Inhuman punishment

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Yakub Abdul Memon, one of the accused in the Bombay serial blasts of 1993, was hanged to death early this morning inside the Nagpur jail where he was interned. Memon was convicted of the charge of financing the bomb blasts which killed 257 people and injured another 713. His brother `Tiger` Memon and notorious Mumbai gangster Dawood Ibrahim, were believed to be the masterminds of the mayhem, but both are in hiding out of the country. It is now known that Yakub Memon was formally arrested in 1994 from the New Delhi railway station, though he had earlier been whisked away by Indian sleuths from Kathmandu where he had allegedly come to consult his lawyers for possible routes for his acquittal in the case. He was sentenced to death in July 2007 along with 11 others. Twenty others were also sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in the same crime. In 2013, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of all except Memon to life imprisonment. The court upheld Memon`™s sentence citing `his commanding position in the crime of utmost gravity` warranted no less.
We are no authority to comment on the guilt or otherwise of Memon in the dastardly Bombay serial blasts. It was however distressing to see such a sharp and irreconcilably polarised divide in the opinions of the country on the matter of his execution. One camp was rejoicing, describing this as justice done to what they called the `collective conscience` of the country. The same misplaced overflow of triumphal nationalism that we all witnessed during the June 8 cross border military strike into Myanmar, which later proved to be a damp squib, was seen repeated all over again. Memon probably was not innocent of the crime, but all the same this kind of reaction, we must say, was distasteful, and we say this in the belief death is nothing to be celebrated. The other camp is not a monolithic block. Some agree Memon would have had a part in the crime but were opposed to the death penalty on ethical grounds. Others who also do not dispute Memon would have been guilty, still wanted him spared on the `quality of mercy` plea that Shakespearean heroin Portia in `The Merchant of Venice` made immortal: `The quality of mercy is not strain`d,/ It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath:/ it is twice blest;/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.` Alas, the nation it seems does not have the patience for the poetry. Yet others take the extreme stand that Memon was not guilty and was framed to pacify what was vaunted by those seeking his death as the `collective conscience` of the nation.

We would probably stand with those who think Capital punishment is too vengeful and cruel. It also serves no purpose in terms of fighting crime than to satisfy the atavistic bloodlust defined by the principle of `an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth`. Death penalty has never been an adequate deterrent against crime either, and no country which has it, including the United States, has seen a decline in crimes punishable by death. We would also go for the `quality of mercy` plea, in the faith that mercy does bless the receiver as well as the giver, and equally that refusing it harms both spiritually. In this sense, commuting Memon`™s death sentence to one of life imprisonment would not have been about saving a life only, but about India giving itself grace. This alas was also not to be.
On the cruelty of the death sentence, no other has argued it more powerfully and convincingly than by another character in a work of art `“ Prince Muishkin in Dostoyevsky`™s `The Idiot`. The horror, he says, is not so much in the pain of the execution, but the murder of hope for life. He argues that the most dreadful experience the convict is made to face is not the execution itself, but the time between the execution and the pronouncement of his death sentence. For this reason, the crime of murder is less cruel than the death sentence, for in a murder, the victim even when his throat is cut, still clings on to hope that he/she will survive, and that is his salvation to the last. This salvation is not there for the man on death row. A soldier who can defy death in battlefield will breakdown and resign if his death sentence were to be read out to him, he says further. Imagine what must have gone through the mind of Memon yesterday night, knowing he would be hanged by morning. Capital punishment is too inhuman, and we would agree with the prince that no humane society must endorse it.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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