Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why Afzal Guru must NOT be hanged!!

When our 'honourable' supreme court fixed the date of hanging for Afzal Guru last week, they knew precisely what is going to happen in the coming days. The widespread protests against the judgement in the Kashmir valley, raising Afzal Guru to an iconic stature by the separatists, the fundamentalists grabbing the issue with talks of terrorism related violence, and the noise by the human rights groups which are not taken seriously by the executive, the citizens or the media, all of it played in the judge's mind on that day. As a matter of principle I am oppossed to capital punishment, the reasons for which can be found in numerous human rights dossiers, and because being a libertarian, I believe that the state (or the society) has no right to take away somebody's life. It is a form of collective murder, no different from notorious public executions in midieval islamic countries, at least in substance. Letting go off my personal bias against death sentence, let us analyse this particular case and make out a case for his mercy plea to be accepted.

There are two possibilities:

  • Muhammed Afzal Guru is not guilty of the crime attributed on him: This is indeed possible. The activists defending him have given details of how Md. Afzal was not allowed a lawyer to represent him, how the witnesses were not cross-questioned, how forcible confessions were extracted by threatening his family. Even if some of it is correct, this makes the case for his hanging entirely baseless. Baring the likes of Narendra Modi, who believe that a human being deserves to die merely for committing the crime of being born as a muslim, it is nobody's case that an innocent should be awarded capital punishment.
  • Md. Afzal did provide logistical support to the attackers on the parliament: The entire debate is based on this assumption. Let's take a deeper look at this scenario.

On the face of it, the Kashmiris are claiming that Md. Afzal has been wrongly framed by the Indian state, but it is evident that deep down his celebrity status is because of his involvement in the crime. The attack on the parliament on 13th december 2001 was a direct attack on the sovereignty of the Indian state. Let's make no mistake that the sense of alienation among the kashmiris runs deep, and except for the fact that five brave policemen died on that day doing their duties, they hail the attack on the parliament. And our state is doing its bit in making a non-descript failure as a martyr for an entire cause.

What is also evident is that the separatists, especially the hardline faction, want Md. Afzal to be hanged on the precise date fixed by the courts. They have urged him not to file a mercy petition knowing fully well that the Indian constitutional mechanism does not allow his sentence to be commuted in the absence of a formal plea for mercy. The hardline hurriyat is doing what they do best, utilizing the kashmiri alienation to further their own gains. Turning down his mercy plea will be playing into the hands of the terrorists and their supporters.

In case the allegations are true, the hindu fundamentalists believe that pardoning Md. Afzal will actually 'incentivise the terrorists'. That's not going to happen. Only the divine can forgive, the strong can give people a second chance, we are definitely not going to come up as a weak state by commutting his death sentence. On the contrary, we will emerge as a much stronger nation, not only in op-ed columns, but also in the heart and minds of the people of this country. Let us give him a chance, if not of joining the mainstream, then at least to realsie his mistakes.

In case the allegations are true, Md. Afzal is no Bhagat Singh. He is a cowardly manipulator, who has no idea what he is fighting against and why. He does not have the courage to admit to his role in the attack on parliament, or to speak up for the attrocities committed by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir. If he is pleading for mercy, he is doing it on our terms. He is not a hero, he is the weak one, the savarkar of the Kashmiri separatism. By hanging him, we are going to make a Bhagat Singh out of him, we will embolden the separatists.

In case the allegations are true, it is fundamentally wrong to use the victim's anger to kill another person. The five policemen braved their lives to maintain the sanctity of our democracy. They departed souls are not going to come back by hanging the perpetrators. Instead, he should be imprisoned for life, let him see the misery that his actions have put others into. Take it from me, one of these days he is going to cry hearing of other's pain.

Few Kashmiri friends believe that Afzal is sentenced to death because he is a Kashmiri. They are probably right. We have a history of glossing over far greater crimes. A few weeks after the attack on parliament, VHP/Bajrang dal goons entered the Orissa assembly and created a commotion. Not one of them were even arrested. How many industrialists or politicians have been punished for their crimes in independent India? Does our judiciary have the courage to convict an influential person for the crimes committed, and sentence him to death? What if instead of the terrorists, a bunch of youngsters decide to eliminate the corrupt politicians? Iam sure that the whole country would have erupted in their support (a. la. Rang de basanti). We were outraged on 13th december 2001, but we have heard people saying that, 'kuchh netaon ko lekar marte to zyada achcha hota'. The people of this country are fed up of politicians, and ironically the public opinion is manufactured to benefit their creed. Perhaps Afzal is hanged because he is a Kashmiri.

Md. Afzal's death sentence presents a rare oppurtunity to all of us. It is time to mend fences, to make inroads into the hearts and minds of the alieanated Kashmiris, to work towards a better and safe tomorrow for our next generations. Despite what my intuition says, we must hope that our leadership doesn't let go of this oppurtunity. Let utilize this debate to bring to a final conclusion, the long pending demand of abolishing capital punishment.

Let's first ask these questions before deciding:

  • Will our country be safer if Md. Afzal is hanged: The answer is NO.
  • Will we produce more terrorists, if a minor terrorist like him, without any organizational backing is put behind bars fo the rest of his life: The answer is NO.
  • Will the separatists rejoice if Md. Afzal is hanged: The answer is YES.
  • Will Kashmir be more integrated to the ethos of our country if his sentence is not commuted: The answer is NO
  • Will there be no more attacks on our national heritage, if we hang Md. Afzal? Does he have that sort of power, charisma or backing? The answer is again NO.
  • Will we be a less civilised country, if we hang a kashmiri activist who is not bold enough to speak for his people: NO.
  • Finally, will there be no custodial deaths, no illegal arrests, no brutal interrogation, no encounter killings, if Md. Afzal is hanged: The answer is unfortunately again a big NO.

If the president of India accepts Md. Afzal's mercy plea, it will not only be beneficial to the accussed, but also to the Kashmiris and the citizens of this country. We will gain the trust of an entire set of people. The only person to lose out will be the politicians of all hues and colours, the 'bin-pendi-ka-lota' types, the terrorists, the hurriyat, the hindu fundamentalists, the congress party. These are precisely the forces who are going to gain the most if the mercy petition is turned down, and as is highly likely he is hung on 20th october. The BJP will have, 'one terrorist was sentenced to death because of our campaign', the congress will have its 'one terrorist was sentenced to death under our rule', the separatists will have 'on Kashmiri was murdered by the Indian state' , each will have something for their constituency. One cannot help but feel pity at the Md. Afzal guru's family, whose tragedy has been reduced to a free-for-all stepping stone for politicians.


At 7:54 pm, Blogger shubhankar said...

i read your view and want to express mine. clemency to afzal guru- wont it be a case of bending ourself to the demand of people who have little to do with india.you haev raised concern about his involvement, you mean our judiciary is not functioning properly, he was given opportunities to take his case from lower to supreme court of law and has one more option of president's pardon left. i think he has gone through the right process and court must would have seen all aspects of case and had thought of all aspects before giving him sentence.
we should not do any action in affraid of how separatist will react to it.
those who dies in attack were also human so there is no question of humananity here.
if he is given pardon. its shameful for all security forces who are wasting time and life to protect country.i would not hesitate to call them BIG STUPID

At 10:45 pm, Blogger nikunj mahajan said...

i agree that afzal might not be given fair chance to prove his innocence and this verdict definitely has some political angle to it. i came across a couple of articles on Merinews on this issue. take a look. and u can also post this article there if u feel like.
the link is

At 2:52 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

I take your point. However, I stand by my assertion, that our investigative procedure in this particular case was not entirely neutral. Why should the judiciary not be questioned? Is our judicial process totally immune to the problems that plague other pillars of our democracy?
However, my post was based on the assumption that he was guilty. Md. Afzal's death is not going to bring back the brave police officers. We are not an eye-for-an-eye nation. My argument was based on pragmatism, that commuting the death sentence will be beneficial to everybody who matters. This gives us a chance to abolish capital punishment from this country.

Thanks for the link on merinews. My problem is that where were these people while the trial was going on? Why are they speaking up now, when there are hardly three weeks remaining in Afzal's life? What were they doing for five long years? One possibility is that they used to write about it regularly, but nobody took any notice.

At 9:56 am, Anonymous confused said...

Two points:

a. Why would the SC not free him when it freed Gilani, if there is such a lack of evidence? Note, 2 have been freed, one has her sentence reduced and only Guru is to be hanged. So, the court was not baised in setting Geelani free but is baised in hanging Guru. Ahem.

2. Why not set him free? Why commute it to life sentence? Wont that show strong and divine we are? Infact, lets set all prisnors, rapists, murderers, terrorists free, give them a jhappi while we relase them.

And dude, next time, you advocate this bleeding heart stuff about commuting to life sentence, make sure you pay for keeping him in the prison for the rest of his life. My money is not going to feed a terrorist who has been found guilty by the highest court in the land.

At 10:25 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

Thanks for your comment. However there was little substance in your twin arguments.
a. The whole of my post was based on the assumption that Md. Afzal was guilty. I have not questioned the courts conclusion, but the fact that he might not have been given a fair trial, in form of threats and denial of a lawyer. However it makes little sense to raise these issues at the fag end of his life. These points should have been raised earlier.

b. Assuming that he is guilty, lfie sentence (imprisoning him for the rest of his life) is big enough punishment for him. Nobody is saying that he should not be punished for his crime. You are taking it a bit too far and trivialising the whole issue.

By arguing that we cannot keep our jails and planes safe, and hence we need to murder Md. Afzal, are we not demonstrating our weakness? Our strength lies in trying to make him realise his mistake, let him suffer for the rest of his life.

The money part makes sense. Just like, you want your say in how your money should be spent, in the same way, the state cannot decide how and when to end someone's life. By the way, what kind of twisted and self-righteous logic is that we the society should not pay for reforming the criminals that are produced by society itself?

Capital punishment is reprehensible in any sivilised society. Nobody, including the state and the society, has any right to take anybody else's life. It does not act as a deterrent, it is mostly used against the weakest sections of the society, and it is never uniformly applied. Why not join hands in demanding the complete abolition of death sentence? Let's start with this instance. Let's demand that his mercy plea be accepted, and henceforth no Indian will be sent to the gallows. We will emerge as a far stronger and safe nation by doing that.

At 2:52 pm, Anonymous confused said...


First decide he is guilty or not!

If he has not been given a fair trial, how do you know he is guilty? How does anyone know? People can be freed on technical grounds, or the proof not being enough.

If the trial is not fair, then it is wrong to conclude that Guru is guilty, in that case demand that he be freed or subjected to a retrial. How can we subject anyone to any form of imprisonment without a fair trial?

Why is no one raising that demand?

Answer that, and we shall see.

And your assumptions hold no water!

At 5:57 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

Thanks for writing. I guess I have said this earlier. That, even if he is guilty of the crime attributed on him, he should not be given death sentence. My post was all about that.

About the money part in your previous comment, I forgot to mention that internationally, executing death sentence is costlier than life imprisonment. Are you saying that, you are ready to spend your money to kill someone, but not on letting somebody live? http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?did=108

Indeed people who believe that the trial was not fair are demanding a retrial. Its good to see your point, "How can we subject anyone to any form of imprisonment without a fair trial?" I assume that if all the facts are presented as they are, you will also speak on behalf of Md. Afzal.

Now please read my next post on it.

At 1:09 pm, Anonymous Atlantean said...

"I believe that the state (or the society) has no right to take away somebody's life. "

Does the state have the right to use the hardearned tax money of its citizens to finance an entire life imprisonment term of a person who has openly shown that he does not want to live in this society? NO.

"The activists defending him have given details of how Md. Afzal was not allowed a lawyer to represent him, how the witnesses were not cross-questioned, how forcible confessions were extracted by threatening his family."

These are entirely personal opinions and are not backed by evidence. I can also murder someone and if I'm convicted, make noises that I was tortured into confession. Will you believe it?

"Let us give him a chance, if not of joining the mainstream, then at least to realsie his mistakes."

The man is already in the mainstream.

"Take it from me, one of these days he is going to cry hearing of other's pain."

Oh really? Masood Azhar was also imprisoned but did it change him? After he was released, we know what all the dude is doing in Kashmir.

"A few weeks after the attack on parliament, VHP/Bajrang dal goons entered the Orissa assembly and created a commotion. Not one of them were even arrested. How many industrialists or politicians have been punished for their crimes in independent India?"

If a VHP/Bajrang Dal goon isnt punished, that is NO reason for Afzal being given clemency! They are unrelated.

"Will we produce more terrorists, if a minor terrorist like him, without any organizational backing is put behind bars fo the rest of his life?"

Then why all the fuss if his hanging isnt going to create more terrorists? Let him be hanged.

"Will the separatists rejoice if Md. Afzal is hanged: The answer is YES."

NO. ALL the Kashmiris and seperatists who have been protesting say that his hanging will lead to chaos and violence - which means they're going to be agitated and NOT rejoiced.

One more thing. The protestors and all liberals whose hearts are bleeding for this man say that hanging Afzal is going to create chaos and violence - this is purely an assumption, we dont know if it will infact lead to that.

If the President does offer clemency, then I assume (I emphasize.. ASSUME) the BJP/RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal will all be totally worked up about it and go about protesting violently. I will also assume that 150 million Muslims may be targetted in these protests. I will also assume that thousands of Muslims will be lost because I assume that the protests may turn into pogroms.

So consider the two assumptions - thousands of Muslims being slaughtered vs. a few stone pelting and grenade attacks on the security forces in Srinagar.

Choose what you like.

I choose Afzal to be hanged.

At 12:39 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

Thanks for your comment. However, this is also a proven fact that death penalty is costlier than life imprisonment. That invalidates your first argument.
The fact that Md. Afzal was not allowed a lawyer of his choice in the lower court is a proven fact. This has been acknowledged by everyone. No amount of cats can convince an individual, if he chooses not to look at it.

At 8:14 am, Anonymous Polite Indian said...

I don't think clemency should be awarded on the grounds that it will cause a big uproar in Kashmir. That is definitely not the way to go.
Having said that, I do think that people can demand retrial if they feel the trial was not fair.

As for capital punishment in general, I don't think that has ever acted as a deterrent. Plus I think it doesn't leave any possibility of reversal of verdict even if the accused was found not guilty later on. May not be relevant in this particular case but who can ever guarantee that the judiciary cannot falter.

BTW, regarding your point that execution of capital punishment is more expensive, this is true in countries like US but I don't think in India same is the case.

At 8:18 am, Anonymous Polite Indian said...

BTW, why don't you switch to blogspot beta so that I can get RSS feed for comments as well.

At 2:01 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

I agree. Possibly it is wrong to demand clemency for him with the argument that Kashmir will go up in flames. That is blackmail. But a life sentence for him (and not death) will definitely go some way to soothe the passions of an inflamed, and often wronged community. This is the correct way at looking at it.
Thanks for the suggestion for blogger beta. But my stupid account is not letting me switch to it. I ill definitely try though.

At 8:35 pm, Anonymous rc said...

1. The costs of life term vs capital punishment do not matter.

2. Polite Indian. No one can demand a retrial if he/she thinks that he/she did not have a fair trial through three different courts. You got to do better than that. You need startling new exonerating evidence to ask for a retrial. My attorney sucked - is not a valid reason.

3. It is not true that Afzal did not have adequate representation. He was represented in the Supreme Court by Ram Jethmalani and Shanti Bhushan - for free. Even rich folks cannot afford their services for a day. Not many convicts have that luxury. Get your facts straight.

At 8:35 pm, Anonymous Kapil Shastri said...

You know what Anup. I don't mind if Afzal is not hanged provided all 'so called' , 'self aspiring', 'idiot intellect terrorists' are hanged. Seriously, terrorists are doing what they are suppose to do. Legal system is doing what it is suppose to do. People like you do nothing but come out with fancy cooked reasons to damage India. Join the clan of Arundhatis, Meghas, Farooks, Ghulams, CPIs, CPMs, Sonias and celebrate your wisdom

At 9:59 pm, Blogger nikunj mahajan said...

Hi Anoop
Read your article on www.merinews.com
Its getting tremendous response and a variety of views . i feel it must have been the most commented article on Merinews till date. Keep it up..

At 3:16 am, Anonymous RAKESH said...


At 5:32 am, Anonymous Neha said...

This is the right punishment to a criminal, who insulted one of the largest democracy in the world. But because of weakness of the Indian rulers, it happened unpardonably late.

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