An eye for an eye?


August 04, 2015

As Yakub Memon was hanged to death, the debate on the need for capital punishment in India intensified. However, far from being an intelligent discussion, it displayed a lynch mob mentality, deepening social cracks

Sometimes the most innocuous comment from a completely apolitical person can trigger a major political debate. Take the case of this friend. On the day when a convict in the Mumbai blasts of March 1993 was hanged amid a raging overtly divisive debate, came the comment from this friend who, incidentally, speaks Tamil at home. His comment was: “Conspiring with foreigners to kill a former prime minister deserves commutation of death sentence. Isn’t it strange that funding a conspiracy to kill 257 persons in serial bomb blasts does not deserve commutation of death sentence?”

His reference is to the case in which all those convicted in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, had got relief from the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. (For the uninitiated, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber from Sri Lanka). Their death sentences were converted into life imprisonment. His point was that if they had been held guilty of the death of a former prime minister, how could they be given relief. After all, it was ‘the rarest of rare cases’ as the Supreme Court had laid down the norm under which death sentences could be awarded.

Conversely, why should the Supreme Court not have given similar relief to a man called Yakub Memon who had assisted the Indian authorities to permanently expose Pakistan’s hand in such deadly activities on Indian soil. It took a long time for the world to realise that it was not internal social strife in India that was the cause of the bomb blasts but that it was instigated from across the border. Nobody is denying the fact that Yakub Memon was involved in the conspiracy that led to the death of many people on the streets of Mumbai. Nobody can deny that it also permanently drew the divisive line in the social fabric of the country’s most cosmopolitan city.

Similarly, nobody can deny that it was a reaction to the December 1992 riots, which itself was a reaction to the demolition of the Babri mosque. Nobody can and should be pardoned for the death of so many people. The Indian courts, too, took their decision in the most amazing manner whichever way one looks at it. It took almost 22 years for the courts to finally decide Memon’s fate. The wheels of justice moved extremely slowly but to be fair to the courts, they also moved holding high the principle of ‘you should not only be fair but also appear to be so’.  

For that, there cannot be a better example than the Supreme Court’s three judge bench hearing the case of Memon, for a second time in less than 12 hours, from midnight to the wee hours of the morning to uphold the death sentence. Memon’s fate was finally decided just a couple of hours before he was taken to the gallows. His hanging, however, has led to a serious debate on the need for capital punishment to remain on the statute. The main objective of punishment under the laws of the land is to deter people from indulging in acts of crime.

But, when the state adopts retributive justice as its plank and it is life that is being lost, it leads to the question whether it is really necessary for the state to demean itself to a level of vengeance. Simply put, it means that the state will take revenge by killing anyone who has taken somebody else’s life. Everybody knows that it has never in the past or in the present helped in curbing crime or, as in this case, terrorism. There have been cases where those who were sent to the gallows [in India as well as other parts of the world as well] were, indeed, innocent. In fact, despite the apex court setting the norm of ‘rarest of rare cases’, should death sentences be pronounced? The courts have ordered death sentences in 1,303 cases between 2004 and 2013. And, out of this, just four have been executed. Apart from Memon, the list includes Dhananjay Chatterjee (non-terrorism case), Afzal Guru (parliament attack case) and Ajmal Kasab (2008 Mumbai terror attack case).

Unfortunately, even the debate on whether capital punishment should exist or not has led to a lynch mob mentality. Such a mentality, in turn, has led to nasty and, worse still, divisive debates on social media. The nature of this debate, without doubt, is not good for social

harmony. Preliminary indications of a study even point to the largest number of those awaiting the gallows belong to the economically and socially deprived sections of society. This, however, does not mean that no value is attached to the lives of those who lost their lives in the blasts which changed India’s commercial capital forever. They are, in effect, the victims of divisive politics. Some died in reaction to it. Some others died in the reaction to that reaction.

But, the political class will be unwilling to take a call on removing the deadly penalty from the statute books because it will have to let go of its power on acceptance or rejection of mercy petitions. It appears to be still in a mood to utilise it to deliver important messages for its own political compulsions. This class has not  realised that it would be far more important for it to take the concept of justice, the core in any democracy, to the next level. Until then, there are bound to be questions raised over why Rajiv Gandhi’s killers were not hanged and why Memon was.

Bitter sweet fight

We have heard of many disputes between various states. From water to land to bus routes to forest routes to movement of wild animals. Now, a fresh one has to be added to this list. That is the ubiquitous rasagulla. To the uninitiated, rasagulla is a sweet made from an Indian cottage cheese and semolina dough that is cooked in a light sugary syrup.

The problem began when Odisha wanted to take a GI or the Geographical Indication on rasagulla. The neighbouring state of West Bengal, not repeat not unexpectedly, has objected. Both the states claim ownership of the sweet. Naturally, historical records as to whether Odisha had made the precursor to rasagulla, the khiramohana, in the 18th century or it was a totally different product developed indigenously, are still being debated.

Everything can be quibbled about. Yet, India is country whose nationals are proud and passionate about their being Indian. Just like every Bengali or Odiya is passionate about the ownership of rasagulla!

Tailpiece

There are always home-made recipes for all kinds of health problems. The grandmother, as always, remains the prime mover of such suggestions, possibly, with a derisive look at all those tablets that the doctors would have  prescribed.

But, in recent weeks, it appears the grandmother has been pushed aside by some unidentified communicators. It is common now-a-days for people in India to get dengue, a mosquito-borne fever. The season appears just ripe for the mosquitoes and, therefore, for dengue.

For some strange reason, those who have dengue have suddenly started consuming the kiwi fruit. The ostensible reason is that the fruit helps in increasing the platelet count in a  patient. The platelet count falls once the high fever recedes after three days. Nutritionists say that the kiwi fruit is rich in potassium and Vitamin C and, therefore, it helps enhance the platelet count.

The kiwi has replaced the bitter papaya leaf which ruled the roost last year. The doctors, however, insist that there is no evidence or study to confirm that the kiwi fruit is the solution to low platelet count.

Regardless of the doctors’ suggestions or the unidentified communicator of solutions, do not forget to take note of the fact that there is no evidence as yet to prove that the kiwi fruit is the answer to the ills of dengue.

The only person happy is the fruitseller!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]