Yakub’s hanging, a possible catalyst

Yakub Memon is dead and buried. But the entire fiasco surrounding his hanging raised a lot of questions and stirred up a lot of emotions. I won’t get into the merits of the case as i respect the Supreme Court’s decision. However, i want to use this case to address a couple of tangential issues. First of all, I have no qualms in admitting that i am against the use of death penalty as a punishment. It so far has failed to convince me that it acts as a deterrence. I agree with Shashi Tharoor when he says that we as a society need to evolve and that an “eye for an eye” will only enable a vicious cycle.

I feel that in our country, sending a convict to the gallows is mere symbolism. It currently functions as a mode of appeasement than as a source of deterrence. Only three hangings in the last decade and all of them are either terrorists or affiliated to terrorism. We have convicts who are serial rapists and killers on death row, but there is a good chance they might not be hanged. Why? Are we saying that raping minors and subsequently, brutally murdering them is less heinous than an act of terrorism? Or is it the case that death penalty is reserved only for the “celebrity” convicts who make the front page and appear on primetime debates? Is “Rarest of the rare” applicable only for the likes of Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon? Terrorists in fact take pride in dying and would rather die in the battle than rot in a prison. Why give them that pleasure?

When we talk about deterrence, rather than debating capital punishment, we should debate and find ways of speeding up the judicial process. We should not feel proud about hanging Yakub, but ashamed of stretching the case for 22 years. We desperately need to find a solution to make sure that lakhs of cases don’t drag on for eternity. There is a common saying “the law will take it’s own course.” In reality, what it means is that you might be dead by the time the verdict comes out. Criminals know fully well that their case will be in a state of limbo for years, before the wheels begin to move. And when they do, the pace will make a snail look like a leopard. Hence, lot of people don’t even bother to register a case.

It amused me when the media went berzerk over Yakub’s death, bringing “closure” to the family of the victims. Ridiculous! We have so many cases where the victim’s family and the injured are yet to be compensated(search Kirti Ajmera) while dawood and tiger memon, the main perpetrators are roaming around freely in pakistan. Closure is still a long way to go. Since we are hovering around the subject, if hanging actually does provide “closure”, then shouldn’t Bhullar and Rajoana be hanged as well? Why were their death sentences commuted to life?

To debate on whether or not Yakub deserved death penalty is useless, now that he is no more. But, i want this incident to act as catalyst which enables a healthy and nuanced debate on capital punishment and also on ways to speed up the judicial process. This will also be a test of our democracy’s maturity.

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