Sir — Just after Mohammad Afzal Guru’s hanging, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, not only condemned the government’s decision to carry out the death penalty, but also suggested that it was a “selective execution” (“Omar sees ‘human’ tragedy”, Feb 11). He also criticized the fact that Guru was not allowed to meet his family for a final farewell before he was hanged. Abdullah may have expressed this view because of his apprehension about the possible repercussions of Guru’s hanging in his state. But an experienced leader like him should not be uni-dimensional in his approach. Abdullah’s statement can be interpreted in a wrong way by his opponents. The Supreme Court’s verdict must be respected, and not questioned in such a manner.
However, the opinion voiced by Abdullah cannot be altogether dismissed. He should not have suggested that the law worked selectively, but it is true that the delay in the execution of the verdict complicated matters. Sometimes, justice delayed may amount to justice denied.
Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee, Faridabad
Sir — Afzal Guru’s death sentence was justified but for the long delay of 11 years in executing the punishment after the verdict was passed by the Supreme Court (“Long gap”, Feb 12). Guru was one of the main culprits involved in the attack on Parliament in December 2001. This attack had greatly unsettled the country and startled the government. The secrecy maintained in hanging Guru has raised many questions and attracted much criticism. Human rights groups have also condemned the death penalty itself. But, in my opinion, death is the only exemplary punishment that can be meted out to a person who has committed such a grievous crime.
The long delay in executing the verdict passed by the apex court may be seen by some as a sign of the government’s inability to take a firm decision. The process was delayed because of the former president’s hesitation to reject the mercy plea. Pranab Mukherjee, the current president, wasted no time in turning down the petition when he assumed office.
The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir has expressed concern about the impact of the death sentence awarded to Guru on the peace and security of that region. “I understand there is certain degree of angst and there are some people who would like to take advantage of the situation. I appeal to the people to allow us to get through this period with peace and not resort to violent protests,” he said. Curfew has been imposed in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir. One hopes that the government will take necessary steps to prevent any hostile reaction.
Dilip Kumar Kar, Jalpaiguri
Sir — The debate over the death penalty passed in even the ‘rarest of rare cases’ is an unending one. Such a verdict must not be influenced by popular sentiments. It is significant that an overwhelming majority of Indians believe that terrorists must pay a heavy price for their actions. Many Indians thought Afzal Guru deserved the death penalty because he was involved in a heinous conspiracy to attack the chief symbol of Indian democracy. It is undeniable that Guru received a full and fair trial, and the executive decision to carry out the sentence does not seem to be a knee-jerk reaction either. The justice system is multi-tiered, and if Guru failed to establish either innocence or reasonable doubt at any of the stages of his trial, his crime must be accepted. Kiran Bedi rightly said, “It disturbs some and settles others! Always damned if you do, doomed if you don’t! Governance is tough!” I agree with her.
J.S. Acharya, Hyderabad
Sir — With two high-profile executions in less than three months, it would appear that the Indian government is out to dispel the notion that it is soft on terror, and to make it clear that those who attack the country’s democratic institutions would be dealt with. The secrecy that was maintained in the hanging of Afzal Guru is reminiscent of the confidentiality with which Ajmal Kasab was hanged. However, the secrecy also indicates that apprehensions of a backlash had probably caused the delays in carrying out both the death sentences, with the government taking the easy way out by sitting on such orders.
The ‘politics of gallows’ that has characterized these death sentences leads one to believe that the system of crime and punishment in India is conditioned by too many external factors. The government prefers to take the case right to the end, only to dillydally at the point of execution of the verdict. Reviews and mercy pleas further add to the confusion. Convicts languishing on death row for decades have become a part of criminal justice these days. After keeping Afzal Guru incarcerated for so many years, would his hanging at this juncture enhance the security of the country? It is at such times that the validity of capital punishment has to be questioned.
The vicious assault on the supreme seat of democracy that Afzal Guru was convicted of cannot be condoned. Still, it is the dirty game of politics that decides that the nation should suddenly wake up to the fact that a man needs to be put to death for a dastardly act for which he was convicted years ago. This is embarrassing. It can never be implied that the government has been compelled to act because of public opinion. The hanging was a matter of political convenience.
Pachu Menon, Margao, Goa