefully) hang him away from the public eye, in a dignified manner. It is almost like giving the guy an easy way out, but that’s the most we can do. Let’s not hesitate in this little punishment. Some people may point out that he is just a scapegoat, but then, the meat of a scapegoat is just as tasty. I’m sure most people of our country would love to see Kasab hanged.
So friends, I am not convinced by your arguments that Ajmal Kasab doesn’t deserve the death penalty. One killing does not justify another, you say? We can have a nice little argument about that, but after Kasab is hanged. I have to travel on a lot of Indian flights, and I’m sorry if I sound selfish here, but I value my life more than his. I don't want to end up like Ripen Katyal. There is only one way by which you can make me see your point of view, and it is like this: come to me and repeat these same ideas about compassion and the government’s right to kill after one of your parents or siblings or children or a life partner has been killed in a terrorist attack. Nothing personal, of course! I would express my gravest condolences, and wholeheartedly agree with you that although your beloved had to be carried away in four different pieces, killing the captured terrorist wouldn’t serve any purpose.
Oh, and in case you are outraged at my suggestion that such a thing might happen, I think I have made my point.
Update: Check out this video in case you aren't convinced. Beware, it is not for the weak of heart.