Kasab wasn’t born a monster; like every other seamless youth, he was in search of an identity in a brutally indifferent world
‘The ‘gallows’ are not only a symbol of death, but also a symbol of cruelty, terror and irreverence for life; the common denominator of primitive savagery, medieval fanaticism and modern totalitarianism’. — Arthur Koestler
Our civilisation has evolved from the horrors of Newgate, where people were strung up for even picking pockets. In 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany and Costa Rica became the first countries to ban the death penalty in their Constitution. Most democratic countries have done away with this punishment; others still have it existing in the law but do not entertain the option. Capital punishment is used widely in Asia for drug-related and war crimes. In 1956, the Indian government sought the opinion of the States on the ‘death penalty’, and they voted in favour of retaining it. Later in 1967, the Law commission also recommended its retention with a paramount view to maintain law and order.
The never-ending debate — between the abolitionists and retentionists — on the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent has not been resolved. History supports the failure of deterrence, as stats show no apparent reduction in the crime rate. Prima facie, the penalty of death is likely to have a strong effect as a deterrent on normal human beings; but this concept is not consistent with all offenders, on some of whom it may have limited or negligible effect. Deterrence is subjective to the offender’s mentality. To us, he was a criminal; to aspiring terror novices, he is an idol they will now try and emulate.
The death penalty is claimed by some to be a violation of human rights, primarily of Articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many philosophers, social reformers, spiritual leaders have termed this heretic act barbarous, inhuman and degrading. Ironically, this inhuman punishment still exists in the land of the Buddha and Gandhi. The man, who opined that the punishment was a negation of ahimsa or non-violence, would have been distraught to see his assassin hanged. His disciple, Jayaprakash Narayan, said: “The punishment of crime should be aimed at reformation of the criminal and not his extermination.”
Imagine! Had we pardoned and deported Kasab back to his hometown, letting him begin a new life, hoping he would change. In the words of Victor Hugo, we could have “treated evil with charity, instead of anger”. This mind-boggling initiative would have re-defined punishment and received admiration and condemnation worldwide. Honestly, given another chance, Kasab would have chosen to live; he was done with the gun. Now, we will never know if he would have changed.
A tumour stored in a jar, feeding on our hospitality, deteriorating the economy. A thorn in the flesh: reminding our society of pain and agony. A nightmare in the city of dreams — psychologically haunting the minds of the victims. A waste of printing paper and ink: hogging the media limelight, yet throwing nothing away. More importantly, his case was a proof of our ‘unbiased’ judiciary system; the fellow’s fate was sealed by 86 unpardonable incriminations and a charge sheet running into 11,000 pages. For all that he was and wasn’t, Ajmal Kasab won his race.
Kasab is believed to have taken up this mission only to make his existence more meaningful — to bring dignity to an otherwise poor and uneventful life. He wasn’t born a monster; like every other seamless youth, he was in search of an identity in a brutally indifferent world. This teenager was a ‘spoiled brat’.
Amir Iman reportedly told Dawn he wasn’t able to provide his son gifts for Eid and the 18-year-old stormed out, never to return. A recluse away from home, neither did he dream of spilling innocent blood and haunting the minds of the young nor did he envision such a roller-coaster ending. He left home in the winter of 2005, feeling emotionally low and with a sense of being good-for-nothing.
If Pakistani journalists’ claims — of his family receiving more money than originally promised — are to be believed, he certainly wasn’t an underachiever. The same useless kid who ran away from his father’s home was soon to make headlines internationally.
That forgetful warm night, he cold-bloodedly tore apart lives like a heartless man-eater, before he was taken down in heroic fashion. Not many know that he failed in his chief mission — which was to make his way up to the terrace of CST, picking up hostages on his way. He never got to the top. Although he survived the bullet, he could have faced his own gun and aborted the mission. Stealing absolutely nothing away from the brave men who laid down their lives, I wonder if Kasab entertained the thought of being world famous.
Mistake me not for romanticising the convict, but let us theatrically assume a déjà-vu experience took him back in time to his adolescent days, when he felt worthless. Now was a chance to attain that cherished notoriety and selected popularity he had longed for. India didn’t disappoint him — the best meals, the most expensive security, unprecedented media coverage— he was the new poster boy of ‘evil’. An icy un-expressive silence was his trademark pose.
Eventually, the idea of being a global hate image soon took a toll on him. Tired of the celebrity status, he began revealing bits and pieces of his life. Journalists and prosecutors thrived on these tales to make the edits juicier and the charge sheet bulkier.
Four years of gruelling probes, interviews and solitary confinement, but nothing changed him. He seemed to enjoy every challenge thrown at him. For all the tiresome work and energy spent, some hoped they would witness him struggle and mourn. The spoilsport that he was, Kasab made no farce; as silent as a lamb, he said his prayers and walked the death row with an absolute spiritual calm. He washed his hands clean, leaving our hands stained.
All those Congressmen bragging about their achievement and BJP leaders complaining of inadequate time to organise public celebrations should shut it. Stop revealing your carnal desires in public and behave like civilised citizens first, if at all we have to celebrate, it is because we are blessed to have people around us who make us feel loved and make life worth living.
Secondly, Kasab was disowned and ostracised; unlike many political criminals, he did not have the money and goons to tamper with evidence and friends to keep him hiding underground. Thirdly, we need to sit down and find an alternative to the death penalty.
Punishment is an imposition to make an individual a better person. Killing is not punishment, it is murder. Finally, ‘legal murder’ is a mockery of our Constitution, our humanity and our spirituality as Indians.
(The writer is doing his masters in criminology and forensics at Dharwad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)