NO TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT/DEATH PENALTY!

A large number of people, albeit not constituting majorities in many climes — blood lust, alas, being default response in rather too quick-fire opinion surveys — are implacably opposed to the death penalty in all, repeat, ALL cases.

Especially most feminist jurists and lawyers.

Staying in India and with lawyers and jurists alone — those who’ve spent years or decades struggling for women’s rights: Veteran lawyers and jurists such as Flavia Agnes, Pratiksha Baxi, Maja Daruwala, Vrinda Grover, Menaka Guruswamy, Indira Jaising, Kamini Jaiswal, Rebecca Mammen John, Arundhati Katju, Jayna Kothari, Karuna Nundy,  Nitya Ramakrishnan, Usha Ramanathan, Justice Prabha Sridevan, Saumya Uma, Judge Jyotsna Yagnik… (long, very very long list…).
And a number of younger and brilliant lawyers and law researchers too: Ragini Ahuja, Parijata Bharadwaj, Chandni Chawla, Avani Chokshi, Bindu Doddahatti, Ramya Jawahar, Lara Jesani, Guneet Kaur, Darshana Mitra, Malavika Prasad, Deeptha Rao, Vasudha Reddy, Neenu Suresh, Pyoli Swatija et al.

(These lists are open to additions. Please forgive me if in my advancing years I’ve forgotten some, including of those who self-declare to be feminists. Shall certainly add as advised. Needless to say, deletions sought, for various reasons that need not be stated, shall also be respected,)

Ms Swatija’s late grandfather Narayan Desai — father of Aflatoon and Nachiketa Desai — son of M.K. Gandhi’s legendary secretary Mahadev Desai, had appealed AGAINST the death penalty for Nathuram Godse, as had two of Gandhi’s sons! Whatever our current opinions of M.K. Gandhi, I believe that for the purposes of this discussion, we’re agreed that his assassination at the hands of Brahminical Hindu fanatics was condemnable.

Godse, who’d NEVER left the RSS, whose progeny — ABVP and BJP — have unleashed a reign of terror in Uttar Pradesh (Pop 200 m) and major universities such as AMU, BHU, JNU, Jamia and many others. (If anyone has doubts about Godse’s membership of the RSS in 1948 please look up the Jan 2020 issue of The Caravan magazine. There have previously been articles in Frontline fortnightly too stating Godse never left the RSS.)

The principal author of our constitution, Dr. B.R. AMBEDKAR, had called for ABOLITION of the death penalty.

While sentencing Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani and others for their roles in the Naroda Pitiya massacres and rapes — repeat RAPES, or is it only an issue if a Hindu woman is raped and not if too many to count Muslim women are? — vandalism etc. as part of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat (under the then state chief minister’s, now prime minister’s watch) the good judge JYOTSNA YAGNIK ruled out capital punishment

Ms Yagnik rightly said it went against “human dignity”.

(It’s another matter that the two convicts who directed the massacres, rapes and vandalism — namely Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani — are permanently out on bail as they’re the current Indian PM’s darlings.)

The late Justice LEILA SETH was a member of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee that was formed following the December 2012 horrific rape-and-murder case — whose perpetrators were hanged today, March 20 — and which recommended NON-recourse to DP.

A US-based organisation, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), counts among its members those whose dear ones were raped and murdered.

It is NOT the SEVERITY of justice that feminists and other human rights activists seek but the CERTAINTY, which is so lacking, given that too many police stations in India fail to/refuse to even register complaints by women, what to speak of prosecution, conviction and sentencing.

Of the four people hanged in India since 2004 — Dhananjoy Chatterjee, Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon —  three of them were, many experts who’ve studied each of the cases threadbare, believe were innocent of the crimes they were convicted of and were murdered by the state merely to satiate the “collective conscience” of a mis/disinformed society.

(As for even the fourth, was he really afforded due process? Please google Kasab and V. Venkatesan. Please also note that the then public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam later admitted that he’d concocted the yarn that Kasab was being fed chicken biryani in order to influence public opinion and thus the court.)

Entire books and erudite articles by the likes of Arundhati Roy, Prof Nirmalangshu Mukherji, Vinod K. Jose and others have been written and documentary films made on the issue, especially on Mr Guru’s case, such as Vani Subramanian’s 76-minute ‘The Death of Us’.

Mr Chatterjee — an indigent security guard despite his Brahmin-sounding name — was put to death following a shrill campaign led by the wife of the then CPI(M) chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, party politburo member Brinda Karat having been part of that episode.

The then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who’d signed off on that murder by the Indian state, expressed regret rather too late after the event for having done so.

Just as late former Chief Justice of India, Y.V. Chandrachud came around too late to abolitionism after having presided over Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), which set the ‘Rarest of Rare’ doctrine — observed more in the breach with too many trial court judges summarily pronouncing the death sentence.

Incidentally the majority verdict in Bachan Singh was written not by Justice Chandrachud but by Justice R.S. Sarkaria.

The dissent by Justice P.N. Bhagwati in Bachan Singh Vs State of Punjab (dissent dated 1982 as he took time to write it: This was in the pre-Internet era and he needed to get a vast amount of research done and which shines through) is a tour de force that ought to be a must read for every judge and lawyer.

“What might’ve been” is a question historians avoid. And yet it is tempting to speculate as to whether had Chandrachud J indicated doubts even then, might his and Bhagwati J’s opinions have persuaded the other three to swing towards abolition.

Mr Memon placed too much faith in what he bizarrely thought was the Indian executive’s and judiciary’s fairness and paid for it with his life.

Nearly 150 countries have discarded the death penalty in law or in practice (the latter term meaning that they’ve not passed a death sentence or carried out one for so long that they’re deemed abolitionist).

But we live in antediluvian, Modified times in India now.

In at least the lifetime of the young lawyers named above and their contemporaries and succeeding generations, dearly hope this land emerges from the current blood-thirsty nightmare.

 

About walkerjay

The author, N. Jayaram, a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi, was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions.
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