Ajmal Kasab was hanged to death in the early hours of November 21 as a terrorist and as a killer. When he grew up in rural Pakistan, he had had only his primary education, and his parents were poor.
He was doubtless driven to despair, eventually becoming a hardened operator. Society made him a criminal and a murderer. He was of course guilty of the 26/11 round of killings and havoc in Mumbai.
Nevertheless, killing him secretly should be seen as injustice. Handing down the death sentence is a crime, and resort to the means of hanging makes it even more horrendous. In many ways, we are all guilty — all of humanity that abetted his killing and burial but could not reform him.
In my humble view, all humane societies, especially a society that swears by the Indian Constitution that is rooted in compassion, should abolish judicial executions. Mahatma Gandhi was against it. So was Jawaharlal Nehru.
Much more humane and touching has been the kindly attitude of Sonia Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi was brutally killed, and some of those who plotted and moved for the murder were sentenced to death.
Sonia Gandhi, a mother with a gentle heart, wrote thus to President K.R. Narayanan, spelling out her views against the hanging of her husband’s murderers.
She wrote: “[The] Supreme Court of India has confirmed the death sentence on four persons who were responsible for the assassination of my beloved husband Rajiv Gandhi.
“Our family does not think that the four held responsible for the heinous murder of my dear husband must be hanged. My son, my daughter or myself do not wish that the four murderers be hanged.
“In particular, we do not at all wish Nalini, mother of an eight-year-old child, to be hanged. I am aware how my children miss their father and we do not want another child to lose its parents together and get orphaned.
“As you are well aware, my children Rahul and Priyanka and myself are suffering untold mental agony day in, day out due to the loss of our beloved Rajiv. But neither my children nor myself would like the persons responsible for my husband’s tragic end to be hanged.
“Hence I humbly request you to stop their hanging and grant them pardon when they seek your clemency.”
When I was Kerala Home Minister in the 1950s, I had occasion to handle some pleas for commutation of the death sentence. In all those cases, I favoured the avoidance of the death sentence. Even as the State Governor was trying to express his views in one particular case, I intervened and said, no. In two cases I had strongly opposed the death sentence, and my view appealed to Lord Scarman, sitting in the Privy Council. He wrote to me an unusual letter mentioning how he was deeply touched by my passionate opposition to the death sentence.
Indeed, half the number of nations of our world have abolished the death sentence — including Great Britain. Lord Mountbatten was treacherously assassinated. But the assassin was not given the death sentence. For, Great Britain had abolished the death penalty. Even in the United States, many States have no provision for the death sentence. I have no doubt in my heart that Gandhiji’s country should not have killed Ajmal Kasab, who was after all young, and belonged to a poor family. Pakistani or not, he was a human being.
(The writer is a former Supreme Court judge)