Mumbai blasts execution: Noose is barbaric, serves no purpose

By Gautaman Bhaskaran

Every high-profile execution in India is invariably preceded by loud and fervent debates on the pluses and minuses of such state-sponsored killing. This is the case with Yakub Memon, the accused mastermind of the 1993 serial Mumbai blasts that left about 350 people dead and 1000-odd wounded or maimed for life.

Memon is likely to hang on July 30. The scheduled execution is stirring deep resentment insofar as India, a country where Mahatma Gandhi once propagated non-violence, is included in a shrinking group of nations that still sends men to the gallows.

India’s Supreme Court has given the go-ahead for the hanging. The President of India has rejected his appeal for mercy, and if Memon’s last-ditch petition for a review of the death penalty is turned down as well, he will be hanged in a prison in Maharashtra.

Yakub Memon

Yakub Memon

Strangely, of the 11 convicted in the 1993 Mumbai explosions, the sentences of 10 have been commuted to life. Only Memon will walk to his death. Stranger by far is the fact that only Muslims convicted of similar crimes have been executed. In 2012, Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 killers sent into India by Pakistan’s ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba to kill innocent men and women in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, was executed. Three months later, Afzal Guru, found guilty of being part of the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament, was also hanged and with unfeeling haste. His family was not allowed to meet him one last time.

However, one other terrorist, whose crime was as heinous as Kasab’s and Guru’s, is still living — though he is on death row. Balwant Singh Rajona, who assassinated a former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh, was spared the death penalty after political pressure was applied. And what’s more, three Sri Lankan men — Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan — who masterminded the murder of one of India’s most charismatic prime ministers, Rajiv Gandhi — escaped the gallows after their sentences were commuted by the Supreme Court, because it found that their mercy petitions had been delayed too long. The Tamil Nadu Government of India’s Tamil Nadu state, which is brazenly sympathetic to Sri Lankan Tamils (language being a cementing force), pulled strings to let these three convicts live.

1993 Mumbai bombing scene

1993 Mumbai bombing scene

It is apparent that unlike Rajona or the three Sri Lankans, Kasab or Guru or Memon, do not enjoy political support or popular sympathy. So Kasab and Guru died. Memon too may not live.

This brings us to a larger and extremely vexing question of the relevance of capital punishment. Throughout history, there have been protests against what many decried as “a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye” policy. Even in the 15th century, when Joan of Arc was accused of being a heretic and burnt alive, there were murmurs of dissent. Five centuries later, when the Vatican canonized her, it seemed too late to right a wrong.

Ever since those times, there have been innumerable instances of men and women escaping the noose before it did its work. A 1987 study found that 350 people condemned to die in the US between 1900 and 1985 were actually innocent. Most lived, but 23 lost their lives.

Sadly, despite several UN General Assembly resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions, many countries still have this barbaric law on their statute books. The US is one, and along with China, Indonesia and India, still puts men to death. What is worse is that 60% of the world’s population live in these regions. One need not even talk about Saudi Arabia or Japan where capital punishment is frequently carried out.

It goes without saying that in a nation like India notorious for a corrupt judiciary and poor policing, errors of judgment are quite possible. Added to this, we have a community divided on caste and class lines. As one US Supreme Court judge said famously, capital punishment is for those without capital. It is no different in India, where life can be bought with money, and life is lost for want of money.

Although India applies the death penalty “only in the rarest of rare cases,” there can be no denying that such punishment is no deterrent. Many, many studies have proven that the death sentence has never cut down the number of capital crimes. Some American states did away with the electric chair, but found no significant rise in murders or rapes. And when they reintroduced it, there was no drop in major misdemeanors.

In fact, how do you prevent a crime of passion? No law can stave it off. Is it possible to stop a suicide bomber in his tracks — pushed as he is into a murderous mission by religious fanaticism or an intolerant partisan view? Indeed, advocating death under government supervision may be as foolish as suggesting that stockpiling nuclear weapons serves as a safeguard for peace.

Certainly, India and the others must understand that capital punishment has no place in a civilized society, and administrations must also realize that modern dilemmas and contradictions must be resolved with dignity, and not through easier options like the noose or poison prick.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with two of India’s best regarded daily newspapers, The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years, and who now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)



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  • DavePh

    Really Mr. Bhaskaran? You completely miss the point, the capital punishment is not a deterrent for others, but they are wages of the crimes these terrorists have committed against humanity…

    You are right Muslims have been receiving more capital punishment in India, because they commit such terrorist crimes by a factor of 100x in comparison with people of other religions. The Rajive Gandhi killers got commuted sentences because his widow Mrs. Sonia Gandhi (President of Congress party) intervened and requested the Indian President to do so. Bhullar has become mentally sick, and no one can hang a mental case. The much talked about case of Afza Guru is for everyone to see on YT, how he sang like a Canary…

    I think majority of Indians scoff at this silly notion of not punishing someone whose guilt is proven beyond any reasonable doubts at 3 levels of courts of law, and who Uniquely qualifies as “rarest of rare crime” to be sentenced for capital punishment by the highest court i.e. Supreme Court of India, and whose mercy plea is rejected by the highest constitutional authority the President of India. When people in the highest decision making bodies of Govt. do not think that the sentence should be commuted, then that is it…Actually, a mercy petition pending for 2 years should automatically be deemed as declined, and the sentence carried out.

    You can make the question as extreme and vexing of the relevance of capital punishment, as you want to make it!! Most Indians do not subscribe to that. In fact it is a SOB story on the part of these so called Civilized World activists and NGOs who have made it their lucrative business to defend terrorists. They beat their chest, whine, whimper and veil for terrorists showing utter disrespect to the people who have been killed and mimed. They think that punishment should not match especially heinous crimes…The people who indulge in deliberate acts of terrorism like Yaqub Memon and Ajmal Kasab, who killed several hundred people and mimed few thousand more in full senses, with full knowledge of their actions, do not deserve any mercy. They should be thankful that they were not summarily executed, which should be the case with terrorists. In fact for such cases, punishment dispensing delayed is justice denied to their victims.

  • Brabantian

    India betrays its heritage not only by having a death penalty, but by doing it in such a barbaric way, the mediaeval & British colonial hanging method which in fact is often slow strangulation, taking as much as an hour for the victim to die.

    Hindus should consider that the death penalty today is largely a Muslim practice. About 88% of the world’s 200-odd nations no longer do this horror, and 2/3 of the ones that do it, are Muslim.

    A glorious forgotten fact of India’s heritage … It was in India FIRST that sovereign states abolished the death penalty, well over 1200 years ago (over 2000 by some accounts) … As dharma religions spread by their lustre, scholars from across Asia studying at Nalanda, Buddhist Japan and Daoist China, followed the example of states in India, and at points abolished the death penalty too … all a millienium before the ‘Western Enlightenment’ abolitions of the 1800s began to occur!

    Hanging is always slow strangulation, taking 15 minutes to an hour for the person to die – although sometimes the neck is broken in a drop mercifully introducing coma – but this is not reliable and often fails to happen, creating an hour of torture as a human being swings on a rope. And it takes longer for smaller people to die … amid the many hangings in Iran, witnesses observe that petite women struggle longer, strangling to death slowly before the crowd.

    Tho grim to bystanders, the most merciful methods of death penalty are beheading or the bullet – this is fact. The USA has shown that lethal injection sometimes is an hour-plus torture ordeal. Other killing methods also have gone terribly wrong. Beheading is a mercy, as is a bullet to the back of the head, or the firing squad (best with a handgun back-up for a coup de grace if the firing squad are off-target).

    If India feels as if too poor a country to yet dispense with the death penalty … at least it should dispense with the British colonialist torture-hanging horror. Bullets or beheading would be a merciful improvement … but I pray that India will move to an even higher level, in line with its glorious ancient past.

    Europe is now death-penalty-free in line with India’s dharma heritage passed on through the stoics to Europe’s enlightenment. In old Europe, hanging was the torture-method for commoners, beheading was the merciful method for aristocrats. This is why the French revolution introduced the guillotine … giving all citizens executed the quick, merciful death once reserved to aristocrats and beneficiaries of a monarch’s favours.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Article is quite illuminating. Going by the article it seems that India’s justice system is heavily influenced by politics. Majority Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan have been “hot” rivals going on 68 years.
    During that time both have engaged in 3 wars with one of them helping to dismantle Pakistan to create Bangladesh. The creation of Bangladesh, in a way, is more drastic than the creation of India and Pakistan for that act destroyed the integrity of a sovereign nation. where as the creation of India and Pakistan contributed to the end of an Empire.
    Looking back at 1971, being the dominant force in the subcontinent, New Delhi could have worked with Karachi (then the capital of Pakistan) to come to a solution that will address the many issues brought up by the Awami League. Instead India chose this chance to divide a rival who was formed due to religious issues
    If seen this way it is greater than the act of violating the sentiments of India’s vast majority of Hindus. It insinuates that the enforcement of capital punishment on Muslim terrorists is an ongoing result of the cold war between India and Pakistan.
    What about the death penalty in “India” before the birth of modern day India and Pakistan? it was a practice that was carried out by Indian kings and Emperors, Hindu and Muslim alike. the method generally was to have an elephant step on the criminal’s head.

  • DavePh

    Burnard, Pakistan has been an enemy country of India since it’s inception. Before you go away expressing constipated opinion on 1971 division of Bangladesh, I sincerely urge you to go to the roots of the problem. The issue was Tall Fair and Handsome looking Bhutto and Yah Ya Khan did not want to transfer power to a short dark and bispectecled Muji-Ur-Rehman who won the election and should have become PM of Pakistan. They instead chose to arrest him, West Pakistani Army started arresting and killing intellectuals, professors and prominent Bengali speaking people.

    General Tikka Khan was sent to East Pakistan with a mandate to change the DNA of the black Bengalis…Do you recollect that boast? Go look up Wikipedia and other references. They raped over 200,000 women and killed 3 million East Pakistanis, over 10 million refugees came into India.

    Territory of a sovereign Nation India was deliberately violated, we tried to reason with the military Generals ruling at the time in West Pakistan to stop this madness…But, the West Pakistanis were very happy to see India footing the bill of sustaining 10 million refugees. When all else failed, PM Indira Gandhi the Iron lady made a tour of Western powers who were supporting Pakistan and told them in no uncertain terms to get Pakistani military to stop these atrocities and take back the refugees, but to no avail.

    It is only then she called in General Manekshaw and asked him to deal with this issue militarily. We helped the Bangladeshi Mukti Bahini resist the terrorist Pakistani Army. West Pakistan opened a front in Western front of India on September 3rd, by attacking our air fields, directly dragging India into a war…Creation of Bangladesh, surrender of 93,000 POWs, deposing of Yahya Khan and Simla accords etc. are as they call now part of the historical records.

    There are several cases when the SC of India has let off terrorists from death sentence or freed them when they found the “beyond any reasonable doubt”, mantra missing. Death sentence was awarded to S.A.R. Geelani, Shaukat Hussain Guru, and Afzal Guru, while Afsan Guru was let off. Finally, only Afzal Guru was hanged and others let off or sentenced to life.

    You Sri Lankans are lucky that PM Indira Gandhi was no more when the Elam crisis happened in Sri Lanka, and that Pres. Jayawardena sensibly gave into the demands of PM Rajive Gandhi and made the accord. If not, you would be calling yourself a Proud South Sri Lanka.

    But hey what all that has to do with capital punishment in India? Really speaking we should have let the Bangladeshis hang those 93,000 war criminals from West Pakistan in 1971, that they are doing now for some of the collaborators, instead of safeguarding them and repatriating to West Pakistan.

  • DavePh

    @Brabantian : Actually, hanging is a quick death because the body is dropped from a height which quickly snaps the neck and usually the death is instant. If not, then let the criminal endure what he inflicted on other innocent human beings.

    If you have issues with the method of dispensing capital punishment, I have no qualms about Govts. using other methods which may be more human in nature, not sure decapitating someone’s neck is painless or facing a firing squad is. Take your pick, as long as the terrorist is sent quickly to meet his maker for his crimes, where proverbially another set of justice awaits.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Dave
    You got your one chance to address me and I will reply. Your comment follows the standard explanation for the formation of Bangladesh. Now looking back at it India could have worked with Pakistan to deal with this issue without helping the division of that nation as the only solution.
    Another example is the formation of Pakistan and India in 1947. Then the Mahatma believed that the problems of the Indian Muslims can be solved within India without forming a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims, the British disagreed.
    He was proven right for a good deal of Muslims live outside of Pakistan. All did not choose that homeland. That was when the region of India and Pakistan were part of an Empire. Those in London had more rights how their empire is to devolve than New Delhi’s self proclaimed right that the division of Pakistan is the only answer while at the very same time denying that solution to the separatists now in India.
    That includes the formation of Khalistan the annexation of the kingdom of Hyderabad, Goa, Sikkim, including the refusal of New Delhi to give the many North eastern separatists the same choice New Delhi was eagerly willing to give to Dhaka. New Delhi has 2 polices when it comes to solving problems. with her neighbors the formation of new nations is the only solution but with her own nation that is not a solution. Since we are discussing this article I will leave Eelam out even though it fits into the double standards of New Delhi.
    India viserated Pakistan to solve the same problems she faces within her borders. Now Dave you got my reply. you can accept it or you can rave. that is your choice, but you will not hear from me again on this article.

  • DavePh

    @Burnard, looks like you did not read what I wrote properly. India did try to reason with Pakistan and its allies, PM Indira Gandhi did go to Washington, complained about what was happening in East Pakistan and the refugee crisis it had created in India to the UN. These are well documented and a lot of YT videos available to prove it. But, nothing happened to stop Pakistani army’s continued genocide. Something similar to what Sri Lankan Army did to SL Tamils in 2009.

    There are limits to enduring influx of refugees. Mujib won election in 1970, but was not invited to form the Govt. by President Gen. Yahya khan. The agitations started in Feb/March of 1971 in East Pakistan and so began the atrocities. Almost a year went by since election, before the War of Bangladesh took place on 3rd December 1971.

    West Pakistan was actually gloating at the trouble it had caused India by forcing an influx of 10 million East Pakistanis into India. By whatever measure someone may want to discuss that in a prudish manner, we had to do what we had to stop the atrocities and get the refugees repatriated. Especially when Pakistani Air Force directly struck at Indian airfields, they came looking for trouble, they got more then they could handle.

    And yes, no one messes with India in the Subcontinent and gets away with anything unfunny. Constitutionally, India treats all its citizens equally, there is no scope of separating Indian territory, those who do not like can migrate out. We have not forced anyone out or caused refugee crisis to neighbors like Pakistan and Sri Lanka did. Did you try give Sri Lankan Tamils their due rights within the constitution of Sri Lanka when they asked? NO…that is why organizations like LTTE came into being, had you treated them with respect it would not have happened. You would not have lost close to a million of your citizens in the 35 year war and a sitting president Premadasa.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    First it is “Bernard”. I am violating my promise to you. Simple. Option to form new nations in order to solve problems is not an option.
    Not when India was being formed
    Not when Pakistan was having major issues with East Pakistan
    But New Delhi did use that to divide a nation.
    then morally New Delhi has no right to deny the same to the Kashmiri independence movement
    Khalistan Independence Movement
    Nagaland Independence movement
    Assam independence movement
    The right of the Nizam of Hyderabad to form a new nation. The excuse of a Muslim leader over a Hindu population would have resolved itself with the death of the Nizam, introduction of a parliamentary system that would have represented the Hindu majority population
    The right of Goa to stay as territory of Portugal. The Hague agreed with Portugal.
    India openly and brazenly supported the formation of Eelam and still does to this day. read the article in this forum Chennai still support pro Eelam groups while New Delhi complains to the UN about Pakistan supported secessionist movements in Kashmir.
    This comment is meant for others who want an explanation and less to satisfy your obsessive behavior.

  • DavePh

    Burnard, I have only one statement to make to you, “You want piece of Indian territory, come and get it if you have the guts,you will face the might of Indian State”.

    If India was in the wrong then World opinion wouldn’t be with India in every case, such as Bangladesh, Kashmir and Sri Lanka. It is Sri Lanka which has been censored for the Ethnic cleansing of SL Tamils, and that too on the scale that puts it at par with Holocaust committed by Hitler Rajapaksha.

    Kashmiri independence movement: It is actually Muslim terrorism, they drove out Hindu Pundits from the valley to create an Islamic state, the land deed is in India’s name as signed by the Maharaja of J&K. Those who want independence can go to Pakistan, a Muslim country created for them – Case closed…We will keep kashmir to the last Kashmiri, that is the resolve in whole of India.

    Khalistan Independence Movement : No one promised Khalistan to Sikhs, it was a terrorist movement that killed over 50,000 Hindus and Sikhs opposing it. Only those separatists who ran away to Canada and UK are indulging in flogging the dead horse of Khalistan.

    Nagaland Independence movement : It was Indian territory to begin with, the tribals didn’t have any issues until the Communists infiltrated. We will deal with them with an iron fist, and have dialogue with those who want peace within 4 corners of constitution of India.

    Assam independence movement : Assam Independence leaders have accepted the fact that Assam is better off with India, and they participate and govern their own state.

    The right of the Nizam of Hyderabad to form a new nation: Where did Nizam come from? He was a descendant of invaders and should have gone to Pakistan as his subject revolted against him. His Razakar army started killing Hindus and driving them out of the state, you can read more on what happened during liberation of Hyderabad.

    The right of Goa to stay as territory of Portugal : The Portuguese invaded Indian territory and established a colony, they are a European country, what right they have to rule Indians in Indian land? What was done was reclaiming of our own land. The rest of the World and UN agreed with India.

    You see your problem is, you think the history started in 1600s while in reality, Indian history is over 8,000 years old and will continue.

    As I stated before, If India really supported Elam, do you really, genuinely, realistically and in your fully conscious state believe that we are not capable of creating one? Think about it…